Red light therapy (RLT) is used to treat skin disorders, muscle fatigue, hair loss, and joint pain. RLT can also treat neurodegenerative brain disorders and chronic inflammation, among other conditions.
However, as with any treatment, it’s important to also keep in mind whether there are any side effects or negative impacts, including how the treatment may interact with other drugs, remedies, and your particular skin sensitivity.
This article provides an extensive review of side-effects of RLT.
The Side Effects of Red Light Therapy
The side effects of red light therapy vary depending on the type of device, the distance of the treatment, and the length and intensity of the treatment.
Red light therapy has been extensively medically reviewed in clinical trials and is generally considered safe.
Additional links to studies and clinical trials are provided in this article below.
Red light therapy panels manufactured and sold by Platinum Therapy Lights are approved FDA Class II Medical Devices that don’t use ultraviolet UV rays.
Side effects tend to be minimal, but can include tightness of the skin. Those with sensitive skin are more susceptible to treatment.
Users can avoid side effects by limiting early treatment to short sessions of 10 to 20 minutes per day, especially for the first several sessions. This helps users learn more about how their body is reacting to the treatment. Results come from consistent use in short sessions over the long term.
Also, treatment can be customized via a dial that controls intensity. Low power laser therapy may be ideal for those with sensistive skin, whereas others may prefer more intense sessions.
Meanwhile, side effects from wraps and masks can include hot spots, and the treatment from wraps and masks is by default less effective. Treatment at ‘point blank’ range prevents wavelengths from crossing paths, which is required for optimal collagen stimulation.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
There is no research or evidence showing that red light is harmful.
When evaluating the effects of red light therapy, it’s important not to confuse it with ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) phototherapy, because treatment involving UV wavelengths does carry risks. As with excessive sunlight, UV exposure can lead to premature aging, skin cancer, and eye damage.
Conversely, in studies that focused exclusively on the visible light spectrum (630 nm to 660nm and 810nm to 850nm), no side effects were observed during clinical trials, nor were any reported afterward.
Since few studies have examined red light therapy for longer than a few months (one eye study took place over five years) and because the therapy was only popularized in the early 2000s , potential long-term effects of red light therapy remain unknown. The lack of side effects of both red and infrared light therapy may indicate that adverse reactions are unlikely as long as the LED device is used as directed.
Most chronic skin disorders require one to four months of consistent treatment, and no studies have cautioned against long-term treatment. A few have taken a more conservative stance, stating that more research may be needed; but no adverse consequences have been observed during or immediately after treatment.
The only exception to this strong safety record is individuals with highly photo-sensitive skin, and people taking medications that amplify their photosensitivity. For this reason, it's important to seek medical advice before treating your skin while taking any medications (some do not overtly state that they have photo-sensitizing effects).
As with any treatment, users with cancer should consult their doctor before commencing with treatment. According to research, red light therapy can actually inhibit melanoma and may help with recovery in numerous ways.
Scientific Research on Red Light Therapy Safety
Thousands of peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on red light therapy, and none have found any safety issues either short-term or long-term use, to label red light therapy dangerous.
Studies that included follow-ups showed no adverse effects after prolonged use of light therapy LED devices. Here are few examples:
A five-year study of patients with age-related macular degeneration, which was published in 2018, found that LLLT is an effective treatment for the condition, and results in long-term improved vision with no side effects.
Red light therapy is known to stimulate healthy, normal skin cell proliferation in wound healing. When a patient has a malignant tumor, health care practitioners often hesitate to recommend the treatment for fear of promoting tumor growth. According to a 2011 study, however, red light therapy was safe even in the presence of malignant lesions, and did not contribute to their growth.
This has been confirmed by other studies including this 2022 study whose authors stated, “[red light therapy] represents a potentially safe and effective melanoma therapeutic. RL prevented tumor growth and increased the expression of immune markers … that are associated with favorable melanoma outcomes.”
9 clinical studies demonstrate that subjects exposed to red/NIR light experienced skin rejuvenation with no side effects.
Fluctuating hormones may cause pregnant women to develop acne. Unlike oral tetracycline, which has been associated with miscarriages, red light therapy has been found to be effective in treating acne and safe for use during pregnancy.
In a 1992 study, elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis in the knee were treated with red light therapy. It reduced their pain by 50% over the control group, and significantly improved range of motion and strength, with no side effects.
In a four-week rheumatoid arthritis study, 112 volunteers received red light therapy treatments to reduce pain from rheumatoid arthritis, with remarkable results: a 70% reduction in pain, significant reduction of morning stiffness, and increased tip to palm flexibility. No side effects were observed or reported.
How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy?
First, it’s always advisable to seek medical advice before attempting to treat a health condition using LED light therapy at home.
Always use the LED light therapy device as directed. This means maintaining the correct distance from the device, and starting slowly with shorter sessions to determine your level of sensitivity. Most commonly, you’ll enjoy a relaxing red light session three to five times per week for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, over a period of one to four months. Feel free to check out a more detailed guide on how often to use RLT.
When used as directed, red light therapy is safe. Therapy sessions are painless, and free from side effects. Individuals with highly sensitive skin may experience temporary redness and tightness after treating with red light, but this can often be managed by shortening the sessions, reducing the number of weekly treatments, and/or moving farther back from the device.
If you feel uncertain about long-term use of a red light therapy device, one approach you can take is to use the device only until your symptoms abate, and then take a break. Keep in mind that chronic skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema may require a consistent maintenance treatment protocol, so you need to weigh the benefits (reduced or eliminated symptoms) against the possibility of side effects (even though none have ever been found).
In small doses, red light is considered a safe therapy for improving eye health. Eye fatigue may occur after too much exposure to red light, so wear protective goggles while treating other parts of the body. The therapy time needed to treat the skin is much longer than the time needed for treatment of the eyes.
Choosing the Right LED Therapy Device
Different types of red light devices are available, from handheld wands and masks to tablet-sized panels to huge multi-panel units. This makes the choices somewhat overwhelming! Here’s what to look for.
You will get the most benefits and highest return on your investment by choosing an LED panel that irradiates a larger portion of the body, which will activate a positive ripple effect of increased cellular health.
The initial investment in a high-quality red light therapy device easily pays for itself if you are considering using red light to treat even one or two conditions, such as improving skin tone and reducing signs of aging. This is because many people who start using red light for these purposes often experience benefits they didn’t expect. Red light therapy is also effective for treating hair loss, skin wounds, stretch marks, and promoting muscle repair and weight loss.
The more of your body's cells that are energized using red light therapy, the better. Choose the largest panel that fits into your budget, so that you can target small areas while still improving your all-over health.
Healing with Light
In order to understand what red light therapy is and how it works, it’s important to know some basics about light and how it affects the human body. Sunlight, which is the main source of natural light, causes biological reactions in our bodies. The sleep-wake cycle (known as circadian rhythm), moods, and even how well our immune systems function are all directly linked to sunlight.
Since ancient times, sunlight has been used for healing. But through the years scientists have learned that too much sunlight can be harmful. Its powerful ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn, premature aging of the skin, and increased risk of skin cancer, as well as eye damage if someone looks directly at the sun. Red light therapy introduces stimulating wavelengths to the body without any of the negative effects of UV.
Although we see rays of sunlight as white, it is actually all colors mixed together, which collectively appear to be white. In fact, rainbows are light from the sun separated into its separate colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Each of these colors has a different wavelength, with red the longest and blue the shortest. Wavelengths are typically measured in nanometers (nm).
Based on extensive research, scientists know a great deal about the health benefits of specific wavelengths of light. Green, blue, yellow, and red wavelengths have all been used successfully to treat specific conditions. Of all commonly used light therapies, red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths have the broadest range of therapeutic benefits.
The Benefits of Red Light Therapy
The term “red light therapy,” which is also referred to as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, encompasses light therapy in the red (630nm to 660nm) and near-infrared (810nm to 850nm) range. Red light devices use light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs to deliver specific wavelengths of light in powerful concentrations that absorb into the skin and have therapeutic benefits at the cellular level.
Red light, and particularly near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths, penetrate deep into the body where they have a stimulating effect on cells. Light photons absorb into the mitochondria, which are colloquially known as the “power generators” of cells. As mitochondria soak up the light, this increases production of cellular fuel known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The cells become energized, making them better able to perform their functions, and repair and regenerate themselves more efficiently.
Increased cellular energy causes a positive chain reaction that boosts overall health throughout your body.
Increased cellular energy has a positive ripple effect throughout the entire body. It’s similar to how your energy levels affect your ability to perform at your peak (or your worst) at work, to handle obstacles, to cope with adversity, to maintain healthy relationships, and still have the energy to take care of yourself.
The process by which low-level laser therapy positively impacts health at the cellular level has been scientifically proven. Some of the fascinating benefits of red/NIR therapy include:
Regular use has the beneficial effect of photodynamic photorejuvenation. It can help with the reduction of fine lines, restoring sagging skin, heal sun damage, and treat wrinkles by stimulating collagen and elastin production, reducing inflammation, and stimulating blood flow.
Red light supports the regrowth of hair when light photons energize dormant hair follicles. It also helps treat underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism, which can contribute to non-hereditary hair loss.
Red light reduces inflammation to ease joint pain and restore mobility.
Chronic skin disorders
Red light in the 620nm to 660nm range, and NIR light in the 810nm to 850nm range, effectively treat acne, psoriasis, non-melanoma skin cancers, rosacea, and other skin conditions by reducing inflammation and promoting healthy collagen production.
Red and NIR light wavelengths help maximize athletic performance and speed up healing of muscle damage due to intense exercise or injury.
Low back pain: Near-infrared light supports healthy muscle and connective tissue growth and reduces inflammation to ease chronic low back pain.
Red light therapy can help with fat loss and helps with spot-treatment of fat, since it causes fat cells to develop tiny fissures that allow lipids to leak out. It also increases the thickness and suppleness of skin, which helps reduce the appearance of cellulite.
It’s important to note that although red and near-infrared wavelengths absorb into the body at different depths, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other; it means they are complementary. In general, the shorter wavelengths (630nm to 660nm) are used to treat skin-deep conditions, whereas the longer wavelengths (810nm to 850nm) are used to treat conditions deeper in the body. For optimal results, both should be used simultaneously.
This is just a sampling of the incredible benefits of red light therapy. Given the current body of research, light therapy is not considered a cure for any condition. However, since the light in the red/NIR ranges has the greatest range of benefits of any wavelengths (according to thousands of studies), they fall into what’s called the "therapeutic window" of light energy. Red and NIR light promote energy production at the cellular level, the ripple effect of healthy cells may have the potential to eliminate the underlying causes of many chronic conditions. Rather than focusing just on relieving the symptoms, light therapy helps to address the root causes.
Red Light Therapy Solutions
Given the often severe side effects of many drugs and medications, red light therapy is a much better choice. It is a natural, safe, and effective method to experience relief from symptoms, and even healing.
Take a look at some of our red light therapy panels to find the perfect one for you. We offer a variety of options that are both effective and affordable for at-home use.
To read more about the uses of red light, its innumerable benefits, and the many studies that have been conducted, be sure to visit the PlatinumLED blog.