Red light therapy harnesses the healing powers of red and near infrared light.
This natural treatment shows promise in treating signs of aging, acne, scars, wounds, and much more.
Given the ever-increasing interest in this natural therapy, it’s important to address the treatment’s safety.
In this article, we look further into the safety of red light therapy in general as well as devices and types of light treatment.
Red Light Therapy: Safety Research
There are a number of clinical studies that demonstrate the safety findings of red light therapy. Although there is still much to be learned, studies on red light therapy continue to indicate an absence of adverse effects while helping users enjoy varied benefits.
While in one study, Harvard scholar Hamblin et. al states that “The biochemical mechanisms underlying the positive effects are incompletely understood,” he goes on to say that advances in the mechanistic understanding of low level laser therapy (LLLT) “will lead to greater acceptance of LLLT in mainstream medicine and may lead to LLLT being used for serious diseases.”
In a 2014 placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, Wunsch and Matuschka found that “For non-thermal photorejuvenation, laser and LED light sources have been demonstrated to be safe and effective.”
In the Journal of AIMS Biophysics, Harvard researcher Hamblin further found that “PBM (photobiomodulation) has an almost complete lack of reported adverse effects, provided the parameters are understood at least at a basic level.” He goes on to say that “the remarkable range of medical benefits provided by PBM, has led some to suggest that it may be “too good to be true”. However one of the most general benefits of PBM that has recently emerged, is its pronounced anti-inflammatory effects.”
In 2018, Ablon published a study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology that stated: “We determined that phototherapy using LEDs is beneficial for a range of medical and aesthetic conditions encountered in the dermatology practice. This treatment displays an excellent safety profile.”
It should be noted that treatment outcomes vary depending on a variety of factors including the length of treatment and the power output of the device used.
In 2010, Tafur et al. published a study in the Journal of Photomedicine and Laser Surgery and stated that “coupled with reports of clinical safety and efficacy, this increased understanding continues to generate enthusiasm for LILT (low-intensity light therapy). As the field progresses, however, we must recognize that currently, in some individuals, it is difficult to predict clinical response.”
This turns us away from the question of safety concerns to focus on how treatment benefits can be maximized and side effects minimized by following usage guidelines. Side effects will also vary depending on the user, but are minimal at most.
Regarding side effects, Hamblin et al. found that the therapeutic response the body has to red light depends on the amount of energy or dosage provided by the panel as well as the sensitivity of the skin to that exposure.
- Correct dosage of light particles can have a positive effect.
- Insufficient exposure results in no effect.
- Excess energy can result in bio-inhibition and potentially in oxidative stress.
Whether red/near infrared light is delivered by laser or LED, each light source is considered safe when used as directed.
The takeaway from the scientific literature is that, like many therapeutic treatments, users of red light therapy should avoid excess treatment and start slowly to find the balance of treatment that best works for them.
Learn more about the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights BIOMAX Series red light therapy panels for home treatment.
Let’s discuss the safety of various wavelengths used in light therapy.
Visible Light: Considered Safe
The following section discusses the various forms of light therapy, including blue, green, yellow, and red.
Light therapy involves only visible light, which is generally considered safe.
Wavelengths visible to the human eye make up the colors of the rainbow. These are all components of natural sunlight, along with wavelengths that the human eye doesn't perceive.
The Safety of Blue Light Treatment
Blue light has mixed results. Its effects include regulating the circadian rhythm as well as stimulating alertness, memory, cognitive function, and mood.
Blue light has very short wavelengths, meaning it cannot penetrate the outermost layer of skin. It is effective against acne-causing bacteria on the skin’s surface but a contributing factor to sleep disruptions, skin aging, and macular degeneration.
The Safety of Green Light Treatment
Green light has a soothing, mood-boosting effect and has been shown effective against headaches (a potential reason why “forest bathing” is so popular). Green wavelengths are also too short to absorb into the skin. Its rejuvenating effects are limited to reducing redness.
The Safety of Yellow Light Treatment
Yellow light is warming and soothing. It absorbs into the outermost layer of skin to reduce redness and stimulate skin cell rejuvenation, reducing inflammation. It may also boost the flow of lymphatic fluid to remove waste and toxins from the skin.
More on The Safety of Red Light Treatment
Red light is used for facial rejuvenation (reduction of fine lines and wrinkles), hair growth, wound healing, and various skin-deep conditions including treatment of acne and chronic skin disorders.
Near infrared wavelengths penetrate deeper into the body, and are therefore more effective at relieving pain in muscles and joints and treating inflammation that could be causing slow healing or skin disorders.
From a therapeutic perspective, light emitting diode (LED) therapy devices may feature visible wavelengths. Of these, red/NIR wavelengths have the greatest range of benefits because of their deeper absorption into human tissue.
The primary benefits of this natural therapy include:
Increased cellular energy production by stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate, the primary cellular fuel; this has a ripple effect on cellular performance and by extension, the performance of the related system.
Increased collagen production (clinically demonstrated intradermal collagen density increase)
- Lower inflammation
- Increased blood and lymph circulation
No published studies reported adverse effects during treatment or after the conclusion of the trials.
Invisible Light: Treat with Caution
Light therapy that includes wavelengths invisible to the human eye should be used with caution. Ultraviolet (UV) light, for example, has been used to clear up chronic skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. However, it’s also been established that UV wavelengths as found in tanning salons can, in higher doses, cause skin damage and even skin cancer.
On the other end of the spectrum, far-infrared wavelengths aren’t perceived by the eyes anymore. They are perceived by the body as heat. Infrared saunas use wavelengths between 3000 nm and 0.1 mm.
Far infrared (FIR) wavelengths raise your body temperature by heating up water molecules in the cells, causing heat stress. This is believed to be beneficial in moderate amounts since heat activates heat shock proteins which play a significant role in the immune response.
However, FIR waves should be used with caution, since they can damage heat-sensitive cells in the eyes and the testes.
Red/Near Infrared: the Safe, Effective “Therapeutic Window”
Red/near infrared (NIR) wavelengths are especially useful as healing modalities since the wavelengths penetrate the skin and tissues beneath the skin.
Here’s a small sampling of studies that demonstrate the efficacy of these treatments, as well as the researchers’ safety findings.
Red Light Therapy is a Key Treatment for Skin Rejuvenation
This 2014 study investigated the safety and efficacy of LED light therapy (low level laser therapy) on skin rejuvenation. The subjects demonstrated significant improvements in skin complexion and skin feeling with less skin roughness and intradermal collagen as well as a reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. Ultrasounds revealed an increased intradermal collagen density increase. No adverse reactions were noted by study participants.
Red Light Therapy Enhances Muscle Performance and Recovery
Athletes, from elite-level competitors to exercise enthusiasts, are embracing NIR light therapy as a way to prime their bodies for training or competition, to help prevent injuries, and to help accelerate muscle recovery after exercise.
Several studies confirm that LED light treatments before and after exercise are beneficial.
A 2016 review of 46 studies goes so far as to suggest that red light therapy may give athletes an advantage in sports performance due to its ability to stimulate healing and regenerate damaged tissue.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Recovery From Injury and Faster Return-to-Play
A large study on whether NIR light therapy speeds up return-to-play among injured university athletes demonstrated that treatment with 830nm NIR light safely accelerated athletes’ ability to return to training.
The study took place over 15 months and included treatment of 395 injuries including sprains, strains, contusions, tendonitis, and ligament damage. Each injury received approximately 4.3 treatments to reduce pain and inflammation and allow the athletes to return to their sport. Subjects reported a significantly shorter return-to-play (RTP) than anticipated: a mean of 9.6 days versus the anticipated 19.23 days.
Red Light Therapy Supports Eye Health
The eyes are some of the most sensitive parts of the body. Red light therapy can benefit eye health. A five-year study on the effects of red light on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) found that low level laser therapy was an effective treatment resulting in improvements in long-term improved vision, with no adverse reactions.
Red Light Therapy Is Safe for the Eyes
Near infrared light therapy has seen increased medically reviewed approval as a treatment of visual conditions such as myopia, age-related macular degeneration, retinal injuries, Leber’s optic neuropathy, and potentially many other eye conditions caused by mitochondrial dysfunction (the inability of the cells to produce sufficient energy). In both human and animal studies, no side effects have been noted which suggests NIR light therapy could be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of ophthalmological applications.
Red Light Therapy and Brain Health
In the Alzheimer’s paper linked above, the author, Dr. Michael Hamblin states: “The fact that [red light therapy] may produce a large range of beneficial changes in the brain, and is without any major side-effects, suggests it should be more widely tested for AD and dementia in large controlled trials. Exposing the head to light at power levels less than that received in direct sunlight (but without harmful ultraviolet wavelengths) is intrinsically safe. Any side-effects of low level light therapy reported have been rare, mild and transient, consisting of slight headache, difficult sleeping and mild itching on the scalp. It is likely that [the treatment] will need to be continued indefinitely.”
Dr. Hamblin suggests that red light therapy can be safely continued indefinitely.
Red Light Therapy Supports Faster Skin Wound Healing
Red light therapy has been used successfully on skin wound healing. Red light promotes several powerful biological effects including the following:
- A decrease in inflammation
- An increase in fibroblast proliferation (fibroblasts are the cells that produce collagen)
- Increased collagen synthesis
- Angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels)
- Formation of granulation tissue (the tissue that "stitches" a wound together).
Low level laser therapy has also been shown effective in promoting skin wound healing in diabetics, who often struggle with slow-healing wounds.
When used immediately after an injury or surgery, red light therapy can help prevent scarring by supporting the growth of healthy new skin tissue.
Red Light Therapy Treats Chronic Skin Disorders
One of the benefits of red light therapy light emitting diodes is reducing inflammation. This can help treat chronic skin disorders such as rosacea, eczema, acne, and psoriasis, which are all inflammatory disorders. The symptoms of these conditions often resolve within 1-4 months. After that, regular treatments will help maintain skin health and prevent flare-ups.
Red light therapy should not be considered a cure for these conditions, but a powerful ally in their management.
Red Light Therapy Is Safe for the Thyroid
Since many people use red light therapy for neck rejuvenation (tightening up loose skin and getting rid of jowls), researchers studied the potential effects of the treatment on the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of the neck.
Study subjects showed significant improvement in wrinkle reduction, skin elasticity, and skin density after 16 weeks of daily application, as well as 8 weeks after stopping treatment. The subjects showed no significant side effects on the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Where Red Light Therapy Should Be Used with Caution
Only one researcher recommended using caution when treating skin conditions with red light therapy. A 2016 case study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies revealed that using red light on areas of the body with dark tattoos can potentially cause skin blistering.
According to the author, this effect of blisters forming on a tattoo site was most likely due to inadvertent and unexpected heating of iron oxides and/or metal salts that make up the black tattoo pigment. The surrounding skin was not damaged, suggesting that taking precautions to cover a tattooed area could be a way to continue with the treatment without risking skin damage.
Red Light Therapy for Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin you may be wondering whether red light therapy devices will cause any adverse effects.
Immediately after treatment, the skin in the treatment area may feel tight, and may be slightly red. This is due to the increased blood flow stimulated by the treatment. This often resolves quickly.
Temporary tightness and redness of the skin are not signs of skin damage or burning. Unlike UV rays, red and NIR wavelengths do not cause burning and they do not cause thermal damage to skin cells or other types of cells.
You can start slowly, with two-minute daily sessions on each body part you’re treating, and gradually increase the treatment time if you find the treatment comfortable.
We do recommend using protective eyewear when using a high-powered panel, not because red light is unsafe for the eyes (under an ophthalmologist’s direction, red light is actually an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration) but because the intensity of the light can be uncomfortable.
How Red Light Therapy Devices Vary
Meanwhile, not all light-emitting diodes and/or types of photodynamic therapy may equally appropriate for those with sensitive skin. Red light therapy wraps, hats, wands and other specialized devices that provide light therapy lllt have limited power, while lacking non-holistic treatment. Some of them cause hot spots, causing patient satisfaction reduction or are uncomfortable to wear. Red light therapy wraps, masks and hats also rest too close to the skin to mix multiple specific wavelengths, which is one of the key elements that helps stimulate the mitochondria.
While the efficacy of red light therapy may have significant academic backing in general, not all devices have been medically reviewed, may be right for sensitive skin or for optimal treatment. This is why using a medical-grade LED light therapy device (as opposed to a cheap mask, wrap, or wand) is more likely to deliver the expected outcomes.
The Long-Term Safety of Red Light Therapy
Since few studies on red light therapy ran for longer than a few months and because the treatment only became a subject of intense scientific interest in the 2000s, the potential long-term effects of red light therapy remain somewhat unknown.
However, the lack of side effects observed and reported by patients receiving both red and NIR light therapy may indicate that adverse reactions are unlikely and rare.
In one study that focused on the effects of red light therapy on facial rejuvenation, the authors wrote: “None of the volunteers dropped out because of an adverse event. No severe adverse events were registered during the study or the follow-up phase. One volunteer with facial telangiectasia noticed an increased visibility after the first treatments, and decided to protect the zones in question from the light influence using a concealer for the rest of the treatment series.”
Nonetheless, red light therapy work has become more common at home and in clinical settings.
Red Light Therapy Solutions
We’ve discussed the importance of using a powerful medically reviewed LED light therapy device that delivers high-intensity light so that more light photons absorb into your body.
Here’s an in-depth look at how red light therapy works to stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms.
Here, we demonstrate the high light power output (scroll down to see the video) of our devices as compared with the competition.
Now, let’s look at the most effective solutions for achieving the same (or better) results as clinical trials: the BIOMAX series panels from PlatinumLED Therapy Lights.
- Facial rejuvenation
- Hair regrowth
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Knee pain from arthritis (one knee at a time)
- The compact size of the BIOMAX 300 makes it ideal for travel
- Muscle recovery and performance
- Weight loss (red light therapy opens up the possibility of targeted weight loss)
- Chronic skin disorders including psoriasis and acne
- Knee pain from arthritis (you can treat both knees at once)
All BIOMAX panels are modular. This gives you the option of adding up one or three panels to increase treatment size and light intensity for even more potent results.
"In the past I have used every type of electrical, thermal, sound, and electromagnetic modalities in the clinical setting. In my experience the most safe and beneficial of all those types of modalities is PlatinumLEDs therapy lights, which are rated a Level 2 medical device, approved by the FDA. I have been able to effectively integrate their redlight therapy devices for all patient populations to include acute and chronic conditions as well as for performance enhancement."
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy
Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Start Today with a Safe, Natural, Non-Invasive Treatment
Red light is even used as photodynamic therapy to treat certain types of cancer (this is not an at-home treatment, of course).
Any potential dangers, then, lie with misuse such as treating a chronic or aggressive condition at home using red light instead of following a doctor’s treatment protocol.
Red light should never be considered a cure, but rather a complementary therapy that supports the body’s healing mechanisms at the cellular level.
You may find that some mild conditions will be easily resolved using red light therapy, while the treatment should play a supportive role when you're faced with more aggressive or chronic conditions. Always get qualified medical advice before starting treatment.
To discover the many ways this versatile treatment can enhance your health, visit the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights Learn page.And get started with the most powerful FDA-cleared medical grade LED light therapy panels: a smart investment in your health and wellbeing.