Can You Use Red Light Therapy and Microneedling Together?
When it comes to maximizing your skin rejuvenation results, some treatments go very well together (we’re looking at you, red light therapy and green tea!). Others, on the other hand, should never be used together: since many skincare procedures work by irritating the skin to a degree, piling them on could result in more irritation, pain, and in worst-case scenarios, scarring.
Microneedling and red light therapy have both ascended to Darling-Of-The-Skincare-World status in recent years, both being safe, minimally- or non-invasive, and effective for the treatment of various skin woes. Plus, both treatments can be administered at home using personal devices, making them among the most accessible and affordable skincare treatments on the market today.
You might be wondering if the treatments can be used together to boost your skin rejuvenation results. We did a quick Google search on the topic, and it yielded rather confusing results (at least at first glance). Among the top hits are a dermaroller with a built-in red light, a blog post calling it the “perfect pairing”, and another blog post entitled, “Why we don’t combine micro-needling with LED light therapy”. What to believe?
In order to settle the issue, it might help to understand how both procedures work.
What Is Microneedling?
Also called dermarolling, skin needling or collagen induction therapy, microneedling is a cosmetic procedure that involves repeatedly puncturing the skin with small acupuncture-style needles. The device looks kind of like a jade roller, but made for medieval torture. While at-home devices tend to be relatively painless (although some would disagree), professional treatment penetrates the skin deeper, which many can find quite painful (hence the numbing cream many facialists apply beforehand).
Microneedling is used to treat a variety of skin issues, including hyperpigmentation, acne scars, loose skin, stretch marks, pore size, and fine lines and wrinkles. The treatment works by creating micro-injuries to the skin. Your body responds by creating new collagen to repair these injuries. Collagen is the main building block in all of the body’s tissues, providing strength and structure to bones, muscles, and organs, including skin. It’s essentially the main protein responsible for making your skin firm and plump. Collagen production tends to drop off naturally as we age, but also as a result of sun exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption and a host of other external factors.
This type of controlled injury to produce beneficial results is a form of something called hormesis. Hormesis is defined by toxicologists as “a phenomenon in which a harmful substance gives stimulating and beneficial benefits to living organisms when the quantity of the harmful substance is small” (source). In this case, the harmful substance refers to the needles. Using larger needles (shudder) or applying the treatment for hours on end would undoubtedly result in serious and possibly irreparable damage to the skin. A good way to better understand the concept of hormesis is to think of weight training. Lifting a certain amount of weight causes stress to your muscles by damaging muscle fibers. In order to be better equipped to lift the same amount of weight the next time around, your body responds by fusing muscle fibers together to create larger muscles. Try to lift too heavy a weight, however, and you’ll cause more serious damage.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a therapeutic treatment through which specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light are delivered through the skin and into the cells of the body to treat a wide range of health and cosmetic issues, including:
- Loose skin;
- Stretch marks;
- Wound and scar healing;
- Oral health;
- Pain and inflammation;
- Arthritis-related joint pain and stiffness;
- Immune health;
- Cognitive function;
- Mental health and depression;
- Vitamin D;
- Hair growth;
- Weight loss and body contouring;
- Muscle growth, athletic performance, and recovery;
- Hormone health and sex drive;
- Eye health;
- Sleep disturbances.
It functions mainly by causing a biochemical reaction within the mitochondria of the cell that allows it to use oxygen more efficiently to produce energy in the form of ATP. ATP is known as the body’s energy currency, and is responsible for the proper functioning of every organelle, cell, tissue, and organ in the body. ATP synthesis can lag for a number of reasons, which can lead to myriad health issues, including those related to the skin.
One of the greatest effects of more efficient energy synthesis at the cellular level is increased collagen production. As mentioned above, collagen is an important protein for healthy, youthful-looking skin. It plays a major role in healing wounds and scars, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and providing firmness to the skin.
Red light therapy has also been found to improve blood flow by causing vasodilation (widening of blood vessels). This creates a positive feedback loop in which better circulation allows for more oxygen to reach the cells, which boosts energy production, which improves blood flow, and so on.
Red light therapy is also known to reduce inflammation, in part through improved blood flow, but also through the same mechanism on which microneedling relies: hormesis. This involves what is known as oxidative stress.
Defined as an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, oxidative stress occurs when an oxygen molecule is broken down into single atoms with an uneven number of electrons. Electrons always want to be in pairs, so these molecules, called free radicals, roam free looking for other molecules to pair with. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA, which in turn can lead to a number of serious pathological conditions, including inflammatory skin diseases, and can also cause skin wrinkling and other signs of aging.
Antioxidants are the benevolent molecules that essentially sacrifice themselves to free radicals by offering up electrons, thereby preventing damage to healthy molecules. When free radicals become too abundant for antioxidants to keep under control, we have what is called oxidative stress.
While it is generally considered to be harmful, research indicates that oxidative stress in small doses can be beneficial to the body and can help fight a wealth of pathological conditions by both slowing down the growth of certain cells and by creating protective mechanisms to neutralize and eliminate free radicals.
Red light therapy has been demonstrated to cause a temporary increase in free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species (ROS), causing the body to jumpstart its defense mechanisms.
Red Light Therapy and Microneedling: Do Two Rights Make a Wrong?
In a word, no. The blog post we refer to above that advises against using red light therapy and microneedling together, besides being rather poorly written, seems simply ill-informed about red light therapy and, well, science in general. The author claims that while microneedling does “micro-damaging”, red light therapy does just the opposite, healing, and that, naturally, one must cancel out the other.
The reality is that the body doesn’t work in such a binary way, and thousands of external events can affect the body in thousands of ways, both good and bad, all at once. It’s kind of like saying you can’t work out and use red light therapy because the healing properties of red light therapy work against the damage to muscle fibers that causes muscle gain (in fact, as this article demonstrates, the opposite is true).
While there are currently no studies that we know of showing one treatment to boost the results of the other, there's a multitude of studies demonstrating the effectiveness of both red light therapy and microneedling individually. Not to mention that they both have few, if any, risks and side effects. So, to the question of whether the two treatments can be used in tandem, we say: why not?
There’s one caveat: microneedling can cause temporary discomfort and irritation, and red light therapy can cause mild, also temporary tightness and redness, so if you’ve experienced either of these side effects, you might consider avoiding using them at the same time.
And as for the 2-in-1 red light dermaroller device, we’d take a pass on it. Red light therapy requires a minimum amount of uninterrupted exposure and a certain amount of power in order to be effective. Microneedling, on the other hand, involves constant movement in all directions, and the tiny amount of light emitted by such a small device is negligible at best, and simply put, a waste of batteries.
We’d recommend getting a cheaper dermaroller instead and investing in a red light therapy device that’s designed for therapeutic use. The Rouge Tabletop device, for instance, is the perfect size for use on the face, while offering powerful, concentrated irradiance for maximum benefits. Pro tip: when shopping for a red light therapy device, you should only trust companies that can provide third-party data showing the effectiveness of their devices. Anything less and you’re taking a gamble on the effectiveness of your treatment. (Looking for guidance on choosing a red light therapy device? We’ve got you.)