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I tried this terrifying-looking $199 LED face mask. It was a nightmare

This thing is a cautionary tale in beauty tech. Here's why.
headshot.jpg
Written by Sherin Shibu on
Pros
  • Range of options for light and intensity
  • Face and neck attachment for full coverage
  • Electrodes included as well
Cons
  • Heavy and poor design
  • Potential long-term health effects
  • Sparks when plugging in the mask
  • Lack of relaxation or comfort while using the mask

Celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Julia Roberts, and Kate Hudson swear by the efficacy of LED masks, albeit expensive ones. I somehow managed to snag a $199.99 salon-level face and neck LED mask for $83 including tax (thanks to a 55% discount and an extra 15% Prime coupon). 

My first encounter with this technology came in college when I went to a friend's dorm room and saw a mask similar to this one on her desk. When I asked if it was left over from a Halloween costume, she laughed and said that no, it was an LED face mask. She used it every night. You could set it to different colors to match whatever skin concern you had, from acne to fine lines and wrinkles. She said it was expensive but worth it.

I didn't buy an LED mask then, even though I was intrigued. It was just too pricey and I was afraid it wouldn't work for me -- or worse, what if it burned or hurt my skin?

Let's see what happened when I put my fears aside and bought one. 

Specifications

Here are all of the wavelengths of light included with the mask and their purported health benefits.

Cyan (490nm)

Eases skin irritation, soothing

Red (630nm)

Increases blood circulation and collagen production and helps melasma

Yellow (590nm)

Smoothens skin and reduces redness

Green (520nm)

Improves hyperpigmentation, reduces wrinkles and fine lines

Blue (470nm)

Calms and tightens skin

Purple (390nm)

Relaxing and improves lymph metabolism

White (mix)

Relaxing and restoring

Before

To say I was hesitant to use this mask would be an understatement. 

It came in a lovely gift box, so I opened it up excitedly -- and came face to face with what looked like a mannequin's detached face. 

Terrifying-looking white mask with eye, nose, and mouth holes

Hello there.

Sherin Shibu

It was heavy and bulky, and it had what I thought were screws placed through the back. When I tried on the mask without the lights, the screws pressed uncomfortably into my face. I loosened the elastic strap around the mask which fixed the situation while I was sitting upright.

Reviewer wearing the mask

Not the usual look.

Sherin Shibu

I tried plugging in the mask but was slightly alarmed by the sparks that flew from the plug. This issue persisted every time I used the mask.

During

I plugged in the mask on a Monday. I chose the color red because I need all the blood circulation and collagen I can get and set the light intensity to three out of nine. 

I noticed that the remote said Facial Whitening Instrument, which was a bit concerning. That's not what I was signing up for -- I love my skin tone the way it is.

Face mask remote with buttons and 06 on a mini countdown screen

The time remaining, aka the countdown.

Sherin Shibu

On the first day, I wore the mask for 15 minutes. The light wasn't warm or uncomfortable, but the mask was heavy, even when I was lying down. I felt like the weight of the mask balanced on my eyes, which I almost fully covered with cotton pads. When I took off the mask, I had red indents around my nose. 

Reviewer wearing the mask on the red light setting

You can see the little gap in one of my eyes -- I had to move the cotton pad aside to take this picture.

Sherin Shibu

On the bright side, the mask unplugged a few times when I pulled it to see how much time I had left, and when I plugged it back in, it remembered how much time was remaining. I appreciated that. And my sister said that my skin looked good, which made me happy. 

On the second day, I discovered that what I thought were the rubber ends of screws on the back of the mask were actually electric stimulators that give the face small, repeated electric shocks. I screwed in the little bolts that came with this contraption to test it out. I then saw what I had done and decided nope, no messing with electrodes -- my skin is firm enough, I'm just sticking with LED light.

Mask with seven electrodes attached

With the electrodes. No, no, no thank you.

Sherin Shibu

Once again, there were sparks when I plugged in the mask. The pressure was pretty intense along my brow bone, such that I had to lift the mask through the eye cutouts to feel more comfortable.

I did break out after wearing the mask -- one pimple on my neck on day one and one above my eyebrow on day two. This was unusual. I was also doing more research into the harmful effects of LED light, and I didn't want to expose my skin to a concentrated burst of light like that any longer. 

The nail in the coffin was how I felt -- I dreaded putting the mask on every day. Skincare and self-care should make you feel good, and the weight of this mask made me feel the opposite. After the second time I used this mask, I wiped it down, returned it to its original packaging, and shipped it back.

After 

When I think of my relationship with skincare, one word comes to mind -- joy. I follow a skincare regimen not to punish myself, but to pamper myself. When I massage a product into my face or cleanse off a day of hard work or do a mask, I feel more at peace with who I am. I feel grateful for every pore of me.

This product took that awareness of self and made it uncomfortable. I had my eyes squeezed shut nearly every second I used the mask, which made me feel tense. The weight of the mask was too much and the sparks when I plugged it in were alarming. 

Self-care starts first with how you feel and then amplifies with every step you take. I'm a big believer in enjoying the process, not just the results. In this case, even if you told me I would end up with baby skin if I did this mask every day, I would still return it because I didn't enjoy the day-to-day. 

Alternatives to consider

Good skincare can do everything an LED mask can do, with more comfort. I use the following alternatives and can vouch for their effectiveness.

Kora Organics uses certified organic ingredients that pack in more antioxidants than non-organic products. This product delivers with turmeric (to reduce pigmentation), aspen bark (for skin renewal), and peppermint (for freshness). This is probably the most expensive exfoliant I've used, but the Prime Day sale helped a lot. Every time I put it on, I rub it in little circles and let it sit for about 15 minutes. This is a refreshing facial with a trustworthy ingredients list. 

Glossier is all about enhancing what you've got with quality, affordable products. I've repurchased their moisturizing moon mask six times and bought one for my mom, too. It's a bouncy, luscious mask that goes on clear and leaves my skin hydrated. It has honey, aloe, licorice root, lemon fruit extract, and hyaluronic acid. And it feels so good when you put it on!

This one is more skincare tech oriented; if you want a deep cleanse and a facial experience more like what you would get at a salon, a facial steamer might be a good purchase. I've bought one and used it, and it does open the pores for deeper cleansing. Serums and moisturizers go on so smoothly afterward.

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