Red Light Therapy Can Help You Heal (Complete Guide)

 

Red Light Therapy: Benefits, Evidence and Access

 

If you’re suffering with frustrating health issues, and feel like you’ve tried everything, you should know about red light therapy treatment. 

There’s ample evidence that medical laser treatments such as red light therapy can help the human body with anti-aging, muscle recovery, arthritis, insomnia, depression, and chemotherapy side effects.

 

In this article, I’ll explain how red light therapy works, provide evidence of it’s efficacy, and show you how you can access this treatment simply and inexpensively.

 

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy (RLT) is a therapeutic technique that uses low-level wavelengths of red light to wrinkles, heal scars and persistent wounds, ease arthritis and other conditions, and improve sleep and mood.

In the early 1990s, RLT was used by scientists to help grow plants in space. The scientists found that the intense light from red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) helped promote growth and photosynthesis of plant cells.

 

Red light therapy offers both medical and cosmetic benefits.

 

Red light was then studied for its potential application in medicine, more specifically to find out if it could increase energy inside human cells. The researchers hoped that RLT could be an effective way to treat the muscle atrophy, slow wound healing, and bone density issues caused by weightlessness during space travel.

There are many different types of red light therapy. Red light beds found at salons help reduce cosmetic skin issues, like stretch marks and wrinkles.

It’s also used in an medical office settings to treat more serious conditions, like psoriasis, slow-healing wounds, and even the side effects of chemotherapy.

There’s a fair amount of evidence to show that RLT is a promising treatment many conditions.

 

Other Names for Red Light Therapy

You may have heard of red light therapy (RLT) by its other names, which include:

  • photobiomodulation (PBM)
  • low level light therapy (LLLT)
  • soft laser therapy
  • cold laser therapy
  • biostimulation
  • photonic stimulation
  • low-power laser therapy (LPLT)

 

The Mechanism of Red Light Therapy

Red light is thought to work by producing a biochemical effect in cells that strengthens the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell — it’s where the cell’s energy is created.

The energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  By increasing the function of the mitochondria using RLT, a cell can make more ATP.

 

With more energy, cells can function more efficiently, rejuvenate themselves, and repair damage.

 

RLT vs IPL

RLT is different from laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapies because it doesn’t cause damage to the skin surface.

 

RLT is NOT the same as IPL.

 

Laser and pulsed light therapies work by causing controlled damage to the outer layer of the skin, which then induces tissue repair.

RLT bypasses this harsh step by directly stimulating regeneration of the skin. The light emitted by RLT penetrates roughly 5 millimeters below the skin’s surface.

 

Red Light Therapy Benefits

Ever since the initial experiments in space, there have been hundreds of clinical studies and thousands of laboratory studies conducted to determine if RLT has medical benefits.

 

Anti-Aging

Red light therapy feels so rejuvenating because it stimulates the production of collagen, which gives skin its elasticity, hair its strength, and connective tissue its ability to hold everything together.

 

 

Numerous studies and trials have found light therapy improves skin tone & complexion, diminishes signs of aging, and speeds the healing of wounds and scars.

 

Muscle Recovery

 

 

Elite trainers and athletes are using red light therapy for muscle growth and recovery benefits.

Numerous trials and studies have found that light therapy helps your body produce more cellular energy and reduces oxidative stress, which helps tired & damaged muscle tissue repair and regenerate faster.

 

 

Recent 2016 research published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation shows that the application of light therapy also promotes the growth of healthy muscle tissue, naturally increasing muscle size and bulk—as well as strength.

 

Arthritis

Red light therapy is proven to help patients with rheumatoid arthritis with short-term treatment for relief of pain and morning stiffness.

 

Red light therapy is proven to help with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

 

Arthritis is painful and long-term; anything that provides you with a little relief from the constant pain of condition is worth using, even if the effect is short term and modest.

 

Insomnia

Most people are exposed to a lot of unhealthy artificial light that disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it harder to sleep.

 

 

Red and near infrared does the exact opposite and helps protect your internal clock.

Clinical studies show light therapy also increases natural melatonin production for healthier sleep.

 

Read: The Complete Guide to Better Sleep With Melatonin

 

Depression

The relationship between light and depression was evidenced when a condition called “seasonal affective disorder” was identified in 1984.

A percentage of the human population displays a seasonal pattern of depression or anxiety which, it is believed, is related to daylight variations. From the start, light therapy was considered a route to be pursued.

 

 

Research shows that exposure to morning light produces benefits to patients and that “light therapy” is effective.

Another study showed that bright light therapy may be beneficial to depression in general, regardless of whether it is seasonal or not.

 

Helps Ease Chemotherapy Side Effects

Red light therapy is a moderately beneficial adjuvant (add-on) therapy for cancer treatment side effects because useful in wound healing.

Since some of the painful side effects of cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, are epithelial wounds, which is where red light therapy shows some promising application.

 

Red light therapy can help with wound healing during chemotherapy.

 

If you are undergoing chemotherapy and external wound healing is an issue, you may try to use LLLT if you have an inexpensive device that can be used at home and your doctor is fine with this.

 

Insurance Coverage

Currently, RLT isn’t covered by insurance companies for these conditions due to lack of sufficient evidence.

However, a few insurance companies now cover the use of RLT to prevent oral mucositis during cancer treatment.

 

Red Light Therapy Side Effects

Unlike most conventional treatments, red light therapy is safe, non-invasive, uses no chemicals or drugs, and is not associated with harmful side effects.

Red light therapy simply harnesses the natural healing and rejuvenating benefits of a specific range of therapeutic natural light and delivers this targeted energy at a higher rate than the sun—without harmful UV rays.

 

A major 2013 study on light therapy conducted by Harvard and MIT researchers praised light therapy for its “noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects.”

 

Red light therapy is considered safe and painless. However, there have been reports of burns and blistering from using RLT units: a few people developed burns after falling asleep with the unit in place, while others experienced burns due to broken wires or device corrosion.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t fall asleep with a red light device turned on.  And of course, you should never use any electrical device which is damaged or has frayed wires.

 

Red Light Therapy is Safe For Eyes

Studies have shown that red light is actually beneficial for eye health (R,R,R).

Although it’s not necessary, some users prefer to wear eye goggles when using their red light device.

Safety Concerns with Infrared Light, published in heelspurs.com provides an excellent analysis of light and eye health.

 

Red light is safe for eyes.

 

The article shares the same view as the above comments – that red light (600-700nm) is safe for eye health. But of concern is infrared light – as this may cause the eye to overheat.

So basically, if you’re using 850nm near infrared near your eyes, I recommend that you keep your eyes closed while the light is on;  this will help lower the amount of near infrared light potentially heating the eyeball.

 

Where to Find Red Light Therapy

Spas offer red light therapy. You can also find treatments at tanning salons, sports injury clinics, chiropractors’ offices, and naturopath clinics.

 

Red light therapy is used in salons and medical offices.

 

You can also purchase your own red light therapy device for home use.

 

Shopping For A Red Light Therapy Device

These are the features to consider when looking to purchase a red light therapy device for home use:

 

Wavelength

The most important feature to consider when shopping for an infrared therapy lamp is the wavelength of light that it produces.

At-home infrared therapy lamps generally offer wavelengths between 600 and 1400 nanometers (nm). Clinical studies indicate that wavelengths in the range of 630 to 680 nm and 800 to 880 nm are usually the most effective, so it’s important to choose a lamp that’s able to provide those wavelengths.

 

Type of Red Light Therapy Lamps

Infrared therapy lamps typically come in four styles: tripod, light panel, desk, and handheld.

 

Tripod Infrared Therapy Lamps

These are similar to traditional floor lamps, though they often have wheels on the bottom for moving the lamp around your home. This type is very adjustable, making it easy to focus the light on a specific area of the body.

 

Light Panel Infrared Therapy Lamps

These are tabletop lamps with a large square or rectangular panel that emits the light. This type of lamp often provides the largest treatment area, but it might be difficult to position the panel so it targets the specific area of the body that you’re trying to treat.

 

Desk Infrared Therapy Lamps

These are small tabletop lamps that are similar to the tripod style but smaller and not quite as adjustable. However, the desk lamps are easier to angle than the light panels.

 

Handheld Infrared Therapy Lamps

These are similar in design to a flashlight, making one ideal for travel. Because you can hold the lamp in your hand, it’s extremely easy to focus on a specific area of the body. However, a handheld lamp’s treatment area is usually much smaller than that of other lamp types.

 

Portable Infrared Therapy Lamps

This is an ideal option for anyone new to infrared light therapy. It heats up quickly, is easy to adjust, and automatically turns itself off after 15 minutes to prevent overheating.

A compact size makes it easy to move around your house so you can do your infrared therapy anywhere you like.

 

Size of Lamp

The overall size of an infrared therapy lamp is an important feature to consider because you have to have space in your home to use and store it.

Tripod infrared therapy lamps are usually the largest, with a size that’s similar to most standard floor lamps.

Light panels are typically the next largest in size, though they can fit easily on most tabletops, making them a more convenient option. Desk infrared lamps are even smaller and fit comfortably on most desks.

If you’re really short on space – or want an option you can take when traveling – a handheld lamp is your best bet.

 

Cord or No Cord?

The majority of infrared therapy lamps have cords that must be plugged into an outlet for use. Some handheld lamps are cordless and run on batteries.

Cordless models give you more options in terms of use because you don’t need to be near an outlet. They’re also ideal for travel.

Some cordless infrared therapy lamps run on traditional disposable batteries, while others use rechargeable batteries.

 

Treatment Area

While the overall size of an infrared therapy lamp is an important practical concern, it’s the size of the lamp’s treatment area that really determines how effective and easy it is to use.

The treatment area refers to the portion of the lamp that emits the light on the affected area of your body.

If you’re using the lamp to treat a large area, such as your back, you’ll want a lamp with a larger treatment area. For smaller spots, such as the knee, the size of the treatment area isn’t quite as important.

If you plan to use the lamp for multiple ailments, it’s best to choose a model with a larger treatment area so you know you can accommodate any area of the body.

Light panel infrared therapy lamps offer the largest treatment area, while handheld devices have the smallest.

Keep in mind that you can easily move a handheld lamp over your body, so its small treatment area may not matter as much.

 

Treatment Time

You may not have much time to devote to infrared light therapy in your schedule, so you should consider the amount of time necessary for successful treatment when considering a lamp.

The treatment time can vary from lamp to lamp based on the wavelengths that a model uses, as well as the intensity of the light.

Some lamps require only a few minutes per area per day, while others require up to 20 minutes a day for each treatment area.

 

Lamp Timer

Some infrared heat lamps are equipped with a timer that counts down the length of time the light is in use. This feature helps guarantee that you meet the recommended treatment time without exceeding it.

You can find some lamps with an automatic shutoff, so the lamp turns off once the timer counts down.

 

Best Red Light Therapy Lamps For Home Use

 

Beurer Red Light Therapy Lamp

Pros

The Beurer Red Light Therapy Lamp is a compact infrared lamp, and a good choice for people who need a smaller lamp to focus on certain areas of the body.

The 300W bulb heats up quickly and has a 15-minute overheat shutoff. The ceramic glass keeps the heat evenly focused, and adjusting the device is easy.

Cons

Some customers report that their lamps stopped working after several months, and replacement bulbs are expensive.

 

Video: Review of the Buerer IL50 Infrared Heat Lamp

 

 

ChoiceMMed Red Light Therapy Lamp

 

ChoiceMMed Red Light Therapy Lamp
Pros

The ChoiceMMed Red Light Therapy Lamp features advanced optics to filter heat from the 300W bulb and spread it more evenly over the treatment area.

 

 

This model tilts up to 35 degrees for easy positioning. 15-minute treatment/countdown timer. 100% UV block.

 

Cons

The lamp does get hot and takes a bit of time to cool down before you can start another treatment cycle.

 

KissMeEssentials Red Light Therapy Lamp

Pros

The KissMeEssentials Red Light Therapy Lamp uses a near and far-infrared combination, delivering light within the optimum effectiveness range of nanometers, deep red bulbs delivering 660nm and near infrared bulbs delivering 850nm.

Its LED technology delivers over 100mw/ cm2 irradiance and has 60 LED lights 42x28x14cm (3.5KG).

It also includes a strong iron hook for convenient mounting.

This unit is available in 4 sizes, so you can find the right size for your treatment area.  If also includes eye protection.

At the time of publication, this device has perfect user reviews.

 

Cons

This unit is pricier than the other models.

 

Trophy Skin RejuvaliteMD Lamp

Trophy RejuvaliteMD
Pros

The Trophy Red Light Therapy Device is a desk lamp model, designed for convenient use on the face.

The LED panel is split evenly between UV-free red (660nm), yellow (590nm), amber (630nm), and (invisible) infrared (880nm) bulbs which penetrate the skin at different levels. 

Most reviewers say it’s effective and easy to use.

 

Cons

Some reviewers didn’t notice any improvements and felt the strength of the light was lacking. 

One reviewer felt that the goggles which were included were of poor quality.

 

Video: Review of the Trophy RejuvaliteMD

 

 Red Light Therapy Tips

  • Consult your doctor before using an infrared therapy lamp. That way you’ll know if it’s the best treatment for your condition or injury.
  • Make sure that your skin is free of any lotions, creams, or oils before using the lamp. The lamp can burn you if there are any oils or emollients on your skin.
  • Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. Determine the recommended treatment time so you don’t irritate your skin.
  • Don’t use the lamp to treat injury pain in the first 24 hours after the injury occurs. The light could make the inflammation worse during that first day.

 

Red Light Therapy Treatment Length

The length of red light therapy sessions depends on the type of device used, so follow the manufacturer’s directions.

In general, treatments vary from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Some hand-held devices can be used within 3-5 minutes per treatment area.

Treatments may become longer depending on how big the surface area you are working on.

 

The length of red light therapy sessions depends on the type of device used, so follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Hey!  Blogging can be a lonely business … I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on red light therapy – drop me a comment below!

What to Read Next

 

References

Red Light Anti-Aging Studies

  • J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Sep;6(3):189-94
  • J Photochem Photobiol B. 2007 Jul 27;88(1):51-67. Epub 2007 May 1
  • Dermatol Surg. 2005 Sep;31(9 Pt 2):1199-205
  • Invest Dermatol. 2009 Dec;129(12):2751-9. doi: 10.1038/jid.2009.186. Epub 2009 Jul 9
  • Photomed Laser Surg. 2009 Dec;27(6):969-71. doi: 10.1089/pho.2009.2547
  • Lasers Surg Med. 2008 Feb;40(2):106-12. doi: 10.1002/lsm.20615
  • Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Feb 1; 32(2): 93–100. doi: [10.1089/pho.2013.361
  • Dermatol Surg. 2017 Mar;43(3):371-380. doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000981.
  • J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2005 Dec;7(3-4):196-200.

Other Red Light Therapy Studies

  • Barikbin B, et al. (2017). Comparison of the effects of 665 nm low level diode Laser Hat versus and a combination of 665 nm and 808nm low level diode Laser Scanner of hair growth in androgenic alopecia. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1080/14764172.2017.1326609
  • Bjordal JM, et al (2006). A randomized, placebo controlled trial of low level laser therapy for activated Achilles tendinitis with microdialysis measurement of peritendinous prostaglandin E2 concentrations. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2005.020842
  • Brosseau L, et al. (2005). Low level laser therapy (Classes I, II and III) for treating rheumatoid arthritis.
    cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002049.pub2/abstract;jsessionid=547ADC83716DD5214F1136F64910C045.f02t02
  • Chaves MEA, et al. (2014). Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142519
  • Chung H, et al. (2012). The nuts and bolts of low-level laser (light) therapy. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1007/s10439-011-0454-7
  • Cobb CM. (2006). Lasers in periodontics: A review of the literature. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1902/jop.2006.050417
  • Decision memo for infrared therapy devices (CAG-00291N). (2006).
    cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/nca-decision-memo.aspx?NCAId=176&NcaName=Infrared+Therapy+Devices&DocID=CAG-00291N&id=176&bc=gAAAAAgAAgAAAA==&
  • Franke TP, et al. (2017). Do patients with carpal tunnel syndrome benefit from low-level laser therapy? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2017.06.002
  • Gaida K, et al. (2004). Low level laser therapy — a conservative approach to the burn scar? DOI:
    doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2003.12.012
  • Goldberg DJ, et al. (2006). Combined 633-nm and 830-nm led treatment of photoaging skin.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16989189/
  • Jadaud E, et al. (2012). Low-level laser therapy: A standard of supportive care for cancer therapy-induced oral mucositis in head and neck cancer patients? DOI:
    doi.org/10.5978/islsm.12-RE-01
  • Kadhim-Saleh A, et al. (2013). Is low-level laser therapy in relieving neck pain effective? Systematic review and meta-analysis.
    link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00296-013-2742-z
  • Kim H, et al. (2013). Low‐level light therapy for androgenetic alopecia: A 24‐week, randomized, double‐blind, sham device–controlled multicenter trial. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1111/dsu.12200
  • Kim W-S, et al. (2011). Is light-emitting diode phototherapy (LED-LLLT) really effective? DOI:
    doi.org/10.5978/islsm.20.205
  • Lee SY, et al. (2007). A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, and split-face clinical study on LED phototherapy for skin rejuvenation: Clinical, profilometric, histologic, ultrastructural, and biochemical evaluations and comparison of three different treatment settings. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2007.04.008
  • Lighting the way for quicker, safer healing. (n.d.).
    spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2005/hm_1.html
  • Phototherapy. (2018).
    psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/phototherapy
  • Tchanque-Fossuo CN, et al. (2016). Low-level light therapy for treatment of diabetic foot ulcer: A review of clinical experiences.
    jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961616P0843X
  • Schindl A, et al. (1999). Low-intensity laser therapy is an effective treatment for recurrent herpes simplex infection. Results from a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10469307
  • Stelian J, et al. (1992). Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow‐band light therapy. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.1992.tb01824.x
  • Wirz-Justice A, et al. (2011). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of light therapy for antepartum depression.
    europepmc.org/abstract/med/21535997
  • Wunsch A, et al. (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. DOI:
    doi.org/10.1089/pho.2013.3616
  • Yousefi-Nooraie R, et al. (2008). Low level laser therapy for nonspecific low-back pain.
    cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005107.pub4/abstract

 

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I had no idea that red light therapy could be used to ease chemotherapy side effects. I have been thinking about getting into photobiomodulation light therapy because of my seasonal affective disorder but I do have a brother with cancer. I will make sure to pass this information onto him.