Near-infrared (NIR) light therapy is a popular trend in wellness because of its broad range of therapeutic effects. Plus, it’s a safe and natural treatment you can administer in the comfort of your own home. Whether your desire is to reduce signs of aging, improve your mental and physical performance, regrow hair, or get rid of unsightly rashes and lesions from chronic skin disorders, you can benefit from the vast potential of near-infrared light therapy.
You don’t have to understand the exact mechanics of how NIR light works in order to experience the benefits. But the more understanding you have, the better you’ll be able to target your treatments most effectively. And understanding NIR therapy specifically starts with light therapy in general. So let’s dive in.
Why Humans Benefit from Light Therapy
The sun is the main source of natural light, and it's absolutely vital to human health and wellbeing. For centuries people have harnessed the healing powers of the sun. Even today, sunlight is a popular and effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), non-seasonal depression and other psychiatric disorders, and various chronic skin conditions. Until recently, scientists didn’t know how light therapy worked; they just knew that it did.
We see sunlight as intensely bright white light. This effect is most noticeable at noon when the color of the sun isn't distorted by the atmosphere. Within that white light, however, there is a rainbow of colors that collectively appear to be white, and also colors the human eye can’t perceive. Humans can't see the entire spectrum of electromagnetic energy we call "light," but we can visually detect the wavelengths that are most beneficial to our bodies.
The human eye can perceive light from violet up to red light, but longer wavelengths generally provide more therapeutic benefits.
The shortest wavelength the human eye can detect in the spectrum of visible light is around 380 nanometers (nm), which our brains perceive as the color violet. Wavelengths shorter than 380nm fall into the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum, which humans can’t see, but which has a powerful effect on bare skin—as anyone who’s had a bad sunburn knows firsthand. Because of its potential to burn and cause skin damage, as well as skin cancer, UV light is often perceived as dangerous. It does, however, have therapeutic benefits.
On the long end of the spectrum the eye can perceive red wavelengths, which includes those between 600nm and 650nm. The human eye stops being able to perceive light at around 740nm, which is on the long range of the red spectrum. Beyond that is the infrared range of light, which is not visible except in certain conditions. We perceive these longer electromagnetic waves as heat rather than light.
Why Does This Matter?
Each wavelength of visible and invisible light has an effect on the human body. But today we know that relatively long wavelengths (red and NIR) have the most benefits, and the fewest side effects.
Recent discoveries about the properties of specific wavelengths of light have allowed researchers and doctors to choose which wavelengths are best for treating certain conditions. UV light, for example, has long been used in light therapy. Its main benefit is that it boosts vitamin D production and treats various skin disorders, as well as multiple sclerosis. But UV light must be used with caution because of the damage it can cause.
Blue light has antibacterial effects on the skin, which makes it great for treating acne. It also boosts cognitive functioning such as alertness and memory, and improves physical energy. Blue light, however, should only be used during the daytime because it is known to disrupt sleep. That’s why using blue light-emitting smartphones and other electronic gadgets can interfere with the circadian rhythm and lead to insomnia.
Red and NIR light have by far the widest range of health and wellness applications when compared to other wavelengths. You can use them for anti-aging, boosting your metabolism, improving nerve health, and much, much more. But we’ll discuss that more in a minute. By now you’re probably curious how these two types of light are different.
How Is Near-Infrared Light Different from Red Light?
Most people use “red light therapy” as an umbrella term that includes both the red and NIR spectrum, but our focus today is NIR light therapy.
Red light wavelengths (620nm to 660nm) penetrate the outer layers of skin, and red light therapy’s collagen-stimulating properties make it ideal for skin rejuvenation and hair regrowth. However, the light photons from red light can only penetrate the skin to a few inches. This makes it effective for the treatment of skin-deep conditions, but not for those that require light with deeper penetration. That’s where NIR light comes into play.
NIR light photons are able to pass through bone and dense connective tissue like cartilage and ligaments. For this reason, it has been used to treat joint pain, promote healing in large muscles, improve brain health, and stimulate glands such as the thyroid and thymus.
How Does Near-Infrared Light Work
NIR light therapy involves shining concentrated wavelengths of light between 810nm to 850nm onto bare skin. The treatment relies on light photons interacting with light-sensitive molecules within each cell. As NIR light photons reach these molecules, this stimulates the cells’ mitochondria (colloquially termed the “power generators” of cells) to produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels cellular energy production.
This, in turn, energizes all cells irradiated by the light. Cell-protecting factors such as antioxidants are released to counteract cell degeneration from inflammation. And, the cells are able to perform their functions more efficiently, including repair and regeneration. This heightened functionality has anti-aging benefits as well as the ability to treat the underlying causes of many diseases and disorders.
The mitochondria actually do far more than simply produce cellular energy. They also control the life span of cells, including natural cellular death. In diseased, damaged, or dysfunctional cells, the mitochondria send out signals that instruct the cell to self-destruct in an organized manner that prevents an adverse effect on neighboring cells. However, when mitochondrial dysfunction triggers unintentional cell death, this sets in motion the overproduction of free radicals that cause oxidative damage in neighboring cells.
NIR light therapy helps to improve mitochondrial functioning, and also to activate antioxidant molecules that combat free radicals and support the cells in repairing and even reversing damage from oxidative stress.
What this means is that NIR light therapy stimulates the body to reduce chronic inflammation that is caused by oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation is a leading cause or contributing factor to nearly all diseases, as well as to accelerated aging.
What is Near-Infrared Light Therapy Good For?
As the following studies show, NIR light therapy doesn’t just treat symptoms; it heals inflammation, which is the underlying cause of many conditions.
- NIR light therapy helps reverse signs of skin aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, and sagging, papery skin. In the deeper layers of the skin, NIR increases collagen and elastin production. This restores the thickness, firmness, and elasticity of youthful skin. Most studies show about 6 to 12 weeks of consistent therapy for optimal results in skin rejuvenation.
- NIR light therapy balances thyroid function. The thyroid is essential to overall wellness, since its functions include regulating metabolism through the release of hormones. An underactive thyroid can lead to extreme fatigue, mental fog, weight gain, hair loss, and muscle weakness.
- NIR light therapy promotes a healthy circadian rhythm (natural sleep/wake cycle). The hypothalamus, which is responsible for circadian rhythm, is highly photosensitive. NIR light stimulates melatonin production, which aids in getting quality sleep.
- Because of its long wavelengths, NIR light can penetrate the skull when administered through the forehead. In the brain, NIR light has neuroprotective effects on brain cells. It reduces oxidative stress (which is linked to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease), and stimulates normal neurogenesis (birth of new brain cells), which aids in healing from traumatic brain injury.
- NIR light therapy boosts male sexual and reproductive health. It has been shown to safely boost sperm motility (improving the likelihood of conception) and to stimulate energy production in Leydig cells, which produce testosterone.
- NIR light therapy promotes wound healing through increased transient inflammation (the healthy temporary immune response to injury), increased blood flow, and regulated collagen production that encourages growth of normal tissue rather than scar tissue.
- Elite athletes have long used NIR light therapy to prime muscles for exertion and promote muscle recovery. It can promote the growth of muscle mass, decrease muscle fatigue (during exercise), and minimize the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness, or the soreness that comes two to three days after intense exercise.
- NIR light therapy is effective at reducing chronic inflammatory pain including carpal tunnel syndrome, knee pain due to osteoarthritis, and acute and chronic low back pain.
- NIR light therapy can regulate bone growth and accelerate bone repair. It also activates stem cells, which are crucial to the immune response as well as to healthy wound healing.
While some NIR light therapy studies only focus on symptomatic relief, a reasonable assumption is that the deeper penetration of NIR wavelengths—which reduce inflammation deep in the body’s tissues—can have a ripple effect of improved cell health, and therefore accelerate healing of underlying causes.
Is NIR Light Therapy Safe?
In a word, yes, NIR light therapy is very safe. It doesn't emit enough heat to be dangerous to humans. Infrared saunas, for example, are safe since they use NIR light. They are pleasantly warm, but do not generate heat that could damage cells. Low-level light therapy set in the NIR range likewise does not generate heat that causes damage. You may feel slight warmth during treatment, but it’s a pleasant feeling. Low-level light therapy is safe and no studies have shown adverse effects from short- or long-term use.
While NIR light therapy has seen outstanding results in clinical trials, NIR light therapy should not be considered a cure for any condition. Instead, it should be viewed as a mechanism that plays an important supporting role in the body’s ability to heal itself naturally.
The FDA has approved NIR light therapy for the treatment of pain as well as chronic skin disorders. Since most studies are relatively small, more large-scale studies are needed before the FDA approves NIR light therapy for a broader range of conditions.
As NIR light therapy gains traction, more research and clinical studies will emerge about applications that have not yet been discovered. Keep up-to-date on the PlatinumLED blogs.
How Do You Use Near-Infrared Light?
Thanks to technological advances in just the past five to ten years, powerful NIR light therapy devices are now available for home use. While you can purchase handheld light therapy devices, most of these are significantly less powerful (and therefore less effective at delivering enough light energy to absorb into the skin) than larger high-powered panels.
Tip: A device’s power consumption is not related to its power output. There are plenty of power-hungry devices on the market that don’t deliver anywhere near the light energy output of more efficient low-level laser therapy devices.
LED laser therapy devices emit red and near-infrared wavelengths, either alone or together, to treat conditions involving the skin, connective tissue, muscles, glands and organs, and the brain. The 660nm and 850nm wavelengths have been found to be the most beneficial; you’ll find these in the PlatinumLED R+|NIR+ multi-wave spectrum. Learn more on our product page.
Just stand, sit, or lay in front of the panel to get your desired dosage of NIR light.
To use red light therapy for most conditions, you just sit, lie, or stand in front of the LED device at the distance recommended by the manufacturer. Standing farther back from the device will dilute the light intensity, but may be more comfortable for you (just extend your therapy time to compensate).
Make sure the treatment area is bare skin, since clothing will prevent the light photons from absorbing into the skin. Then, enjoy the pleasant warmth for 10 to 20 minutes, three to five times per week.
For acute conditions such as injuries, the initial treatment period may range from days or weeks; chronic conditions may require 1-4 months depending on the condition and its severity. Consistency is key when treating chronic disorders, because you want to keep supporting your body in self-healing. Follow-up maintenance treatments can occur one to four times per week on an ongoing basis.
A combination Is Best
Even though red wavelengths don't have the absorption depth of NIR wavelengths, you'll see the most benefits by combining wavelengths in the red/NIR spectrum. This is because everything in the body is connected, and you want to stimulate healing at every level.
The skin has many layers and below that, there are many more layers of underlying tissue. You’ll want to stimulate optimal cellular functioning in every layer, from the epidermis, to the dermis, to underlying muscles and connective tissues.
Red Light Provides Results, but Can Take Time
NIR light stimulates the body’s self-healing mechanisms at the cellular level. This means you don’t want to be unrealistic and expect instant results. You're treating so much more than the symptoms; you’re treating the underlying cause(s) as well. Naturally, this can take time. since all cells in the body don’t regenerate at once.
Some results, such as relief of muscle fatigue during exercise, will come very quickly. Other results, like relief from eczema or chronic inflammatory low back pain, may require intensive initial treatment, and then ongoing maintenance to keep the condition in remission.
How quickly you’ll see results depends on your overall health, consistency of treatment, and the power output of the device that you use. And again, you'll see the most comprehensive results when you combine red and NIR light therapy.
As we mentioned, NIR light is safe, but you want to be sure to follow the directions. Don’t stand too close to the light, and don’t exceed the recommended exposure times.
If you are treating several conditions or body parts, self-administering NIR light therapy at home will save you a lot of money in healthcare costs, as well as a lot of time.
A Natural Way to Better Health
NIR light therapy supports health and healing at the cellular level. If you are looking for a natural therapy that’s effective, safe, non-invasive, and without side effects, you’ll love the deep healing reach of NIR. You can even meditate while enjoying your therapy session to further reduce stress and boost feelings of wellbeing.
To look and feel better, take the next step today and check out the PlatinumLED BIO or BIOMAX Series. You’ll be assured the best value for your money, and the best results by harnessing the incredible power of near-infrared light.