You’ve probably heard about red light therapy as a way to treat skin disorders, smooth fine lines, and wrinkles, or regrow hair. But do you know about its longer-wavelength cousin, near-infrared light? This amazing treatment can penetrate through the bone, and absorb much deeper into the body’s tissues with an even wider range of benefits than red light.
Near-infrared (NIR) light therapy has successfully treated chronic joint pain, muscle injury, bone disorders, and even stroke and traumatic brain injury, as well as many other conditions.
In this article, we’ll discuss what near-infrared light therapy is, as well as its innumerable benefits. We’ll also cover what you need to know about NIR light therapy devices, which will help you make the best wellness choice for your personal needs.
Because near-infrared light therapy is referred to by different names (NIR light therapy and sometimes infrared light therapy), we’ll use these terms interchangeably unless otherwise noted.
What Is Near-Infrared Light Therapy?
NIR light therapy uses powerful light-emitting diode (LED) devices to shine specific wavelengths of light onto bare skin, where it stimulates beneficial biological processes. This is also true of red light therapy, although the two are not the same. These therapies use completely different light waves with different characteristics.
Despite their differences, the term “red light therapy” is often used to refer to NIR light as well as red light. Collectively, red light therapy refers to wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that we see as the color red, and which falls into the spectrum of colors that make up natural sunlight (considered “white light.”).
Red wavelengths, which are visible to us, range from 630 nanometers (nm) to 660nm. NIR wavelengths, which are invisible to the human eye, range from 810nm to 850nm. Infrared (IR) light refers to wavelengths longer than 1,000nm. The human body doesn’t perceive IR waves as light, but rather, as heat.
Infrared light therapy is often available as infrared saunas. One aspect of IR light that’s important to note is that it heats up the water molecules in the body, whereas red light/NIR light does not have that effect.
Both have their therapeutic applications; in terms of safety, however, LED devices that emit red light and NIR light are safer than IR saunas, which could cause cellular damage if overused.
Light Delivery: The Right Light Therapy Device Matters
NIR light therapy has two delivery systems: low-powered (“cold”) lasers and LED bulbs. Laser devices are typically used in clinical settings and for research. They deliver somewhat more precise beams of light, which are great for targeting specific areas. However, some studies are now using LED devices with statistically significant results comparable to laser devices.
Handheld consumer-grade low-level laser therapy devices are available, but they have extremely limited applications. For example, if you’re using NIR light therapy to treat osteoarthritis, the small size of the device means you’ll be treating tiny areas of the body one at a time. And since arthritis is rarely confined to a single knuckle, you could sit there all day trying to treat many arthritic body parts with a handheld laser device.
As well, handheld battery-operated NIR and red light therapy devices do not deliver the intensity of light required to achieve therapeutic benefits to the treatment area; batteries become depleted with use, and the devices aren’t powerful enough to deliver the concentrated light needed. You won’t get the light output you need for optimal absorption into the body if you use red light therapy wands, masks, caps, or wraps.
If you’re interested in a handheld NIR light therapy device for travel, check out our post on handheld devices. Keep in mind, however, that as a home user, you’ll get the best results with a device that delivers NIR light along with red light. Read more here about why a combination of red and NIR wavelengths is superior.
Best Near-Infrared Light Therapy Devices
PlatinumLED Therapy Lights BIOMAX 900
The phrase, “Go big or go home” seems appropriate when talking about PlatinumLED Therapy Lights BIOMAX 900 ($1,149). This powerful red light panel features our exclusive red and near-infrared light spectral configuration: five different wavelengths of red and NIR light (630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm). These collectively deliver a comprehensive therapeutic value that is simply not available with other devices on the market.
- PlatinumLED Therapy Lights are medical-grade LED light therapy devices, which will give you the most value for your money and the greatest performance and benefits.
- These devices also provide superior irradiance, which is a measure of how much power a light emits over an area, or the amount of light energy the body part receives. Irradiance is commonly measured in milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2).
- At the industry-standard measurement distance of 6”, the BIOMAX 900 produces 185mW/cm2 of irradiance and 153 mW/cm2 at 12”. And even if you’re standing two feet away from this red light therapy device, you’ll still receive about 100 mW/cm2 – and many other panels max out at 100 mW/cm2 6” from the device.
- 300 LED bulbs ensure optimal coverage.
- All lights in the BIOMAX series are modular, meaning you can build your own array to suit your therapeutic needs.
- The device is protected by a three-year warranty.
Joovv Solo 3.0
Joovv is a company with a solid history in red light therapy. The Joovv Solo 3.0 ($1,365), while not as robust as PlatinumLED Therapy Lights’ full-body panels, is a red light therapy device that delivers:
- Two beneficial wavelengths: 660nm and 850nm, can be used together or separately.
- While it has roughly the same dimensions as the BIOMAX 900, the Joovv Solo features 150 LED bulbs with an irradiance of >100 mW/cm2.
- The Solo is part of a modular system that can link up to four devices together for increased coverage.
- The device is protected by a two-year warranty.
Mito Red Light
With its MitoMEGA device ($999), Mito Red Light splits the difference between PlatinumLED and Joovv, landing somewhere between these two red light therapy panels in terms of irradiance and overall power. This device features:
- The two most common wavelengths: 660nm and 850nm, can be used separately or together.
- MitoMAX lists the irradiance at >110 mW/cm2 at 6”.
- The MEGA features 300 5W LED bulbs.
- Two-year warranty.
Red Therapy Company
Red Therapy Company’s RedRush 720 ULTRA Body Light ($779) is a relative newcomer to the red light therapy market. This panel features:
- 660nm and 850nm red and near-infrared wavelengths, which can be used in tandem or interchangeably.
- 240 LED lights (split between red and NIR lights).
- >100.5 mW/cm2 at 6”.
- Two-year warranty.
Red Light Rising
Another relative newcomer to the market is Red Light Rising, which offers The Advantage 900 ($1,716). This powerful full-sized panel features:
- 300-LED bulb system.
- A combination of 660nm and 850nm red and NIR wavelengths.
- >161mW/cm2 at 6”.
- Five-year warranty.
What to Look for in Near-Infrared Light Therapy Products
When considering the various choices available, remember that you’ll get the best results – and the most mileage – from a high-quality LED red light/NIR light panel with the power to deliver concentrated light energy to your skin. When comparing NIR light therapy devices, here are some important features to look for.
Light Energy Output: Irradiance and Joules
As explained earlier, irradiance refers to power output, or how much energy is absorbed by the skin. It is the #1 consideration when comparing NIR therapy lights.
There are often significant differences in power output between red light therapy devices. It’s important to note that the wattage an LED light consumes does not correlate with its light output. You can have a “hungry” device that eats a lot of power but delivers a fraction of the light output of more efficient panels that consume less energy but deliver higher irradiance – which is the only true measure of light output.
Irradiance shows how many light photons are available to absorb into your cells to spark a biological reaction. Irradiance and joules (units of energy) must be measured together to get an accurate reading of how much light your body actually receives during a therapy session.
Another consideration is the distance you are from the device. If a company claims that its red light therapy panel produces 100mW/cm2 but doesn’t specify the distance you must be from the device to achieve this intensity, then it’s impossible to accurately compare the actual light output of this device without side-by-side trials. Today, most companies will list irradiance at 6”.
For a great visual about the importance of side-by-side light output testing, check out this comparison video by PlatinumLED.
The Ability to Choose Both Red and NIR Light
Although near-infrared light is part of the red light spectrum, their different wavelengths determine how deeply they are absorbed into the body. Red light treats skin health and surface conditions like psoriasis, eczema, fine lines, and wrinkles, or promotes hair growth.
Red light and NIR light have the same energy-stimulating properties. But because of NIR light’s ability to penetrate deeper into the body, it can spark benefits in bones, joints, muscles, and tissues that red light cannot reach.
This allows the light to address underlying conditions that could be at the root of chronic disorders such as psoriasis or the aching pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
When choosing between the two, consider the physical depth of the conditions you’re treating, and whether going deeper could address underlying causes.
For example, a skin wound can be treated using red light therapy. But a chronic skin condition like rosacea or an autoimmune disorder like arthritis needs the extra penetration depth of NIR light to reduce systemic inflammation that could be contributing to the disorder.
If you want to enhance skin health, for example, red light is best. But adding NIR light into the mix provides a variety of secondary benefits such as reducing inflammation that could be accelerating cell death on your facial skin (which makes facial skin look dull and aged).
For deep muscle wounds in your thighs, to relieve pain from arthritis, or to restore brain function following a traumatic brain injury, you’ll want to use NIR light. However, including red light in these treatment sessions will help your skin and boost overall wellness.
When in doubt, choose a red light therapy device that gives you the choice between red and NIR light, or offers a combination of both for more comprehensive treatment.
Rather than automatically choosing a larger device with greater light power output, consider your needs. For smaller targeted applications like hand joint pain or for a device you can easily travel with, a small panel is ideal.
If you want to optimize physical performance by treating large muscle groups, you’ll want a larger panel or even a series of joined panels so that you’re not spending hours treating individual body parts.
Convenience, Value, and Customer Service
Choose a quality product that comes with a door mount, pulley system (and other ways to easily position the panel for optimal use), eye protection, a power adapter, and user manual. These features will help you get the most from your red light therapy panel ... and it's a sign that the company cares.
You will get your money’s worth from any of the high-quality devices offered by experienced and reputable manufacturers.
One last consideration is customer service. Be sure you work with a company that enables you to speak to a human who is there to help you have the best possible experience with your light therapy device and to troubleshoot any problems you might encounter.
Why Put Your Trust in PlatinumLED Therapy Lights?
There are numerous reasons – here are a few of them:
- We’ve been in business for more than a decade, and customer service is key to our success. In other words, we’re here for you when you need us.
- We maximize the energy output of PlatinumLED Therapy lights to ensure you get medical-grade red light therapy treatment. PlatinumLED was the first LED red light therapy company to bring the concept of power measurement to the table.
- Our lights emit more irradiance than any other LED therapy light on the market. Only PlatinumLED Therapy Lights can promise deeper red light and NIR light penetration than any other light is capable of achieving.
- Only PlatinumLED offers a highly advanced, patent-pending R+|NIR+ multi-wave spectrum that comprises five independent and highly studied wavelengths.
- You always get what you pay for. With PlatinumLED Therapy Lights, you pay for an experience, customer service, superior quality, and unparalleled effectiveness.
Does Near-Infrared or Red Light Therapy Work?
To know whether red/NIR light therapy works, it’s important to understand how the wavelengths affect you, and some of the benefits they are most known for.
Our bodies are highly reactive to sunlight. In the morning, the rising sun stimulates the hypothalamus, which is an area of the brain that plays a crucial role in important functions such as the release of hormones. In the evening, the setting sun signals the body to shut down energy production and prepare for sleep.
Natural sunlight has been used for therapeutic purposes since ancient times. It is known for boosting the immune system, stimulating the production of vitamin D, and treating a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
As beneficial as sunlight can be, however, it also poses hazards. Too much exposure to the sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause skin damage as well as damage to DNA, which can lead to skin cancer. Thus, isolating certain wavelengths that provide health benefits without harmful side effects has been a primary focus of anti-aging researchers.
Years of studying light have enabled scientists to isolate specific wavelengths and determine their benefits and dangers. In recent years, scientists have discovered a broad range of effects that specific wavelengths of visible and invisible light have on the body.
Blue light, for example, helps our natural sleep and wake cycles and leads to improved energy during the day. Treatment using blue light therapy panels should not be confused with the negative effects of screen time, given that treatment is short and generally recommended to take place earlier in the day.
The red wavelength spectrum is particularly known for its energy-stimulating properties at the cellular level. As red wavelengths absorb into the skin, this stimulates activity in the mitochondria, which are energy-producing organelles inside most cells in the human body.
Mitochondria absorb the light photons and begin producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary cellular fuel. Healthy, energized cells are thriving cells that can perform their specialized functions and repair and replicate themselves more easily than low-energy cells that are fighting for survival.
Scientific Studies on NIR Wavelengths
Hundreds of studies suggest that NIR wavelengths have a host of beneficial effects on the human body.
Decreased Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is now recognized as a major contributor to chronic diseases and skin damage. Even aging is now being called “inflamm-aging” by some scientists who have discovered that inflammation can damage DNA, which leads to faster cell death and poor overall cell health.
Studies have shown that red/NIR therapy can have anti-inflammatory effects similar to those of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
A 2017 study by Michael Hamblin, a world-renowned authority on red light therapy, is a fascinating read that describes how NIR wavelengths can decrease chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, however, is a sign that the immune system has begun to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. The condition has been linked to autoimmune disorders, as well as heart disease, cancer, hormonal imbalances, and many other chronic conditions. Reducing chronic inflammation while stimulating normal, healthy cell proliferation can ease symptoms, ease pain, and reduce the recurrence of chronic conditions.
Even with such a convincing body of research, NIR light therapy should be considered a treatment, not a cure. Yet studies on the connection between inflammation and disease have clearly shown that reducing chronic inflammation using NIR therapy devices can cause spontaneous healing of symptoms.
NIR light can penetrate the skull, and in the process, directly affect neurons (brain cells). NIR light can improve mitochondrial function and cellular repair of neurons, stimulate neuron growth, offer a neuroprotective effect, improve cerebral blood flow, reduce oxidative stress in the brain, and decrease brain inflammation.
Transcranial NIR therapy has been found to benefit brain health and improve post-traumatic brain injury-related cognitive performance, including improved attention and memory retrieval.
A 2015 joint study by Australian and French researchers found that NIR light therapy has great promise for treating neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, including slowing their progression.
During a 2016 study by the Neuro-Laser Institute, NIR therapy successfully treated traumatic brain injuries.
In 2007, a study by Israeli researchers confirmed initial safety and effectiveness for the use of infrared lasers in the treatment of ischemic stroke when treatment started within 24 hours of stroke onset.
A 2009 feasibility study on a small group of patients with major depression (including nine with anxiety, seven with a history of substance abuse, and three with post-traumatic stress disorder) suggests that NIR light therapy could be used to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders.
NIR light was shown in a 2015 study to be an effective complementary therapy for many neurosurgical applications. The study authors also stated that NIR light is effective in wound healing and inflammation on the central and peripheral nervous systems.
NIR light therapy can accelerate healing in various ways, including:
- Helping damaged cells repair and regenerate more effectively;
- Increasing cellular energy, which supports cells in healing themselves;
- Increasing the production of fibroblasts, which are the cells that produce collagen, a protein that’s essential for rebuilding skin and other structures;
- Increasing microcirculation of both blood and lymph, to supply the wound with more oxygen and nutrients and efficiently remove waste;
- Decreasing chronic inflammation that can interfere with the healing process.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of red/NIR light therapy on wound healing. This 2016 review by researchers from Delhi, India suggests that NIR light therapy is a promising drug-free approach for promoting healing, relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and restoring joint function. The review found that NIR light could be a “biophysical therapeutic intervention for chronic non-healing dermal wounds.”
A 2012 study found that 830nm NIR treatment accelerated bone repair in osteoporotic rats, which holds great promise for the 10 million patients in the US who suffer from osteoporosis.
Improved Athletic Performance
NIR light can supercharge the effects of exercise and can help you increase muscle mass, lose excess fat, reduce pain from hard workouts, and make significant gains in performance, endurance, and strength.
One of the secrets is that muscle tissue contains far more mitochondria than almost any other tissue in the body because muscles require a lot of energy. Therefore, increasing cellular energy by encouraging cells to produce more of the fuel ATP will give the muscles more “oomph” to push through a hard workout; and recover faster. As well, more blood flow to the area will help muscles perform at their best and recover faster.
Accelerated recovery and healing from injury are key to peak athletic performance, whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior. NIR light therapy has been shown in numerous studies, including this 2016 review, to maximize athletic performance and reduce muscle recovery time. In fact, the study authors said NIR light treatment could give athletes an unfair advantage in officially sanctioned competitions.
Another strong finding from the research is that NIR light can be an effective treatment for reducing joint pain – which could be a life-changing treatment for anyone suffering from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, sacroiliac joint pain, neuropathic pain, knee pain due to osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and chronic pain disorders. For a detailed review of studies on the effects of NIR on pain, check out this article on pain and one specifically on joint pain.
As mentioned previously, red light is the star when it comes to treating the effects of aging and other “skin-deep” conditions. These can include chronic skin disorders, reducing wrinkles and fine lines, smoothing out stretch marks, and treating acne (as well as hair growth).
But to truly heal chronic skin conditions you need to go deeper, using NIR light therapy to get to the source – which, in many cases, is inflammation.
Also, check out this article on weight loss, a surprising and often welcome side effect of NIR light therapy. (You’ll get the best results if you combine NIR light therapy with exercise, stress relief, and good nutrition.)
Experience the Amazing Benefits of NIR Light Therapy at Home
NIR light therapy is a highly effective treatment for all-over wellness, for treating both acute injuries and chronic conditions, and pain relief. Science confirms that red and NIR light positively affect the body at a cellular level, and you can enjoy relaxing, rejuvenating, and restorative therapy sessions in the comfort and convenience of home.
Several 10- to 20-minute treatment sessions each week for one to four months can yield the most profound results (although you may see some results as quickly as a few weeks). To treat chronic conditions or experience lasting pain relief, you can safely continue to use a near-infrared light device indefinitely to maintain your results.Learn more here about the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series, which combines five wavelengths of red and NIR light in optimal ratios for maximum therapeutic effects. There is nothing like BIOMAX on the market for a safe, non-invasive, natural LED treatment device.