Does Red Light Therapy Work?
If you’re among the 54 million Americans who experience the pain and loss of mobility due to arthritis, you know how frustrating and debilitating the disease can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of adult arthritis sufferers are under 65, although the risk increases markedly as people get older.
A Brief History of Red Light
In the early 1990s, NASA was interested in developing the ability to grow plants in space with a vision to reshape the future of space exploration by growing food indoors. NASA's red light therapy experiment aimed to see if it would stimulate plant growth in space, where it’s difficult to use grow lights due to heavy power consumption and heat. Red light-emitting diode (LED) lights were shown to be a viable light source for plants because of their small size, safe operation, and low heat output.
One of red light therapy's first uses was to counteract poor cell growth in zero-gravity environments.
Subsequent studies into the effects of red light on humans soon followed. In space, astronauts experience significant and dangerous bone and muscle loss, as well as slow healing. Research showed that these problems resulted from poor cell growth in zero-gravity conditions aboard spacecraft. Red light was found to have a stimulating effect on cellular metabolism that allowed astronauts to maintain muscle mass and bone density while in space. With this groundbreaking discovery, red light therapy was born.
Also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy (LLLT), red light therapy has proved to be safe as well as highly effective. Today, thanks to technological advances, LED devices that emit red- and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths are used to treat a variety of acute and chronic skin, muscle, bone, and connective tissue conditions.
In the last 20 years, scientists have conducted extensive research on the medical and cosmetic applications for red and NIR light. To date, all results have been positive and encouraging. One especially positive finding is that people who are seeking natural, non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical and safe treatments often discover that as they begin to treat one condition, they experience improvement in other areas as well.
One of the most prominent researchers in the field of red light therapy is Dr. Michael Hamblin. He is a principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the affiliated faculty of Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology. Since the early 1990s, Hamblin has been studying low-level laser therapy as treatment for wounds, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, hair regrowth, and psychiatric disorders, and has published nearly 300 papers about his research findings.
In a March 2020 interview, Hamblin was asked if he used red light therapy personally, and if so, how he uses it. He explained that he indeed uses the technique regularly to alleviate soreness in his knees and elbows, and applies it to his forehead twice weekly to boost brain health.
According to Hamblin, LLLT actually increases inflammation temporarily in people without chronic ongoing inflammation (as part of the healing response) but it has an anti-inflammatory response in people who do have chronic inflammation. This means when someone is injured, red light therapy can speed up healing. And in cases where underlying inflammation causes autoimmune or other disorders, red light has a powerful healing effect.
Some exciting preliminary findings relate to cancer treatment. Although Hamblin does not believe red light should be applied to a tumor, he says that applying red light to the thymus (a lymphoid organ just below the breastbone) may stimulate the body's ability to fight off cancer. He also stated that preliminary studies on infrared therapy for advanced cancer have been promising.
How Does Red Light Compare to Other Wavelengths?
All visible and invisible light has a bioactive effect on the human body. Plants are not the only organisms that generate energy from sunlight; light also affects human cells, and our physical and emotional wellbeing depends on light.
How the Human Body Responds to Light
Scientists are discovering more and more ways that light affects the body. For example, ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light is now known to stimulate vitamin D production. Ultraviolet light has been used to treat psoriasis, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis. Blue light boosts physical energy and alertness, cognitive functioning, memory, and mood in addition to regulating the circadian rhythm, which is the natural sleep/wake cycle. Blue light also kills bacteria.
The therapeutic effects of light depend largely on the depth to which wavelengths of light—which are measured in nanometers (nm)—are absorbed into the body's tissues. Blue light, for example, has a shorter wavelength than red or NIR light. The therapeutic uses of blue light are limited to the surface of the skin, where it has powerful antibacterial properties.
Red light has longer wavelengths than blue light and penetrates the outer layers of skin. That’s why it is so popular as a skin rejuvenating therapy. Wavelength range of Red and infrared light is 650-850 nm, that is extremely beneficial and is regarded as deep penetrating healing light therapy. it is also referred to as "therapeutic window". Near-infrared light absorbs even more deeply into the body than red light. NIR light has the ability to penetrate bone, which makes it an ideal solution for deep-muscle therapy, joint pain, and brain health.
Thousands of peer-reviewed studies on photobiomodulation have shown the most pronounced therapeutic effects of red light to be from exposure in the 630nm to 660nm range, and NIR light in the 810nm to 850nm range.
When light is shone on the body, the energy of light photons interacts with cellular mitochondria, which are inside cells and are colloquially termed the “power generators” of cells. Much like the process of photosynthesis in plants, mitochondria soak up light and convert its energy into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which serves as energy-rich cellular fuel. As a result of this process:
Red light therapy stimulates production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the fuel for cellular activity.
- Increased ATP production means increased energy within each cell. A cell with high energy is better able to perform its specialized functions, to repair itself, and to replicate.
- Improved cellular functioning results in stimulated collagen production, and increased circulation. This leads to a ripple effect that can vastly improve overall health.
The Many Uses for Red Light
Red light therapy is approved by the FDA for the treatment of fine lines and wrinkles, joint pain, and many other conditions, but that doesn’t mean it cures those conditions. Rather, it stimulates the body’s self-healing mechanisms. This effect is evident on a small scale (targeted treatments) as well as throughout the whole body.
It’s important to note that since red light therapy works at the cellular level, results are not instant. However, red light addresses the underlying causes of many chronic conditions and stimulates healing, which is something that medications can't typically do. LLLT can shorten the duration during which you rely on medication; and your chances of a condition recurring will be minimized with consistent use of a red light therapy device.
You may experience peak results in a few weeks, or even as long as several months. In some cases, such as eczema, you may need ongoing maintenance therapy once your skin has cleared up.
Depending on the severity of the condition, the initial therapy period usually involves 10 to 20 minutes of exposure to red and/or NIR light therapy three to five times per week for one to four months. You can even use it indefinitely for an ongoing boost to your overall cell functioning and health and wellness.
Fortunately, you can self-administer light therapy in the convenience of your home. This can lead to significant healthcare savings, as you don't have to visit a medical professional every time you want to apply the treatment, and you can simultaneously treat several conditions at
Cutting to the Chase: Does this Therapy Work?
This, of course, is the first question people ask when hearing about red light therapy. There are innumerable personal anecdotes saying that it absolutely does work—but even more powerful is an incredible body of research. When a therapy is supported by thousands of peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials, and when these studies show that red light therapy is a safe and effective therapy, the choice to use it becomes clearer.
Here is a sampling of studies on the efficacy of red light therapy for a variety of conditions:
- Younger looking skin: LLLT helps reverse signs of aging by increasing collagen and elastin production. It also stimulates the growth of capillaries under the skin, which will reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and restore youthful skin thickness, firmness, and elasticity.
- Brain health: Red light is a neuroprotector, meaning it protects neurons (brain cells) from neurodegenerative disorders, and also accelerates healing from traumatic brain injury. It works partly by reducing oxidative stress, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and non-seasonal depressive disorders, and partly by stimulating normal healthy growth of neurons.
- Eye health: Red light can protect vision and treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and eye injuries.
- Hair regrowth: LLLT increases blood flow to the scalp, boosts collagen production, and stimulates activity in dormant hair follicles.
- Restoring healthy thyroid function: This relieves symptoms of underactive thyroid, such weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, and muscle weakness.
- Better sleep: Red light stimulates melatonin production and helps regulate the circadian rhythm (natural sleep/wake cycles).
- Male sexual and reproductive health: LLLT stimulates energy production in testosterone-producing Leydig cells; and improves sperm motility, which can improve chances of conception.
- Chronic skin disorders: Red light therapy minimizes symptoms and treats inflammation that contributes to (and aggravates) acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
- Physical performance: Red light has been shown to decrease muscle fatigue, increase muscle mass, and minimize delayed onset muscle soreness.
- Immunity: Red light boosts production of stem cells. These key elements of the immune system are unspecialized cells that transform into specialized cells as needed, at the site of wounds or disease.
- Peripheral nervous system health: LLLT stimulates nerve regeneration and the production of connective tissue cells known as fibroblasts, which are critical in restoring communication between nerve cells when one or more are damaged.
- Wound healing: Red light therapy reduces chronic inflammation, increases blood flow, and stimulates collagen production, which helps wounds heal. Learn more about red light therapy wound healing here.
- Bone health: Red light therapy regulates bone growth, prevents bone loss, and accelerates bone repair.
- Weight loss: Red light has appetite-suppressant effects, as it increases muscle mass to stimulate the metabolism. It reduces autoimmune activity in the thyroid, reduces insulin resistance, reduces the appearance of cellulite, and has a remarkable ability to cause fat cells to “leak” and release their contents.
- Pain relief: Red light therapy helps with inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain; it can treat tendonitis (a persistent problem among athletes), osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, knee pain, and low back pain by reducing inflammation and accelerating healing. Red light therapy for pain relief is highly effective and it can be used for rapid injury recovery as well.
- Scar reduction: By supporting normal organization of collagen and activating stem cells, red light therapy can help reduce scarring. In existing scars, LLLT helps replace scar tissue with healthy skin tissue as scar cells die off. If applied immediately after injury, red light can stimulate the growth of normal tissue rather than scar tissue at the site of the wound.
For more in-depth information on how red light therapy is clinically proven to treat these conditions, please visit the PlatinumLED blog. It is updated regularly as new research becomes available on the many ways LLLT can make you look younger, feel healthier, and perform at your peak.
How to Use Red Light to Improve Your Health
Purchasing a panel with high power output (irradiance) and an advanced array of therapeutic light wavelengths is key to see the best results from light therapy
As mentioned previously, benefits of red light therapy has been proven & effective in boosting immunity, pain relief, various skin conditions and much more. However, to achieve the same (or better) results as in scientific studies, you need to use high-quality LED devices that:
- Deliver the highest possible light energy output. Only a high-output device will ensure that the greatest number of red light photons are absorbed into the body’s tissues. LEDs deliver a specific wavelength of light with high efficiency and nearly no heat. Don’t waste your money on low-powered handheld or battery-operated devices.
- Use the wavelengths within the therapeutic window: red (620nm to 660nm) and/or near-infrared (810nm to 850nm). A combination of both will give you the broadest range of absorption and therefore the most benefits.
Many people purchase a red light therapy device to treat a specific condition such as wrinkles, but quickly find that there are other benefits. If they have chosen a device that emits only red light, they limit their ability to treat inner conditions that require deeper light penetration. For that, they need NIR light. The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series gives you the most comprehensive therapeutic effects with a unique array of five different wavelengths within the red and NIR spectrum in one device.
As thousands of studies have revealed, red light therapy is safe and painless. There are no side effects, although some sensitive individuals may experience temporary redness and tightness.
The most important consideration is getting an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional before using red light therapy to self-administer treatment. The danger of misdiagnosis—and therefore improper treatment—is very real. You don’t want to treat what you think is photoaging (sun spots), for example, when you may in fact have melanoma. Once you have a correct diagnosis, you can safely start using red light therapy at home.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
It is not only safe but effective as well. Red light therapy supports wellness at the cellular level. It is a viable choice for anyone seeking an effective, non-invasive, natural treatment with no side effects or pain.
Sunlight therapy has been used for millennia. Today we can harness specific wavelengths of light for targeted and whole-body treatments without the risk of skin damage due to ultraviolet rays. This is great news for athletes wanting to improve physical performance; people suffering from chronic conditions related to inflammation; and anyone wanting to turn back the clock on aging.
Frequently Asked Question
Q. How long does it take to red light therapy to work?
Ans: Depending on their age and the state of their skin, everybody responds differently. In general, the best results are obtained over a span of 8 to 12 weeks. For the first 1-4 weeks, it is recommended that you commit to 15 minutes of red light therapy at least 3-5 days a week.