Thanks to light-emitting diode (LED) technology, it’s possible to self-treat with red light at home—but there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about do-it-yourself (DIY) red and infrared light therapy. Although it can be a viable and convenient option, it’s essential to know how to use it safely and effectively.
Below, we’ll review what kinds of devices you can use at home, which are best, and how to use them effectively. But first, we need to review how red light therapy works so we know what we need from an effective DIY red light device.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red light therapy works at the cellular level to promote natural healing.
Specifically, red light therapy uses red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths of light to stimulate beneficial biological functions. These wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm), with red wavelengths ranging from 630nm to 700nm, and NIR ranging from 700nm to 1100nm. “Red light” is often used as an umbrella term for both red and NIR light.
When red or NIR light photons absorb through the skin, they interact with light-sensitive chromophores inside cells. This, in turn, stimulates mitochondria (energy-producing organelles inside cells) to produce adenosine triphosphate, the primary cellular fuel.
Energizing cells is one of the main benefits of red light therapy. Stressed, tired, or diseased cells struggle to stay alive, and this diverts energy from their ability to perform normal cellular functions. Stimulating a cell’s energy production can give it the resources to do its job while helping it fight off pathogens and the effects of stress.
In addition to energizing cells, red light therapy reduces inflammation, promotes collagen production, and stimulates circulation. But because it works at the cellular level, it is not a quick-fix treatment. Rather, it’s a way to support the body’s self-healing mechanisms to promote normal functioning—by treating the root causes of many conditions, rather than just treating (or masking) symptoms.
Red Light Therapy at Home
It takes time to deliver the full effects of red light, meaning multiple weekly sessions are needed, often for several months before achieving optimal results. Some chronic conditions could take longer to clear up, and maintenance sessions may be advised to prevent relapses.
Traditionally, red light therapy treatments have been relegated to doctor’s offices, wellness clinics, spas, or other facilities that offer it. But these can be costly as well as inconvenient.
Let's talk about some options.
Can a handheld red light device deliver great results for less? No. Handheld red light therapy kits don't have the coverage area or light energy output (known as irradiance) for effective light photon absorption into the tissues.
DIY Light Therapy Devices
You might be tempted to save money by making your own DIY LED red light therapy device, but that’s not advisable. For one reason, not just any “red” will do. The wavelengths used in red light therapy have been thoroughly studied and only a relatively narrow spectrum (known as the therapeutic window) has been found to have positive effects: from 630nm to 660nm (red) and from 810nm to 850nm (NIR).
There are dozens of DIY sites that describe the use of homemade infrared light bulbs to build your own DIY red light device. Often, this is referring to heat lamps. For your safety (and the sake of your wallet), it's important to know that incandescent and halogen lights are not suitable for light therapy. This is because ...
- They emit diffused light, which means few light photons will absorb into the skin.
- They emit most of their energy as heat. Never purchase an infrared heat lamp (the kind used to incubate chicks) for therapeutic use. These lamps can reach temperatures of over 500 degrees F! Because the light is diffused, you'd have to be inches away from the bulb, which would result in severe burns.
- The lights can be calibrated to specific wavelengths. Coatings allow red/NIR photons to pass through, but there’s no way to determine which wavelengths they are. Even bulbs sold as "infrared light" or "NIR light" can't specify wavelengths—which means you could be using one that's mostly heat.
- They generate ultraviolet radiation, which accelerates skin aging.
Fluorescent lights are also not suitable for light therapy, since ...
- Although they don't generate heat or UV radiation, their light is extremely diffused, so very few light photons will absorb into the tissues.
- They dim over time.
- They can't be calibrated to red/NIR wavelengths. Coatings allow red/NIR photons to pass through, but there’s no way to determine which wavelengths they are.
- Once the bulbs burn out, their mercury content requires safe disposal.
LED bulbs are the only bulbs suitable for red light therapy because ...
- They can be calibrated to deliver specific wavelengths within the therapeutic window.
- They provide directional light, so more photons absorb into the body.
- They last over 100,000 hours (nearly 30 years, running 24/7)
- Very little of their energy is emitted as heat; most is emitted as bright light.
- The LED red light therapy bulbs are compact, allowing tighter groupings for more effective irradiation of the treatment area.
You can purchase individual LED bulbs that are suitable for red light therapy. However, most don’t specify which wavelengths they emit. Some even call their bulbs “diffused,” which is the opposite of what's needed for red light therapy.
In addition to the type of bulb, you also need to consider the number of bulbs required to effectively treat larger areas; the ability to choose specific red or NIR wavelengths, or a combination of both; a power supply; and other electrical elements used in a therapy device, including EMF radiation shields.
Ultimately, you will have the best results by investing in a clinical-grade, high-power LED light therapy device. Fortunately, these have become more affordable in recent years, so you no longer have to own a clinic to afford one.
DIY Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy can treat a variety of conditions under a doctor's supervision, or you can do the treatment yourself red light laser therapy at home. DIY red light therapy is suitable for these common ailments:
- Faster muscle recovery after exercise
- Hair growth
- Effects of aging on the skin
- Weight loss
- Arthritis and low back pain
Check out the PlatinumLED blog to discover more ways red light therapy can boost your health.
General DIY Tips
To get the results you want:
- Be consistent and patient. Red light therapy is not a quick fix; it takes time and consistency for your body to heal. Some chronic conditions will require ongoing maintenance sessions to prevent relapses.
- Choose a high light-energy output LED device. The highest possible total energy output (irradiance) will ensure deep absorption into the tissues.
- Ensure the light therapy device delivers specific red or NIR wavelengths, and/or a combination. The most therapeutic benefits often result from applying both simultaneously. A light therapy device that delivers red and NIR light is useful for surface (red), as well as deeper-tissue (NIR) applications.
- Choose the right size light. A small LED panel is ideal for targeted applications including facial rejuvenation, hair loss, or hand joint pain. Choose a larger panel or a series of connected panels for all-body health or large muscle groups. You can treat larger areas of the body with a small panel; you’ll just have to readjust it more frequently and invest more time.
For DIY treatment, follow these general guidelines:
- Choose a convenient place to hang or prop your device so you’re comfortable.
- Your skin must be bare (not covered by fabric or clothing).
- We recommend eye protection. Red light treats eye conditions under the supervision of a doctor, but eye strain could occur during a long session.
- Most conditions respond well to three to five therapy sessions per week (or daily for acute injury); continue until you notice significant improvement.
- For chronic conditions, maintain your results with two to three sessions per week after reaching your goal.
- Start slowly, working up from a 10-minute session to 20 minutes, with the skin 6” to 8” from the device. Facial skin is particularly sensitive. Don’t try to accelerate results with longer sessions or by moving closer to the device.
Remember that red light therapy works on a cellular level. The body needs a chance to heal and recalibrate before you’ll notice changes in how you look and feel.
Bonus: if you find it hard to remain still during light therapy, this is a wonderful opportunity to do a short meditation, or catch up on podcasts or audiobooks.
Red and NIR light therapy won’t cause burns when used as directed, and there are no known side effects. Individuals with sensitive skin may experience temporary redness and tightness. If this happens, move farther back from the device and/or shorten your therapy time.
PlatinumLED devices use shielded components to eliminate EMF emissions at the minimum usage distance (4 to 6 inches). Check out the EMF testing by viewing this article and video on the PlatinumLED blog.
Treating Specific Conditions
Here are guidelines for using red light therapy at home to treat some common conditions:
Muscle Recovery and Injury
Elite athletes gain a competitive edge and return to play sooner after intense workouts or injury using red light to pre-condition muscles before exercise, and promoting post-exercise recovery using NIR light, which penetrates deep into the muscles.
Larger devices are best for large muscle groups or full-body relaxation/rejuvenation.
- Before exercise, prime your muscles for activity by using red light therapy for 10 minutes per muscle.
- Post-exercise, relax or gently stretch while irradiating muscles for 10 minutes per muscle.
Treat sports injuries with daily 10- to 20-minute sessions until you can return to normal activity.
Red light treats hereditary hair loss in men and women.
Recline in a comfortable chair with a panel hung or propped behind your head, and relax for 10 to 20 minutes three to five times per week. Continue with maintenance sessions once hair growth has been restored to support hair follicle functioning.
Red light therapy is widely known for treating fine lines and wrinkles, saggy and papery skin, and age spots associated with aging.
Prop the device on a table or hang it where you can comfortably face it with your face 6” to 10” away; close your eyes and relax in the warm glow for 10 to 20 minutes every other day.
One benefit of red light therapy that often surprises people is how it promotes weight loss. Research has shown that red light triggers the formation of small openings (or pores) in fat cells, which causes fatty acids known as lipids to leak out of the cells.
Choose a large panel for all-over fat loss, or for spot-treating the upper arms, belly, hips, butt, and thighs in 10- to 20-minute sessions three to five times per week.
Relieve Arthritis and Low Back Pain
For chronic pain, experiment with timing:
- Morning sessions can prime achy joints for the day’s activities.
- Evening sessions can help you fall asleep pain-free.
Treat osteoarthritis with near-infrared light for deep penetration into the joints. Remain seated, position the LED panel close to the affected joint, and relax for 10 to 20 minutes daily.
Treat low back pain with NIR light for deep penetration into the spine and connective tissue. Sit on a stool or facing the back of a chair, with the LED panel hung or propped behind your back for 10 to 20 minutes daily until you feel relief.
With any inflammatory disorder or chronic condition, continue with two to three maintenance sessions each week to prevent a relapse.
DIY… With a Panel That Delivers Results
A good quality light therapy device is cheaper and far more convenient than multiple weekly visits to a medical professional. It’s extremely difficult for the average handy person to build a light therapy device that is as safe and will yield the same results as a clinical-grade panel, which is the most cost-effective and convenient solution.
With high-powered LED panels from PlatinumLED, you get ongoing benefits of one of the most effective natural therapies; one that will be an enjoyable part of your daily self-care routine.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What type of lightbulb is used in red light therapy?
Ans: ABI lightbulb is used in red light therapy. It emits deep red and near infrared therapeutic wavelengths of 660 to 850 nm.
Is it safe to take red light therapy every day?
Ans: Red light therapy is safe and natural treatment, to get better results you can use it on a regular basis and keep maintaining the schedule.