Red Light Therapy Pros and Cons: Read This To Make the Most of your LEDs
If you’re suffering from a chronic condition, you may be looking at non-pharmaceutical treatments that relieve your symptoms. Red light therapy is gaining popularity as a natural, safe, and effective therapy for a variety of conditions, including accelerated skin aging, arthritis, hair loss, insomnia, muscle injury, bone health, and even brain disorders. Red light therapy has also shown promise for achieving weight loss, hormonal balance, and improved moods. But is it the perfect solution for everyone?
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of red light therapy so you can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you.
What Is Red Light Therapy and How Does It Work?
Red light therapy, also called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), uses LED bulbs to deliver low-level red and near-infrared wavelengths of light that penetrate the skin and have therapeutic benefits at the cellular level.
Our bodies react to this type of light by producing more energy in the cells, which is similar to the process of photosynthesis in plants. Our photosensitivity (the immune system’s reaction when triggered by light) could be the answer to managing chronic conditions and improving health.
Red light stimulates cellular energy creation, which improves cellular function and provides your entire body with a wide variety of benefits. Red light therapy encourages the cell’s energy centers (known as mitochondria) to break down nutrients into an essential cellular energy source known as adenosine triphosphate.
Healthy, energized cells are better able to perform their specialized functions and also replicate more easily than low-energy cells. This has significant far-reaching applications in restoring health and wellbeing.
One main benefit is a decrease in inflammation. A necessary part of the body’s self-healing mechanism, inflammation is a sign that the immune system has recognized and is trying to rid the body of invading pathogens like toxins, viruses, bacteria, or abnormal cells.
Unfortunately, the immune system sometimes goes awry and the body begins to attack itself, which can lead to chronic inflammation. This 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.
The Many Uses and Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Red light is gaining traction as a way to manage symptoms of a variety of chronic and acute conditions. It 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.
Chronic Skin Conditions
Red light has many applications in dermatology. Some people, for instance, have experienced relief after being treated for chronic skin conditions caused by sun exposure. This has led researchers to explore phototherapy (light therapy) using ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) light to promote symptomatic relief. However, ultraviolet light is linked to accelerated skin damage and skin cancer, so it must be used with caution.
Red light therapy uses longer wavelengths of light to penetrate the skin and promote normal, healthy cellular activity. It also stimulates the formation of new capillaries, which increases circulation for improved oxygen nutrient delivery to the skin.
Additionally, red light therapy promotes collagen production and activates the lymphatic system, a critical part of the immune system that protects the body from pathogens while helping to balance fluid levels and ensure efficient waste removal from the body. Finally, it helps regulate the rate at which cells reproduce and die, which allows the body to restore a natural rhythm of skin cell replacement.
Red light therapy promotes collagen production and overall skin cell health, making it a solid fit for anti-aging and other skin applications.
Many chronic skin conditions can be managed using red light, including...
- Accelerated skin aging (wrinkles and sun damage)
LLLT regulates bone growth and may be a valuable tool in preventing bone loss as the result of osteoporosis and other degenerative bone diseases.
Red light therapy stimulates hair growth by increasing blood flow 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 stimulates wound healing by decreasing inflammatory cells, and helping form the normal latticework structure of skin rather than the more chaotic organization of scar tissue.
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 improved ability to achieve peak performance in competition.
Red light reduces pain and increases range of motion in joints affected by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory properties of red light, along with the stimulation of cellular energy, promote healing and hasten recovery from degenerative joint diseases.
One study revealed significant benefits of red light therapy on the quality of sleep and subsequent endurance performance in athletes. Those who received 30-minute red light treatments daily for two weeks showed improved sleep quality, increased serum melatonin levels, and better endurance performance.
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 ripple effect on the endocrine system, which regulates hormonal activity. Restored hormonal balance may result in spontaneous weight loss, or weight loss that’s unrelated to diet or exercise. Red light also helps increase muscle mass which will raise the resting metabolic rate and result in more calories burned while resting.
Red light has been used to minimize the appearance of scars by reducing inflammation, supporting tissue repair and regeneration, and stimulating collagen production. This in turn results in normal latticed skin growth instead of uncontrolled growth of scar tissue.
Red light also activates stem cells, which have the miraculous ability to change into healthy skin cells. The transformed stem cells stimulate nearby cells to change into healthy skin cells with a genetic makeup that differs from scar tissue. Because scars often continue to grow over one’s lifetime, replacing scar tissue with healthy skin tissue will eventually minimize the presence of scars.
Degenerative Brain Diseases
Red light therapy is emerging as an effective therapy for stabilizing dying nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Thus, it could potentially be used to treat degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, multiple sclerosis, and seasonal affective disorder.
The Drawbacks to Red Light Therapy
Although few side effects or risks have been associated with red light, it should not be viewed as a one-size-fits-all treatment, nor is it suitable for everyone. For example:
- Although it provides relief when used consistently, it should not be considered a cure to any condition.
- You must commit to ongoing treatments. While most people experience relief from symptoms within one to three months, treatments may have to continue indefinitely to maintain the desired results.
- If you are being treated by a dermatologist, this can be expensive over time, as red light may not be covered by insurance. If you self-administer red light therapy at home using a high-quality LED device, your expense is limited to the one-time upfront cost of the device purchase—but you must still commit to treatments several times per week.
- Phototherapy may not be suitable for people who are extremely sensitive to light.
- High-intensity red light doesn’t carry the same risks of skin damage as UVA/UVB light, but it should still be used with caution. Some people have reportedly experienced tightness and redness after exposure to red light. Although this isn’t the same as burns from a flame or other light wavelengths, it may be a sign that you need to reduce the duration and frequency of treatments.
- While red light appears safe for short-term use, its long-term effects on the body are unknown.
- 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 red light treatments, individual sensitivity and needs will vary.
- The quality of red light devices varies greatly; most do not deliver the intensity of light required to achieve therapeutic benefits.
- In this emerging field, there are few studies that demonstrate the efficacy of red light or near-infrared (NIR) light on a large scale; most studies that have been conducted are small.
- Red light is most effective when used in conjunction with near-infrared light (NIR) because red light only 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.
Despite these cons of red light therapy, red and NIR light therapy are extremely beneficial overall. Just remember, if you purchase a device for home use, make sure to consult a medical professional before using it for serious conditions. Overall, if you use phototherapy carefully and regularly, you’re very likely to see nothing but positive results.
Red Light and Near-Infrared Light: the Dynamic Duo
As we mentioned earlier, in order to deliver the best possible benefits, red light must be combined with near-infrared (NIR) light. On its own, red light penetrates skin deep, where it can help treat various skin conditions and reverse hair loss.
NIR, however, is more than just skin deep; it penetrates to 3 1/3“ using 850 nm light, more than doubling the depth of red light and reaching much deeper into the body where it can:
- improve muscular healing and accelerated recovery
- accelerate recovery from stroke and traumatic brain injury
- Alleviate psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression
- accelerate healing and reduce infection from wounds and surgical scars
- improve bone repair and growth
- balance thyroid function
Red and NIR Light Show Great Promise
Phototherapy using red and NIR light shows great promise as a viable therapy for a wide variety of chronic and acute conditions. The process by which they positively affect the body at a cellular level has been scientifically proven. Red light therapy pros include skin health, hair restoration, scar reduction, hormonal balancing, muscle recovery, joint pain relief, improved sleep, wound healing, relief from degenerative brain disorders, and more.
Red Use NIR With Red Light to Amplify The Positive Effects
Learn more here about high quality LED devices that give you the option of using red or NIR light for targeted treatments; and here about devices that combine red and NIR light for maximum therapeutic effect. These are the highest-quality devices on the market, delivering optimal therapeutic light frequencies to support whole-body wellness.
Now that you know the pros and cons of led light therapy, you may be inspired to try red light therapy as a way to improve your health and wellbeing. As with any emerging technology or promising treatment, it’s important to consider the drawbacks as well as the benefits before deciding to use red light. And it’s always wise to treat any medical condition under the guidance of a qualified professional.