Red light therapy is a popular treatment for a variety of skin conditions including acne, anti-aging, and hyperpigmentation.
Hundreds of studies indicate that this natural treatment is effective. But is it safe? Can red light therapy cause cancer?
One of the uses of red light therapy is to mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Several studies indicate that red light therapy can stimulate the immune system and even increase patient survival rates.
But what about people who don’t currently have cancer? Can red light therapy lead to its development, or could it be used to reduce the chances of getting cancer?
Access to red light therapy used to be difficult. Until recently, it was an exclusive treatment performed in clinics by skin care professionals. But today, with affordable consumer devices, virtually anyone can use red light therapy at home.
Read on to learn more about what the research shows regarding questions about red light therapy and cancer.
Red Light Therapy and Cancer: Research Findings
Red light therapy stimulates a multitude of physiological processes that support healing by exposing the body to red and near-infrared wavelengths. This has been researched extensively.
When an LED device shines red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths onto the skin, the light photons absorb into the tissue. Red wavelengths absorb into the dermis and epidermis, while NIR wavelengths can absorb even deeper, into the tissues beneath the skin.
These light photons absorb into cells stimulate cellular metabolism. In particular, they stimulate the production of ATP in the cells’ mitochondria, which are the cells’ energy centers.
This allows individual cells to perform better, leading to a beneficial ripple effect that includes increased collagen and elastin production, reduced inflammation, increased blood flow, and more efficient tissue repair.
When it comes to how this could impact cancer, one of the key questions is how this may impact malignant cells. The short answer is that red light therapy does not contribute to the growth of malignant cancer cells.
An early study on the safety of red light therapy on tissues that harbored cancer found that twice-daily LED red light therapy had no measurable effect on tumor growth.
Current research suggests that red light therapy is safe and is not linked to the development of cancer.
Several studies, including a 2022 study on the effects of red light on melanoma, indicate that red light therapy actually has a therapeutic anti-cancer effect.
Recently, red light therapy has been used to help mitigate the side effects of cancer treatment.
This study that focused on patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) found that light therapy has therapeutic effects in reducing cancer therapy-induced complications.
Can Red Light Therapy Help Treat Cancer?
While red light therapy supports the health of normal cells, some studies suggest it has a devastating effect on malignant cells.
A 2022 study showed that LED red light therapy inhibits the proliferation of melanoma cells. These researchers used red light to irradiate melanoma cells in vitro and in animal models.
The outcomes of that study included decreased cellular proliferation in the in vitro models. The animal models showed a small decrease in tumor volume. Treatment also increased the expression of immune markers that are associated with positive treatment outcomes.
How Red Light Therapy Can Be Beneficial in Treating Cancer
There are several ways in which the treatment could be used to fight cancer.
Biphasic Dose Response
High fluence low-power laser irradiation (HF-LPLI) has been used to expose cancer cells to more light than they can handle, activating a ‘biphasic dose response,’ which essentially causes cancer cells to self-destruct.
The biphasic dose response means that when light is delivered at the optimal energy density, it has therapeutic effects.
There’s a beneficial window of light energy output, which is why treatment time for RLT should generally be limited to 15-20 minutes per day. At-home light therapy devices deliver low doses of light which could actually inhibit cancer.
Reactive Oxygen Species
Red light therapy generates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). ROS are highly reactive molecules required for several cellular functions. However, when red light stimulates metabolic activity in tumor cells it also increases ROS production to levels that trigger cell death. This suggests that modulating ROS levels could be a way to treat cancer.
Photodynamic therapy combines red light treatment with photosensitizing drugs that cause cancer cells to “overdose” on light. This cytotoxic effect does not affect normal cells. Normal cells remain unharmed during the treatment.
Red light may decrease mitochondrial activity and migration of squamous cell carcinomas, according to one study. The treatment also resulted in apoptosis (cell death) in tumor cells.
Near infrared light has also been used to reverse immunosuppression deep within the tumor.
Red light therapy stimulates the immune system which could make it a valuable asset both as cancer prevention and cancer treatment.
In one study, researchers used lasers to deliver red light treatment to mice with melanoma and oral cancers and found that the treatment stimulated immune cells and led to reduced tumor progression.
Better Treatment Outcomes
Red light used during cancer treatment may also lead to higher post-treatment success and survival rates. In one case, 94 patients with three different types of throat cancer received radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
Some patients received preventive red light treatments in nine points of their oral mucosa every day. During a post-treatment follow-up 41 months later, the red light group had a much better response to the treatment and improved survival rates than the placebo group.
Neuropathy is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Red light therapy could help. A study involving breast cancer patients found that red light therapy could help prevent the development of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, including less hand and foot numbness and pain.
Although one should not attempt to DIY cancer treatment using red light therapy, some researchers believe that it may soon be possible to supplement cancer treatment at home using red light therapy.
Red Light Therapy: Safety and Side Effects
Red light therapy is generally considered to be safe when used for a relatively short duration (10-20 minutes). Side effects only affect some people and may include temporary redness and tightness, which is likely due to increased blood flow to the treatment area.
A common question is whether red light therapy contains ultraviolet (UV) light, which is a known cause of cancer. It does not contain UV light.
Two randomized trials on the safety of red light therapy found that it takes high-intensity light to cause temporary erythema (redness) and hyperpigmentation. At low levels, these adverse effects are rare.
Darker skin is more photosensitive, according to the researchers, who stated: “We determined that LED-RL [LED red light therapy] is safe up to 320 J/cm2 for skin of color and 480 J/cm2 for non-Hispanic Caucasian individuals.”
At-home LED light therapy devices don’t come close to the fluence needed to cause cell damage. If you’re curious, here’s a handy formula you can use to convert the light energy output of BIOMAX devices (measured at mW/cm2) to Joules/cm2.
For example, a light therapy panel that features 100 mW/cm2 used for one minute would equal just 6 J/cm2, well below the cautionary threshold. A twenty-minute treatment session would still yield only 120 J/cm2 which is still very safe.
Most studies on red light therapy are short both in treatment times and study duration, but those that included follow-ups indicate that there are no long-term side effects of the treatment.
Are There Dangers from Using Red Light Therapy Too Much?
Is too much red light therapy a problem? And how much is too much?
Most studies are short-term and use red light therapy several times per week for several weeks with no adverse effects.
Skin conditions can often be cleared up by using red light therapy 3-5 times a week initially, for 1-4 months until you see improvement. How soon you see results will vary depending on the severity of the condition.
Most device manufacturers recommend using the device for no more than 20 minutes at a time. If you go beyond this treatment period, you will experience diminishing returns because your cells can only absorb a certain amount of light photons at once.
If you need to treat an acute condition such as a skin wound, it’s best to repeat shorter treatments daily rather than infrequent long treatments. Consistency is the most important part of red light therapy.
While red light therapy is generally safe, consult your doctor if you are taking photosensitizing drugs including Retin-A, Tetracycline, and others.
Red Light Therapy with the BIOMAX Series
The BIOMAX Series panels include an array wavelengths known for their therapeutic benefits.
Along with several wavelengths of red and near infrared light, the devices also contain blue light, which has been shown to inhibit the development of melanoma as well as other types of malignant cells.
The big question of safety has largely been answered when it comes to treating and supporting healing in patients with existing cancers.
To date, there are no studies that link red light therapy to the development of cancer where none was present. Therefore, current research suggests you can safely use BIOMAX red light therapy devices for anti-aging and other skin concerns without the fear of developing skin cancer.
Discover more about the BIOMAX series and choose the best red light therapy device for supporting skin and overall health!