Laser light therapies aren’t a brand new innovation—they’ve been on the aesthetic treatment market for decades.
During the early 1990s, NASA began grabbing headlines everywhere when their experiment on LED lights in space came to an astounding conclusion. Scientists found LED lights in green, red, and blue to have an extraordinary potential to promote the growth of plants as a food source in space . But that’s not the end of the story.
Scientists closely involved in the experiment also noticed lesions in their skin healing faster from the exposure to the red LED light. Astronauts in space missions have a threefold higher injury rate, and wounds are known to heal slower in outer space . That being the case, the healing properties of red LED lights proposed a unique solution to the problem and motivated many bodies to research red LED lights further.
This was the beginning of the red light therapy we know and love today!
In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of red light therapy.
How Does Red Light Therapy Works?
Isn’t it mind-blowing how mere light rays can bring countless benefits to us? Well, that’s because red light therapy works on the molecular and cellular levels to rejuvenate or improve human health. Red light therapy is a type of low-level light therapy consisting of concentrated LED red and near-infrared light.
The light wavelength determines its ability to absorb into the human body and its subsequent efficacy. Red light therapy devices emit light wavelengths ranging from 620 to 750 nm . Correspondingly, red lights mainly target and stimulate mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells. By doing so, the mitochondrial activity increases, causing a ramp-up in cellular energy (ATP) production.
As a general rule of thumb, with greater energy availability, our body can better optimize and perform essential bodily functions such as:
- Increasing cellular metabolism
- Reducing inflammation
- Increasing blood circulation
- Reducing oxidative stress
- Promoting wound healing
As a result, red light therapy is a non-invasive mode of treatment common for acute and chronic conditions.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Wound healing is one of the highlights of red light therapy, but there’s much more to it. The global light therapy market is worth 1 billion dollars, and it’s expected to increase by 5.7% in the coming years . On that account, the rising demand for red light therapy is likely to translate to a comparable level of effectiveness.
Here are the top three uses of red light therapy, effectiveness, and mechanism of action:
Roughly 20.4% of adults in the U.S. live with the diagnosis of chronic pain, with one-third of them experiencing limited life or work activities secondary to pain . Red-light therapy is a recommended adjunct therapy for the management of pain.
The Journal of The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) published a research on the effect of low light therapy on pain and disability in elderly patients . Fifty patients with osteoarthritis of both knees were recruited and randomly assigned for treatment with red light (15 patients), infrared light (18 patients), and placebo (17 patients) for ten days.
Followingly, this study reported patients treated with red or infrared lights to have more than 50% relief, while the placebo group had no significant changes. Moreover, the pain relief amongst participants treated with red and infrared lights in the study lasted for 4-6 months.
Though the exact mechanism behind this reduction in pain is not well understood, it’s proposed that red lights may have anti-inflammatory properties. Less inflammation allows better blood circulation and tissue oxygenation (and consequently, reduces pain intensity!). This capability of red lights to treat pain from within and provide lasting relief makes it a favored mode of complementary treatment worldwide.
Promotes Weight Loss
Dietary fats, when consumed in excess, will accumulate in fat cells called adipocytes. Over time, the fats may develop into “bad” cholesterol called LDL-C, and increase one’s risk of obesity, hypertension, or even stroke.
Red light therapy works by triggering cellular metabolism and the breakdown of fat cells into triglycerides (a simpler form of fats). This complex mechanism of biological manipulation essentially helps the body remove excess fats from the body system. On top of that, absorbed red lights also maintain healthy thyroid function and reduce inflammation to work hand in hand with cellular metabolism.
That said, it’s equally important for you to practice a healthy lifestyle by regularly exercising and eating healthy to maintain a healthy body weight too.
Improve Skin Texture
Skin is the largest organ of the human body. As we grow older, the integrity of our skin may get compromised. Red light therapy is a safe and non-ablative way of restoring healthy skin surfaces.
In 2014, a controlled and randomized study with 136 volunteers was conducted to study the efficacy of red and near-infrared light in reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and skin roughness . Researchers collected data such as clinical photography, collagen density measurements, and computerized digital profile before and after 30 treatment sessions. Upon thorough evaluation, the researchers recorded significant improvement in skin complexion and texture amongst participants.
Collagen is a type of structural protein in connective tissues. It helps make tissues “stretchy” and resilient to avoid fine lines or wrinkles. According to this research, red light stimulates dermal collagen synthesis. Additionally, absorbed red lights also promote fibroblast activity, a cell that promotes the synthesis of collagen. This facilitates the dermal remodeling processes and reduces signs of aging.
Side Effects of Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is a safe and non-invasive procedure. Reports on side effects and long-term adverse effects of red light therapy are rather minimal. Nonetheless, the minor side effects observed in some clinical studies, such as headache, eyestrain, and irritability, come from the glare of red light to the eyes . Hence, when using red light therapy, make sure to wear eye protection to avoid the contact of the light and your eyes as much as possible.
Another issue with red light therapy is overheating of the device. Red light devices are electronic appliances, and they can overheat after prolonged charging time or use. Overheating may result in accidental minor skin burns or injuries. So make sure to allow sufficient time for the device to cool down and avoid using the device for longer than the recommended times.
Red-light therapy is approved for use on all skin types (dry, normal, psoriatic, hirsutism, or sensitive) and skin tones . However, if you experience any intolerance symptoms such as stinging sensation, photosensitivity reactions, or redness, please consult your doctor or dermatologist immediately.
FAQ: Red Light Therapy
How to use red light therapy?
There are two options: purchase an at-home red light device or book an appointment with a certified provider.
If you choose to buy a personal red-light device, make sure you purchase from an accredited online or offline store. Also, make sure the device has FDA approval and if possible, is backing up with clinical results. The recommended time and frequency of use depend on the application area and manufacturer’s instructions.
For instance, a red light device for joints may be used three times daily for five minutes. Contrastingly, red light masks for facial blemishes may be used only three times a week for 10 to 20 minutes. Therefore, it’s best for you to read the device’s instructions and use the red light therapy accordingly.
As for red light therapy on an appointment basis, you’ll get assistance from a credible practitioner throughout the process. However, these appointments could be relatively expensive as they include consultation and service fees too.
Can skincare products be used together with red light therapy?
Yes, you can. In most cases, red light therapy functions as an adjunct therapy and rarely a single treatment. Therefore, applying skincare or medicinal products after red light therapy shouldn’t be a problem.
That said, you must make sure your face is clean and free of any skincare products before red light therapy. This is because certain ingredients in skincare products such as benzoyl peroxide, retinol, oils, or vitamins may interfere with the absorption of red light into the skin .
To avoid compromises in the effectiveness of red light therapy, practice your skincare routine after the red light therapy.
Red-light therapy is a promising low-level light treatment for people to improve the quality of their lives. It gives everyone an opportunity to treat their condition with a natural and drug-free approach. Plus, the technology of red light therapy is advancing rapidly, and it’s only going to improve further as we progress through the years.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- NASA Spinoff. (2005). Lighting the Way for Quicker, Safer Healing | NASA Spinoff. Retrieved August 20, 2022, from https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2005/hm_1.html
- Cotler H. B. (2015). A NASA discovery has current applications in orthopaedics. Current orthopaedic practice, 26(1), 72–74. https://doi.org/10.1097/BCO.0000000000000196
- UCAR. (2022). Wavelength of Blue and Red Light | Center for Science Education. Retrieved August 20, 2022, from https://scied.ucar.edu/image/wavelength-blue-and-red-light-image
- Zelaya, C. E., Dahlhamer, J. M., Lucas, J. W., & Connor, E. M. (2020). Chronic Pain and High-impact Chronic Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019. NCHS data brief, (390), 1–8.
- Stelian, J., Gil, I., Habot, B., Rosenthal, M., Abramovici, I., Kutok, N., & Khahil, A. (1992). Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow-band light therapy. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 40(1), 23–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.1992.tb01824.x
- Wunsch, A., & Matuschka, K. (2014). A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. Photomedicine and laser surgery, 32(2), 93–100. https://doi.org/10.1089/pho.2013.3616
- Brouwer, A., Nguyen, H. T., Snoek, F. J., van Raalte, D. H., Beekman, A., Moll, A. C., & Bremmer, M. A. (2017). Light therapy: is it safe for the eyes?. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, 136(6), 534–548. https://doi.org/10.1111/acps.12785
- Sorbellini, E., Rucco, M., & Rinaldi, F. (2018). Photodynamic and photobiological effects of light-emitting diode (LED) therapy in dermatological disease: an update. Lasers in medical science, 33(7), 1431–1439. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10103-018-2584-8