Neutrogena Recalls Light Therapy Masks, Citing Risk of Eye Injury

Posted July 18, 2019 9:15 p.m. EDT

Over the last several years, light-emitting therapy masks intended to treat acne have streamed into the marketplace and onto Instagram, filling feeds with pictures of people that resemble space-age hockey goalies. Neutrogena’s version of the product, which the company said would kill acne bacteria and fight “inflammation,” cost between $30 and $40, making it one of the more affordable masks on the market.

But earlier this month Neutrogena issued a recall of its masks, citing a “theoretical risk of eye injury” to a subset of people who had underlying eye conditions or were taking medicine that made them sensitive to light.

Neutrogena said in a statement that its July 5 recall followed “reports of mild, transient visual adverse events, combined with a growing scientific discussion around the safety of blue light.”

A spokeswoman said that the “adverse events” had been caused by the Neutrogena masks, though did not specify how many such events had taken place. She also said that no particular study or expert had informed the company’s decision to recall the masks.

News of the recall was for the most part missed by consumers — though a Reddit skin care group member said a month ago that they had seen an internal Neutrogena memo about the planned recall — until this week, when the Australian Department of Health issued a consumer-level recall and provided more information.

The department said in a statement that it “has been identified that, for a small subset of potentially susceptible people (including people with certain eye-related disorders e.g. retinitis pigmentosa, ocular albinism, other congenital retinal disorders), repeated exposure may cause varying degrees of retinal damage that could be irreversible and could accelerate peripheral vision impairment or loss.”

The statement continued: “Other potential adverse events that may be associated with use of this device are eye pain, eye discomfort, eye irritation, tearing, blinding, blurring of vision, seeing spots/flashes and other changes in vision (for example vision color).”

Australia’s notice advised all consumers, not only those with underlying eye conditions, to stop using the mask.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the agency was “aware of the recall” and was looking into it.

The mask was released by Neutrogena in October 2016. Lena Dunham endorsed it on Instagram and said her post was not an advertisement. The product was awarded Best of Beauty in 2017 by Allure magazine. (On social media, celebrities including Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Kourtney Kardashian and Emma Stone have all shared pictures of themselves wearing similar masks made by different manufacturers.)

Dr. Rachel Nazarian, with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, said that only recently had concerns about blue light cropped up, and that they mostly referred to people who had baseline medical conditions that caused their retinas to be more sensitive to light.

But she said that Neutrogena’s mask did not offer enough eye protection. While she planned to continue to use LED treatments in her own practice, she said she used much stronger eyewear than was provided by the company.

“It shouldn’t be used in such a cavalier form,” Nazarian said. “If you’re using the right eyewear protection, you should be fine.”

Dale Needham, the managing director at Aesthetic Technology, a British company that makes LED therapy products under the name Dermalux, agreed with Nazarian that eye protection on the Neutrogena masks was lacking. Needham said that, more generally, there were insufficient regulatory standards to ensure the safety of LED lights on such masks. (“We pride ourselves on the LEDs on our device in comparison to other devices that we’ve measured on the market,” he said, explaining at length the deficiencies in the regulatory parameters.)

For those intent on continuing to use the masks, Nazarian recommended opaque goggles like those used in tanning booths. She said to avoid any eyewear that would allow light to penetrate.

“We don't have enough evidence that suggests that LED light is hazardous to most people,” she said, but “theoretically, if you had a baseline oversensitivity to certain wavelengths in light, exposing yourself to something like this could be hazardous.”