Red light therapy has made inroads at gyms, medical spas, dermatology offices, and now tanning salons. Oddly, the two services couldn’t be more different: Tanning damages your skin from the outside in, while red light therapy focuses on healing from the inside out. But the real question is, are red light therapy sessions at salons – which can run anywhere from $25 to $100 per session – worth the price?
The answer is, probably not. Let’s take a look at the benefits of red light therapy and compare the cost of sessions at a tanning salon with the investment you’d make in an at-home device.
Note: Learn more about PlatinumLED’s line of professional-grade, FDA-registered red light therapy panels in our shop.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Also called low-level light therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy is a therapeutic practice that uses red wavelengths of the light spectrum. Red wavelengths range from 630 nanometers (nm) to 660nm, and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths range from 800nm to 1100nm. “Red light therapy” is an umbrella term that is used to refer to both red and NIR wavelengths.
Research has shown that the wavelengths most beneficial for healing are between 620nm and 660nm (red), and between 810nm and 850nm (NIR). This is known as the “therapeutic window.”
Part of what makes these wavelengths so remarkable is that they initiate healing at the cellular level. This is possible because the wavelengths penetrate the skin; red light to about 10mm, and NIR light to about 2 to 7 centimeters, which is deep enough to penetrate body tissues and even bone. Upon penetration, the light stimulates mitochondria, which are tiny organelles inside cells that convert nutrients into a high-energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s primary cellular fuel and is required for all cellular functions.
Newly energized cells produce a surge in ATP production. As thousands of studies and scientific reviews have shown, this surge yields a range of physiological benefits, from those that are skin deep to the more systemic.
Wrinkles: Sun exposure can have a detrimental impact on our skin over time. The culprit is ultraviolet (UV) light; it breaks down the collagen and elastin fibers responsible for keeping skin taut and toned, which leads to fine lines and wrinkles. Reversing sun damage requires a serious collagen boost – and that’s where LLLT comes in.
The surge of ATP previously mentioned can bump up collagen production and help diminish signs of aging skin. A 2009 study by researchers from Quebec, Canada found that consistent sessions of LLLT seemed to reduce the depth and severity of lines and wrinkles in 94 percent of participants.
Skin Tone: As skin ages and collagen breaks down, skin can become rough and uneven. Many studies have shown that red light therapy can smooth out these imperfections.
One such study was published in 2014 by researchers from Germany. The study involved 113 subjects between the ages of 27 and 79 who were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups. Depending on their group, the participants received twice-weekly treatments with either 611–650nm or 570–850 nm wavelengths, with slight differences in treatment duration and irradiance (the measure of how much light energy an area of the body receives).
Data collected after 30 sessions showed that all participants saw improved skin complexion and skin feeling, as well as improved skin roughness and collagen density.
Stretch Marks: Extremely common and caused by a variety of factors, such as weight gain, pregnancy, and genetics, stretch marks are a type of linear skin lesion many people wish they could simply erase.
The good news for people with stretch marks is that red light treatments have been shown to diminish the appearance of these lines. In 2017, researchers in Germany and Brazil published a review of current therapies for stretch marks.
The researchers noted that treatments using a red light-emitting diode on females with an array of stretch marks increased overall skin thickness, collagen, and elastin density when compared to baseline.
Red Light Therapy and Tanning: Although you can achieve a golden tan from a red light tanning bed, your darkening skin is actually a sign of skin damage – and it can be severe and long-lasting. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the use of indoor tanning beds leads to wrinkles, loss of skin firmness, and age spots.
If you’re dead-set on tanning, you’d be wise to incorporate PBM sessions as a skin rejuvenation treatment. As stated above, consistent use of PBM can go a long way in smoothing out fine lines, wrinkles, and rough skin.
Health and Wellness Benefits
So far we’ve focused on the cosmetic benefits of red light therapy, but this amazing treatment is about a lot more than beauty. It’s also a well-researched method of relieving certain conditions caused by inflammation, which is the body’s response to damage. Acute inflammation is a natural function of the immune system, but when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to a host of problems.
Muscle recovery: Vigorous workouts cause small tears in muscles; when repaired by the body, this results in stronger muscles. Although natural, this process can be painful if inflammation sets in and causes chronically inflamed muscles and joint pain, such as bursitis or Iliotibial band syndrome.
LLLT has been shown to ease muscle pain and improve muscle recovery and blood circulation among athletes. In a 2008 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, researchers from Brazil investigated whether LLLT could alleviate the development of skeletal muscle fatigue during repeated voluntary biceps contractions.
The study found that athletes who received LLLT sessions after bicep contractions were able to do more reps after the eight-day trial than the placebo group. From this, the researchers concluded that LLLT can delay the onset of muscle fatigue and exhaustion.
Fibromyalgia: Inflammation and oxidative stress are the main causes of fibromyalgia, a disease that is characterized by musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep, memory, and mood issues, and affects about 4 million Americans. In a major scientific review published in 2019, researchers from Taiwan found that the majority of patients who received LLLT for fibromyalgia showed significant improvement in symptoms. The authors deemed red light therapy an “effective, safe, and well-tolerated treatment for fibromyalgia.”
In a nutshell, red light therapy helps your body inside and out and provides a wide array of benefits, including support for stellar skin and overall health.
Red Light Therapy At Home vs At a Tanning Salon: Which Is The Better Deal?
If you’re sold on the benefits of red light therapy, the very next question becomes relevant — how much does red light therapy cost at a tanning salon? Let’s check out the math for each one:
Typically red light therapy at a tanning salon or other office costs between $30 and $100 per session. Spending $50 for a red light therapy session every once in a while might not seem like a big hit to your wallet. But these relatively small expenditures add up, so it’s smart to compare the cost over time to a one-time investment in your own device with unlimited usage.
Another important consideration is that red light therapy is a long-term play. It’s important to engage in consistent sessions to see changes in your skin tone, adult acne, or wrinkles. And if you’re looking to use red light therapy as a muscle recovery treatment post-workout, you’re going to want it every time you finish exercising.
But let’s look at the numbers more closely. PlatinumLED Therapy Lights’ least expensive unit, the BIO 300, is available in red light (660nm), NIR (850nm), or a combination of red/NIR, and it costs $369. As the smallest device made by PlatinumLED, it’s best for targeted treatment, such as your upper body and face, or lower back. Like all PlatinumLED Therapy lights, the BIO 300 has the highest irradiance of its class on the market, so it’s powerful and effective in shorter sessions.
Compare that with a typical red light therapy device at a salon, which will most likely offer full-body coverage for about $50 a session. By the time you complete seven sessions at a salon, you’ll have spent enough to cover the cost of an in-home red light therapy device that can be used at your convenience, as often as you’d like, in whatever manner you desire.
If you were to purchase the largest panel in the BIO series (the 600) at $699, it would equal about 13 red light therapy sessions at a tanning salon. Consider that red light therapy sessions are best done a few times a week. That means you’ll burn through 13 sessions in about two months – when you could have invested the same amount of money in a panel you can use for years, at your convenience.
Even better, you can finance a panel with 0% APR financing and pull your monthly payment to below $50 per month (check out our shop to learn more). You’re essentially paying the same price you’d pay for one treatment per month to have a professional-grade device in your own home that you can use every day.
Again, it’s critical to remember that red light therapy is a long-term investment. Not only will you see the best results through regular use; its wide range of beauty and health benefits means that it can serve you months and even years down the road, as your health and wellness goals change. Why invest in a few sessions at a tanning salon – or gym, or spa, or anywhere else – when you can have a device at home to use whenever you feel like it?
What To Look for In a Red Light Therapy Device
If you’d like to purchase a device for home use, here are a few important buying criteria to keep in mind:
Size: Red light systems come in all sizes, from handheld wands that target specific areas of the body to large, interlocking panels that offer full-body coverage.
Which one you pick depends on your needs. Are you mainly concerned about wrinkles, acne, sunspots, or other skin problems? If so, a small panel will probably meet your needs. If you’re hoping to recover faster from your workouts, big panels in various sizes will offer more flexibility.
Irradiance: As mentioned previously, irradiance is the measure of how much power a device emits over an area. Devices with lower irradiance give off less light energy, which means your body receives fewer stimulating light photons. The lower the irradiance, the longer your sessions will have to be to achieve the desired effects.
Manufacturers might note a device’s irradiance, which is commonly measured in milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm²). But they may neglect to specify the distance you should be from the device to receive its full power. All PlatinumLED product descriptions include a visual that shows the total footprint of light-meter distance. This gives you a good idea of how close you must be to the panel to benefit from its irradiance.
For a great depiction of the importance of side-by-side light output testing, check out this comparison video by PlatinumLED.
Flexibility: If you’ll be using your device for a few different purposes, consider the range of wavelengths you’ll need. Five different wavelengths offer therapeutic benefits: 630nm and 660nm, in the red wavelength range; and 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm, within the NIR wavelength range. You can read about specific applications of these wavelengths on the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights website.
One option offered by PlatinumLED that is not offered by most other companies is a combination of red and NIR wavelengths. This is a feature of the PlatinumLED BIO series, which allows you to switch between the two wavelengths depending on your needs.
Or, you can level up to the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series. All devices in this series use a patent-pending R+|NIR+ spectrum that blends the five different wavelengths: 630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm.
Red Light Therapy Sessions at Home
There are many ways to use an at-home red light therapy device. You can sit or stand in front of it, depending on the size of the area you want to treat. You can stretch or foam roll in front of it after a workout, or between sets. Or you can prop it up near your spin bike, treadmill, or other aerobic machine and do a light recovery workout.
Clients of tanning salons are pretty much restricted to whatever set-up is already there. Most red light therapy beds at tanning salons resemble a tanning bed: You lie down and passively receive its effects. And while there’s nothing wrong with that method, it’s just one way to avail of a treatment that, with the right device, has many applications.
The Best Red Light Systems on the Market
For a whole-body treatment that’s 100% safe, consider PlatinumLED Therapy Lights. Each customizable system delivers the most powerful light therapy options on the market, for a one-time investment that beats a dozen sessions in a tanning salon bed.
The original BIO series offers red, NIR, and combination wavelengths, while the BIOMAX series offers the same options but with more therapeutic wavelengths. Both series come in four convenient sizes, and the BIOMAX panels can be linked together in various configurations to create a tailored array of panels that suits your needs. This beats the limitations of the red light therapy tanning beds, which forces you to lie down.
Whether for internal healing, muscle recovery, or beautification and anti-aging treatment, PlatinumLED Therapy Lights open up a whole new world of health and wellness benefits that can be experienced in the comfort of your own home.
Meanwhile, the SaunaMAX Pro has all the features of the BIOMAX Series, but can be used for in-sauna treatment. It's the ideal panel for red light therapy enthusiasts who also have a home sauna. Take a look at this new panel for more information about how to optimize your sauna treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Do red light therapy beds tan you?
Ans: Though red light has no UV, red light therapy enhances your sunless & sunbed sessions it boosts the circulation in your body that enhances the inherent tanning process within your skin.
Q: Can you do red light therapy and tanning on the same day?
Ans: Of course you can get red light therapy and tanning at the same day. In fact, professionals suggest before tanning a person should get red light therapy, because it brings the blood to the surface of your skin that produces a better tan.