Here’s a breakdown of two of the most popular and effective devices for a variety of applications: red light therapy lamps and red light therapy panels.
There are many types of red light therapy devices, and some are far superior to others.
Let’s dive in and answer the question of whether red light therapy devices work and how you can optimize your treatments.
What are Red Light Therapy Lamps?
Red light therapy devices use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that shine specific wavelengths of red and/or near-infrared (NIR) light onto the skin.
Infrared heat lamps are not the same as red light therapy devices. Many manufacturers are trying to get into the red light therapy industry because it has grown considerably.
But in order to be therapeutically effective, panels need to emit specific wavelengths. Many of the red light therapy lamps simply use red bulbs, with little to no scientific scrutiny.
Heat treatment is a totally different modality than stimulatory wavelength emmittance.
Heat Therapy, or Red Light Therapy?
Heat therapy and red light therapy work in very different ways, which adds to the confusion. You may come across an ad for a so-called red light therapy lamp that features 275-watt bulbs that give off intense heat. This is not red light therapy, but heat therapy.
What’s the difference?
Heat therapy causes thermal stress in the body, which activates heat shock proteins and sparks a variety of healing processes. Thermal stress can be beneficial in many cases, but if used incorrectly, it can cause serious damage to heat-sensitive organs like the testes or eyes.
Red Light Therapy Panels
By contrast, red light therapy uses light energy to activate cellular metabolism. This is the cornerstone of the light therapy approach. Energized cells have a direct ripple effect on healing processes, including reduced inflammation, improved circulation, and more collagen production.
Red light therapy is also often called infrared light therapy, because most light therapy devices use both red and NIR light. Be sure to choose a red light therapy device that features light below 900 nm. Above 900 nm, your body will perceive these electromagnetic waves as heat, not light.
Are there Benefits to Using Red Light Therapy Lamps?
When compared to panels, lamps fall short in nearly every area.
Red light therapy panels make treatment convenient. You don’t have to hold a device in your hand or wonder if you’ve missed a spot. You can lie or sit comfortably while taking the treatment. This is where the similarities between lamp-style devices and red light therapy panels end.
The Difference in Treatment Area
Handheld red light therapy devices can only treat a very small area of the body at once. A ‘lamp’ style device can treat a larger area but not to the extent that a red light therapy panel can.
Some panels are designed to treat the entire body at once. Lamps cannot do this as effectively.
The only way to increase coverage area with a lamp-style device is to move further away. This dilutes the light energy coming to your body.
RLT Lamp Wavelengths
The therapeutic wavelengths of red light therapy lamps are often limited to not more than two types of light. In order to have therapeutic value, red and NIR light therapy devices must feature LEDs that can be calibrated to specific wavelengths.
A 275-watt halogen bulb may feature a red glass shell, but that does not mean it carries a wavelength that has therapeutic value. It’s just white light passing through red glass.
Some red light therapy devices will feature both 660nm red light and 850nm NIR light. These may be used individually or together.
Red and NIR light are both components of natural light. Here's how they differ:
Light Energy Power, or Irradiance
Some light therapy lamps deliver weaker light than others. Very thin devices, such as infrared light therapy masks may be conveniently lightweight, but they simply don’t have the space to house high-powered LEDs. Lightweight components won’t be as powerful or durable as panel components.
Very few manufacturers specify how much light energy their devices actually deliver to your body. Look for mw/cm2: the higher the number, the more light is reaching your skin. A device that delivers 100 mw/cm2 at 6” from the device is decent, but medical-grade panels will go significantly higher, up to 185 mw/cm2 at 6” from the device.
The further you move from any light therapy lamp, the weaker the light becomes. When you’re using a small lamp-style device, you need to sit very close to it in order for the maximum amount of light to absorb into your skin.
Red Light Therapy Panels
Red light therapy using panels that emit therapeutic wavelengths can be an effective way to support your body.
It’s a popular treatment whether you’re looking to ease low back pain, soothe stiff muscles, improve skin health, halt and even reverse skin aging, regrow hair, or even get better sleep.
"Understanding the distinction between red lamps, infrared heat lamps, and medical-grade red light therapy devices, like those from PlatinumLED, is essential for achieving successful therapeutic outcomes, as expectations need to align with what each device can deliver."
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
BIOMAX Red Light Therapy Panels
Now that you know what to look out for, what’s the best red light therapy device?
Any of the four BIOMAX panels will deliver superior light energy, a larger treatment area than you can achieve with a lamp-style device and multiple therapeutic wavelengths.
The BIOMAX series features two red wavelengths, three near-infrared, and one blue light wavelength to give you the most comprehensive treatment.
Blue light can reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria to improve skin appearance. Combined with the deeper benefits of red and near-infrared light therapy, blue light brings red light therapy to a new level.
If you’re curious about more uses for a red light therapy lamp, we encorage you to seek out more information in the Learning Center.