If you’re looking for a natural, safe, and effective treatment for chronic conditions or to improve your overall well-being, you may be considering red light therapy. But is it the best solution for everyone? Let’s look at the pros and cons of red light therapy so you can make an informed decision.
Note: Shop clinical-grade red light therapy panels in the PlatinumLED store.
What Is Red Light Therapy and How Does It Work?
Red light therapy is gaining popularity as a natural, safe, and effective therapy for a variety of conditions. Some of these include skin rejuvenation (due to skin aging), arthritis pain, hair growth, insomnia, muscle injury, bone health, brain disorders, weight loss, and much more.
Also called low-level light therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy delivers specific wavelengths of light to the skin. These wavelengths may be red, ranging in size from 630 nanometers (nm) to 660 nm; or near-infrared (NIR), which are invisible and range from 800 nm to 850 nm. The term “red light therapy” is often used to refer to both red and NIR light.
Much red light therapy research has featured a technique known as low-level laser therapy, which uses “cold” lasers rather than LED bulbs. Many researchers, however, have begun using LED light therapy devices instead; they achieve results nearly identical to lasers, and LED devices are suitable for professional and consumer use.
Of all of the light wavelengths that have been studied over the past 60 years, red and NIR wavelengths are clinically proven to have the most widespread therapeutic health benefits – with no known side effects.
There are four primary mechanisms by which red light therapy can speed up healing and support the body’s systems in functioning optimally:
- Promoting healthy, energized cells;
- Reducing chronic inflammation
- Increasing collagen production; and
- Improving circulation.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Healthy, Energized Cells
Our bodies react to red and NIR wavelengths by producing more energy in the cells, which is a process that’s similar to photosynthesis in plants. Inside cells are tiny energy-producing organelles known as mitochondria. Light-sensitive chromophores within the mitochondria become excited when they come into contact with red or NIR light photons, and this sparks a chain reaction of more energy production and improved cellular metabolism.
Why is this key to good health? It promotes healthy mitochondrial function, without which, many processes in the body start to break down.
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to many chronic diseases and disorders. In a 2014 paper, biochemist Garth L. Nicolson states that mitochondrial dysfunction can manifest as significant fatigue and other symptoms associated with chronic disease. Conversely, restoring normal mitochondrial functioning could boost overall energy levels in patients with fatigue related to chronic conditions.
Improved energy production in cells leads to improved cellular function. Energized cells are more effective at fighting off pathogens, repairing themselves, and replicating, which has significant far-reaching applications in restoring health and well-being.
Red Light Therapy Reduces Chronic Inflammation
A 2013 study co-authored by world-renowned red light researcher Michael Hamblin, revealed red light therapy’s effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory treatment.
Acute inflammation is a normal and necessary part of the body’s self-healing mechanism. The redness and pain are signs that the immune system has recognized invading pathogens such as toxins, viruses, bacteria, or abnormal cells, and is trying to rid the body of them.
Unfortunately, the immune system sometimes goes awry and the body begins to attack its own tissue, which can lead to chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is directly linked to autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as stroke, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, cancer, arthritis, allergies, and diabetes.
For many chronic inflammatory disorders there is no cure, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Red light therapy encourages cellular repair, which can slow or minimize the inflammatory immune response and allow the body to restore normal functioning.
Red Light Therapy Increases Collagen Production
A 2014 study on the effects of red light therapy on the skin observed 136 volunteers. The group receiving the treatment experienced significantly improved skin complexion, reduced skin roughness, and increased collagen density.
Red Light Therapy Improves Circulation
Adequate blood supply is necessary for all the body’s systems to function properly.
During a 2017 study on chronic diabetic wounds, one group of patients was treated with red and NIR light three times a week for eight weeks. Both diabetics and non-diabetics in the treatment group experienced significantly increased blood flow as a result of the treatment.
The Pros of Red Light Therapy
The main argument on behalf of red light therapy is that this natural treatment works at the cellular level. It’s not a cosmetic fix, and it’s not focused solely on relieving symptoms. Rather, it supports the body’s self-healing mechanisms and as such, could be a promising treatment alongside conventional medicine.
Red light therapy can be administered by a healthcare professional, or you can purchase a high-quality LED device and treat various conditions in the comfort and convenience of your home. This is a one-time investment, as opposed to repeated costs of ongoing treatments in a clinical setting.
Red light therapy can also be used on your pets to treat inflammation, speed up healing, and even treat chronic skin conditions.
Compared with other wavelengths of visible and invisible light, red and NIR wavelengths fall into the “therapeutic window” that has been shown in a multitude of studies to deliver exceptional benefits with no side effects.
How Red Light Therapy Could Improve Your Health and Well-Being
From skin conditions to bone health to back pain to sleep disorders and a host of other conditions, red light therapy has proved to be effective in numerous ways.
Red Light Promotes Skin Health
Red wavelengths have many applications in dermatology, from treating the signs of aging to a variety of chronic conditions.
Red light therapy penetrates the skin to promote normal, healthy cellular activity. It also stimulates the formation of new capillaries, which increases circulation for improved oxygen nutrient delivery to the skin, and activates the lymphatic system.
It also stimulates collagen and elastin synthesis to restore skin firmness and fullness.
Finally, red light helps regulate the rate at which cells reproduce and die, which allows the body to restore a natural rhythm of skin cell replacement.
Here are some examples of how red light therapy supports skin health:
- Anti-Aging: Red light therapy is perhaps most well-known as a treatment for accelerated skin aging: fine lines and wrinkles, crepey skin, and sunspots.
- Chronic Skin Conditions: Supporting the body’s self-healing mechanisms is beneficial for treating psoriasis, eczema, acne, and rosacea.
Red Light Therapy Supports Bone Health
Red light therapy has been shown to regulate bone growth. And according to this 2014 study, it may be a valuable tool in preventing bone loss as the result of osteoporosis and other degenerative bone diseases.
Red Light Therapy Helps Regrow Hair
Red wavelengths have been shown to stimulate hair growth by increasing circulation in the scalp and stimulating the metabolism in hair follicles, effectively taking them out of a dormant state into an active hair-producing state.
Red Light Therapy Accelerates Wound Healing
A 2017 study found that NIR light was the most effective in supporting impaired skin wound healing.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Muscle Recovery and Athletic Performance
Athletes can use red light before exercise to precondition the muscles, and again after workouts to speed muscle recovery and stimulate, heal, and regenerate damaged muscle and connective tissue.
Faster muscle recovery can result in more frequent peak performance in competition. Researchers who conducted a 2017 study even suggested that red light therapy could provide athletes an “unfair advantage” in competition.
Red light Therapy Can Relieve Pain
Red light offers pain relief and increases the range of motion in joints affected by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
During a 2014 study, Hamblin suggested that 810 nm NIR wavelengths could, in a single application, reduce inflammation in osteoarthritic patients, potentially slowing or halting the progression of the disease, and promoting healing from degenerative joint diseases.
Low back pain affects millions of Americans; red light could help offer immediate relief and support the healing of chronic problems that could contribute to chronic pain and discomfort.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Sleep
One 2012 study revealed significant benefits of red light therapy on the circadian rhythm and subsequent endurance performance in athletes. Those who received 30-minute treatments daily for two weeks showed improved sleep quality, increased serum melatonin levels, and better endurance performance.
Red Light Therapy Can Help with Weight Loss
After trying unsuccessfully to lose weight with diet and exercise, many people are seeking answers to their weight loss challenges. In some cases, excess weight may be linked to hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid. Balancing thyroid function can have a positive effect on the endocrine system, which regulates hormonal activity.
Restored hormonal balance may result in spontaneous weight loss, meaning weight loss that’s unrelated to diet or exercise. A 2018 study revealed red light therapy to be a potentially effective treatment for patients with hypothyroidism.
In a 2016 study, red light was shown to increase muscle mass; increasing muscle mass will raise the resting metabolic rate and result in more calories burned while resting.
Red Light Therapy Can Reduce the Appearance of Scars
Red light has been used to minimize the appearance of scars by reducing inflammation, supporting tissue repair and regeneration, and stimulating and normalizing collagen production, as outlined in this 2013 paper.
This could result in normal growth of skin tissue, instead of uncontrolled growth of scar tissue. Over time, as the outermost layers of the scar slough off, the inner layers could be replaced by healthy skin tissue.
The above-mentioned paper also suggests that red light activates stem cells, which have the ability to develop into healthy skin cells with a genetic makeup that differs from scar tissue; this stimulates neighboring cells to follow suit and develop into normal skin cells.
Because scars often continue to grow, replacing scar tissue with healthy skin tissue will eventually minimize the appearance of scars.
Red Light Therapy Can Treat Degenerative Brain Disorders
Red light therapy is emerging as an effective therapy for stabilizing dying nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. In this 2014 study, red light therapy could potentially be used to treat degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, and multiple sclerosis.
It has also been used to boost cognitive function and to treat mental health disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and general depression.
Red Light Therapy Can Ease Neuropathy Pain
Adding red light as a treatment for nerve pain (neuropathy) could reduce the inflammation that contributes to the condition, and promote nerve regeneration.
A 2010 study focused on the anti-inflammatory effects of red wavelengths on nerve regeneration. The researchers found that 660 nm wavelengths promoted nerve regeneration by acting as an antioxidant, which reduces inflammation that interferes with normal nerve cell functioning.
According to a 2018 article co-authored by Hamblin and researcher Shang-Ru Tsai of Taiwan, nerve cells respond favorably to NIR wavelengths, suggesting that nerve cells within the peripheral nervous system could be stimulated to regenerate and restore normal cell signaling.
Hundreds of studies and clinical trials have shown the incredible potential of red light therapy. Still, as with any therapeutic technique, it’s important to examine all aspects of it before deciding to use it as a treatment.
The Cons of Red Light Therapy
Although regular treatment with red and NIR wavelengths is considered safe and can offer relief, the therapy should not be viewed as a cure and it may not work for everyone. For instance, it may not be suitable for people who experience high light sensitivity.
Red Light Therapy Is Not a Quick Fix
Red light therapy is not a quick fix – you must commit to ongoing treatments and you must be patient. While most people experience relief from symptoms within one to three months, treatments may have to continue indefinitely to maintain the desired results.
In-clinic treatments can be expensive over time. If you apply red light therapy at home using a high-quality LED red light therapy device, your expense is limited to the one-time purchase price, but you must still treat yourself with the device several times per week.
Red light doesn’t carry the risk of burns, although some people have reportedly experienced tightness and redness after exposure to red light, likely due to increased blood flow.
More Research on Red Light Therapy Is Needed
Red light appears safe for short-term use, but only a few studies have explored its long-term effects. While these studies showed favorable results, more research is needed.
Self-diagnosing a condition and self-administering red light therapy without the guidance of a doctor is unwise, as you risk the possibility of missing or misdiagnosing a serious underlying condition.
Currently, there are no prescribed guidelines for using red light to manage specific conditions. While dermatologists may prescribe or recommend the frequency and duration of treatments, individual sensitivity and needs will vary.
The quality of red light therapy devices varies greatly; most do not deliver the intensity of light required to achieve therapeutic benefits.
In this emerging field, only a few studies demonstrate the efficacy of red light or near-infrared light on a large scale; most studies are relatively small.
Despite these cautionary factors, the benefits of red light therapy are scientifically backed and it is considered a viable treatment (along with doctor-prescribed medicines and protocols) for a variety of health conditions.
Overall, if you use red light therapy carefully and regularly, you’re very likely to see nothing but positive results.
Red Light and Near-Infrared Light Together: The Dynamic Duo
As mentioned previously, to deliver the best possible benefits, red light should be combined with near-infrared wavelengths. On its own, red light penetrates the skin to a depth of about 8–10mm (1/3”), which isn’t deep enough to stimulate optimal cell health deeper in the body.
NIR wavelengths penetrate more than just skin deep; 850 nm light penetrates to 3 1/3", which allows treatment of large muscles, connective tissue, nerves, bones, the brain, and various organs.
NIR light is not better, per se; it just absorbs deeper into the tissues. Using both means that every layer of skin and subcutaneous tissue is receiving the benefits of light in the “therapeutic window” of visible and invisible light, without side effects.
Only one device on the market gives you 630, 660, 810, 830, and 850 nm red and NIR wavelengths at the same time: the BIOMAX series from PlatinumLED Therapy Lights.
Red Light Therapy: Optimal Support for Health and Well-Being
Red light therapy shows great promise as a viable therapy for a wide variety of conditions. The process by which they positively affect the body at a cellular level has been scientifically proven and is explained in detail by Hamblin in this 2017 paper.
Now that you know the pros and cons of red light therapy, you may be inspired to try it yourself as a way to improve your health and wellbeing.
Learn more here about the PlatinumLED BIO series, high-quality LED red light therapy devices that give you the option of using red or NIR light for targeted treatments.
Learn more here about our groundbreaking, industry-leading BIOMAX light therapy devices that combine red and NIR light for maximum therapeutic effect. These devices deliver not just two but five widely studied light frequencies to support whole-body wellness.
Curious about what else you can treat with red light in the comfort of home? Discover more on the Learn page.