In a market flooded with red light therapy devices, it’s hard to make an educated choice. Many reputable manufacturers sell only consumer-grade LED light therapy devices, which do not stand up to medical-grade devices in efficiency or effectiveness. Here’s a guide to medical-grade red light therapy devices, including why it matters that you use one, and what you can expect from your purchase.
Red light therapy devices can be roughly categorized into handheld devices, which are not medical-grade; and panels, some of which are consumer-grade, and some of which are medical-grade.
As recently as five years ago, only doctors and researchers had access to medical-grade light therapy devices. However, thanks to LED technology, everyone now has access to high-quality light therapy panels that deliver faster and better results.
Key Considerations when Purchasing a Light Therapy Device
There are two things to consider when choosing medical-grade light therapy LED devices: effectiveness and efficiency.
The effectiveness of a device depends on the wavelengths used to stimulate various biological processes. Look for wavelengths within the “therapeutic window” of 630 nanometers (nm) to 660nm, and 810nm to 850nm. These wavelengths have been widely studied and found to be most effective.
It’s important to note that If a device does not specify which wavelengths are used, it cannot be considered a medical-grade device.
Efficiency relates to irradiation or light power output. A powerful and the best light therapy device enables light photons to absorb into the skin by concentrating the light and using the correct bulbs for the task. In contrast, when a device is underpowered, and/or has bulbs that diffuse light rather than direct it, few light photons will penetrate the tissues.
But before we get into the important differences in effectiveness and efficiency between various LED therapy devices, here’s some important information about red light therapy.
Key Differences between Consumer-Grade and Medical-Grade Red Light Devices
At first glance, it’s hard to distinguish the difference between consumer- and medical-grade LED light therapy devices. Many companies (typically, resellers) won’t disclose certain information that clearly shows their light therapy products as consumer-grade. Here you’ll discover the keys to choosing the best medical grade red light therapy devices that will give you the most profound results.
To some extent, size does matter. LED light therapy devices range from roughly the size of a tablet designed for spot treatment to a “human-sized” array of four full-sized panels linked together and designed for full-body treatment.
Larger LED light therapy devices may increase effectiveness and reduce treatment time. This is because there are more LED bulbs to deliver more red/NIR light, and coverage is consistent due to overlap between beams emitted by each bulb.
Size, however, is where the similarity ends between consumer- and medical-grade LED devices.
Under optimal conditions, red wavelengths absorb about 3mm into the skin. NIR wavelengths are longer, so they absorb about 10mm into the skin, underlying tissue, and even through connective tissue and bone.
Irradiance (light power output) refers to how much light absorbs into the skin once it leaves the source.
A light source that diffuses light will cause light photons to approach the skin at an angle. Most of these light photons will bounce off the skin or at best, absorb into the outermost layers. For true therapeutic effects, the light has to absorb much more deeply.
For example, LED bulbs deliver directional, or focused, light for more powerful absorption, whereas a fluorescent light bulb diffuses it. Even if the wattage is the same, directional wavelengths will absorb into the body’s tissues much more effectively because they travel perpendicular to the skin. Fewer wavelengths will bounce off the skin at an angle, and more will absorb into the body’s tissues.
When comparing devices, look for the highest light energy output measured in milliwatts per square centimeter, or mW/cm². The higher the mW/cm², the more potent the treatment. It’s worth contacting a company to find this information if it’s not clearly displayed on its website.
Irradiance is measured at the optimal treatment distance of 6” to 8” from the skin. Moving farther away from the panel decreases the effects somewhat. You’ll still get skin-deep therapeutic benefits but fewer deep-tissue benefits.
Medical-grade panels feature higher irradiance. Compare the irradiance of PlatinumLED panels with other products (measured at the optimal 6” to 8” from the treatment area). PlatinumLED therapy devices have higher light energy output numbers at suboptimal distances than some panels show at the optimal distance.
- BIO 300 delivers 94 mW/cm2
- BIO 450 delivers 105 mW/cm2
- BIOMAX 300 delivers 124 mW/cm2
- BIOMAX 450 delivers 127 mW/cm2
- BIO 600 delivers 94 mW/cm2
- BIO 900 delivers 105 mW/cm2
- BIOMAX 600 delivers 129 mW/cm2
- BIOMAX 900 delivers 135 mW/cm2
BIOMAX panels are designed to be linked together to increase the treatment area, allowing for deep total body coverage at maximum power. Suggested uses:
- Stack two BIOMAX 600 or 900 panels in front, on one stand and stack two 600 or 900 panels on another stand behind you to treat the entire body in one session.
- Stack four panels on a vertical stand for full-body coverage while doing yoga, resistance training, treadmill workouts, or riding an exercise bike.
- Use the horizontal rack stand with two 900 panels to enjoy a full-body red light session while reclining comfortably on a bed or yoga mat.
You’ll see some panels advertised as “red light” or “near-infrared light” but the websites often won’t reveal which wavelengths are being used. A medical-grade device will feature only the most widely studied and clinically proven wavelengths of red and NIR light.
With PlatinumLED, you get your choice of wavelengths that have been chosen for their therapeutic value.
The BIO series features a choice of red (660nm) or NIR (850nm) light for targeted treatments, or a combination of the two wavelengths for more comprehensive benefits.
- Red light targets surface conditions like fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, or thinning hair.
- Near-infrared light treats conditions deeper in the body such as deep muscle injury, neuropathy, joint pain, or brain health.
The BIOMAX series features a groundbreaking approach that delivers not just one red and/or one NIR wavelength, but five wavelengths at the same time. This specially formulated patent-pending ratio favors the longer red and NIR wavelengths (660nm and 850nm) in conjunction with 630nm, 810nm, and 830nm, for treatment of the body’s many layers, including skin, underlying tissue, bone, connective tissue, organs and glands, and brain.
You may also be wondering about other types of light therapy, such as blue, green, and yellow light. To date, few studies have been conducted on these wavelengths, partly because their absorption depths are so shallow that they don't have the same effects as red and NIR wavelengths. Here's what is known:
- Blue light has been shown effective for treating acne;
- Green light has shown promise in treating migraine headaches;
- Yellow light has been used to treat skin redness.
Consumer-grade LED light therapy devices often feature blue or yellow wavelengths along with red. Medical-grade LED light therapy is focused on the most widely studied wavelengths: red and NIR.
Some manufacturers claim that their products do not require FDA approval because they are categorized as “low-risk, general wellness/fitness products” according to the FDA’s “General Wellness: Policy on Low-Risk Devices” draft released in September 2019. This automatically puts them in the consumer-grade category.
In contrast, PlatinumLED devices are official FDA Class II Medical Devices manufactured in our FDA-registered facility.
Stands and Mounts That Can Be Used in a Medical Context
Many LED therapy devices come with a door mounting hook. That option limits you to standing for the duration of the treatment (10 to 20 minutes), which is not always feasible.
To target your lower back, you’ll need a stand that allows you to either sit or lie comfortably in front of the panel while positioning it close enough for optimum efficiency.
PlatinumLED offers tabletop stands for small panels which are ideal for treating fine lines and wrinkles and other facial skin conditions.
Larger panels can be mounted on mobile vertical or horizontal rack stands. The vertical rack stand supports one, two, or four lights at the same time, and you can stand or sit in front of the panels.
The feet of a horizontal rack stand can slide under a bed, massage table, or exam table, allowing you to lie comfortably while relaxing in the glow of one or two panels.
Using Red Light Therapy Stands
A body is not a flat surface. If the target treatment area is in one of the body’s dips (such as the lower back), adjust the distance and the angles so the light effectively reaches the target area at a 90-degree angle.
- To target hair growth, use a tabletop stand with a BIOMAX 300 or 450, positioning a recliner or massage table in front of the panel to put the scalp close to the light source.
- To treat a muscle pull in the inner thigh, sit on the floor or bed and use the vertical stand to support a 450, 600, or 900 panel.
- To treat lower back pain or a pulled hamstring, use BIOMAX panels mounted to a horizontal stand and lie on your stomach on your bed, massage table, or yoga mat with the lights directly overhead.
Stands are the most effective way to deliver light to hard-to-reach areas.
Warranty and Support
PlatinumLED is a manufacturer, not a reseller, of medical-grade LED therapy devices and proudly offers an industry-leading 3-year warranty. This is superior to many other companies that only offer a 1- or 2-year warranty.
In addition, PlatinumLED offers toll-free phone support to assist clients with technical questions and best use practices.
Common Misconceptions about Medical-Grade Light Therapy Panels
Here’s where you can really spot the differences between reputable medical-grade LED therapy devices and, to put it bluntly, junk.
Largely because of the Internet’s extraordinary worldwide reach, marketing leads to the prolific spread of misinformation. Below you’ll find three things you want to avoid because they are absolutely not medical-grade.
Devices Featuring 5-watt Bulbs
Reputable red light therapy companies only manufacture or sell devices with 3-watt bulbs – the one and only medical-grade bulb. If you see a device that claims to use a 5-watt bulb, it is false advertising.
But wait, more wattage is better, right? Yes and no. Remember, irradiance is the amount of light power energy that is absorbed into the body’s tissues. While on the surface it may seem logical that a 5w bulb could achieve greater irradiance more effectively than a 3w bulb, this is a misleading marketing gimmick. And here’s why.
In a laboratory setting comparing 5w and 3w bulbs, the 5w bulb is indeed brighter. But, an LED therapy device contains dozens or even hundreds of light bulbs in close proximity. To allow for this clustering, the maximum output of a bulb has to be reduced to about 65% of its normal capacity to prevent heat build-up and damage to the circuitry within each bulb.
Due to what’s known as the “efficiency curve” in LED lighting, a 3w bulb at 65% capacity is brighter than a 5w bulb at 65% capacity; and since 3w bulbs generate less heat, they can safely be placed closer together for greater coverage.
In other words, you get more light output with 3w panels. And, the light is more consistent across the panel with significantly smaller “dark areas” between bulbs than a so-called 5w panel where the bulbs would need to be spaced farther apart for safety. Even if it existed, a 5w system would deliver spotty coverage; what’s the point of that?
This is why 5w red light therapy panels DO NOT EXIST.
How can you spot the fakes? Note these telltale signs:
- The power consumption of a 5w light therapy system is higher than a 3w system. Some companies disclose power consumption. If you notice that a “5w” panel draws the same energy as a same-sized 3w panel from a reputable manufacturer, it’s a fake.
- 5w bulbs are larger than 3w bulbs. They must also be spaced farther apart than smaller, cooler-running 3w bulbs. If the bulb sizes appear the same, you’re not looking at a 5w panel.
PlatinumLED light therapy devices were created based on solid science. They use 3w bulbs because they’re proven to work and to deliver the most powerful light output, and the longest-lasting and most reliable panel possible.
Dual Chip Devices
Some companies also claim that their panels use dual-chip LED bulbs. On the surface, this looks like higher light output, but again, it is a false claim. No medical-grade LED devices contain dual-chip bulbs.
There are dual-chip LED bulbs that are the same size as the single-chip 3w bulbs used in LED light therapy devices; however, they use two 1.5w chips side by side. Dual-chip bulbs do not deliver more light energy output because they are still only 3w.
There is no benefit, but there are disadvantages to dual-chip bulbs, including less reliability. The close proximity of the chips can lead to burnout. Dual-chip LEDs are capable of delivering two separate wavelengths simultaneously (such as 660nm and 850nm). But because you’re only getting 1.5 watts of each wavelength, this is basically like using an underpowered handheld device.
Devices That Use Fluorescent Bulbs
Do not consider any LED light therapy device that uses fluorescent lights. (You may see some tanning-bed style therapy beds at some spas.) Fluorescent bulbs diffuse the light, making it incredibly weak; only a few light photons will absorb into the skin. Even if the light completely surrounds you, there just isn't enough power to deliver the light photons effectively or efficiently. Also, the bulbs cannot be calibrated to specific wavelengths.
Enhancing Your Health at Home with a Medical-Grade Device
Today’s LED light therapy technology has allowed medical-grade red light therapy devices to become available – and affordable – for consumer use. You get the same potency of treatment that you would get from a medical professional while in the convenience of your own home.
First, choose the right panel based on your needs (treating a localized condition or whole-body wellness).
- Smaller panels (the 300 and 450 PlatinumLED series) are useful for treating arthritis, knee pain; aging facial and neck skin; thyroid dysfunction; hair loss; localized low back pain; carpal tunnel syndrome; brain disorders; diabetic foot ulcers; ankle sprains; and small wounds. You can use small panels to treat larger areas, but this increases the treatment time.
- Larger panels (the PlatinumLED 600 and 900 series) are the best choice for treating larger areas and more widespread conditions including neuropathy; eczema or other chronic skin conditions; muscle strains or muscle recovery; bone breaks; widespread pain; whole-body skin tone; and large wounds.
These are just a few of the numerous conditions that can be treated safely at home with a medical-grade red light therapy device. Visit the PlatinumLED blog to find a wealth of information on the many more ways red light therapy is used to treat acute or chronic conditions.
You’ll get the best results if you position a panel at the correct distance from your body. 6” to 8” is the distance at which the light energy output is strongest. The deeper you want the light to penetrate your tissues, the closer you want to be to the device – but you don’t have to be that close every time.
- For maximum deep tissue absorption, keep the light 6” to 8” from the treatment area to concentrate the light energy.
- For a combination of skin and deep tissue therapy, place the device about 12” away from the body; this slightly diffuses the light energy over a wider area while maintaining deep absorption.
- To enhance skin health, sit or lie 20” to 22” from the device.
- Longer sessions will increase the amount of light energy absorbed into your body’s tissues. This allows you to be farther from the device if that’s more comfortable for you.
- With small panels or as you move farther from the panel, you’ll get peripheral light absorption outside the targeted treatment area. This isn’t enough light energy for focused treatments, but offers surface benefits to surrounding areas during treatment of deep-tissue conditions.
- Modular panels within the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series are the optimal solution for whole-body wellness. This system allows you to pair up to four panels to expand the treatment area and shorten treatment times.
- Choose smaller panels for spot treatment and travel; and larger panels for full-body treatment.
Medical-Grade Results at Home
Now that you know what to look for, it’s easier to spot the fakes and find a medical-grade red light therapy device that delivers the highest possible light energy output and the most beneficial wavelengths. In short, the most effective and efficient panels on the market – PlatinumLED BIO and BIOMAX red light therapy devices.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Is red light therapy clinically proven?
Ans: Red light therapy is generally considered safe. Too much light can harm skin tissue, while too little can make it less effective.