Red light therapy has taken the health and wellness industry by storm, and with good reason. It’s a safe and effective treatment that requires zero recovery time. Used correctly and consistently, it can address a wide range of conditions, from fine lines to fibromyalgia. Red light therapy’s benefits are becoming so well known that celebrities and health practitioners alike swear by it.
That’s enough to convince many people to embrace red light and purchase their own device. Yet, because red light therapy has soared in popularity, there are innumerable devices on the market, from portable LED light therapy masks and wands, to full body panels and light fixtures—but not all are created equal.
Below we’ll review top device recommendations and the science behind red light therapy, including what it is, what it can achieve, and how key factors like wavelength, irradiance, and size contribute to a device’s efficacy.
Top-Rated Red Light Therapy Devices
Let’s start by looking at the top-rated manufacturers of red light therapy devices on the market. These brands are backed by sound research and development—critical when choosing a complex product such as a home red light therapy device.
PlatinumLED Therapy Lights. PlatinumLED launched in 2010 and was the first company to ever make ultra high power red light therapy panels available for home use. Plus, we make panels that emit light in the red and NIR wavelengths, or a combination of both, through a patent-pending R+|NIR+ spectrum that blends five different wavelengths all customizable by the integrated touchscreen controls. Panels in the BIOMAX series are modular for a more customizable array.
PlatinumLED lights emit a higher amount of irradiance than any other LED light therapy device on the market. Plus, each panel offers five therapeutic wavelengths compared to the industry-standard two to provide better results for a wider range of conditions. Our lights are used and endorsed by more medical professionals, universities and governmental agencies than any other LED company as well as being fully FDA Approved Class II Medical Devices and ETL inspected for electrical safety. Our lights are indeed the clinical and industry standard by which all other lights are set to.
Joovv. Joovv’s lights are available in a variety of sizes, from handheld devices to full-body panels. They come in two different wavelengths: 660nm (red), 850nm (NIR). The devices are modular, so they can be combined to form larger light therapy systems with greater coverage. The main components of this design are the Joovv Mini and the Joovv Solo. Joovv offers a two-year warranty on all products except for the portable Go 2.0, which has a one-year warranty.
Mito Red. This company produces three models of red light therapy devices in various sizes: Mito Red Original, Mitomod, and Mitopro. All use a combination of red and NIR wavelengths. The Mitomod and Mitopro models have modular construction. The company offers two-year warranties on all products, except for the Mitopro, which has a three-year warranty.
Red Light Man. Except for its full panels, Red Light Man lights tend to be on the small side, in the form of 4- to 6-inch light-emitting cubes, as well as handheld lights. The company claims these devices are stronger due to the patented focusing reflector that sits under the lens. This, says the company, concentrates and enhances the light’s penetration, allowing for more power density over longer distances.
Dr. Gross’s DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro. Developed by Dennis Gross, M.D, a board-certified dermatologist.. It uses the same medical-grade LED technology that Dr. Gross uses in his office, and combines red and blue lights: blue for acne-clearing, plus four types of red light (amber, red, deep red, and infrared) for a collagen boost.
Now that you know which devices are best, let’s jump into the science of red light therapy and how it works for a variety of health applications.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a treatment that involves exposing the body to safe, concentrated wavelengths of red light, which is part of the visible light spectrum; and/or near-infrared (NIR) light, which lies just beyond the visible spectrum. Other terms used for this therapeutic technique include low-level laser therapy (LLLT), low-level light therapy (also LLLT), and photobiomodulation (PBM).
Thousands of clinical studies and scientific research papers have shown the incredible healing potential of red light therapy. But what makes it so special?
Red light has been shown to stimulate cellular activity; specifically, mitochondria inside cells. These are little energy-making organelles that produce molecules of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary cellular fuel. By stimulating this energy-creating process, red light encourages greater production of ATP. This, in turn, leads to a host of physiological benefits to the body, which we will examine later in this article.
One of the most fascinating aspects of red light technology is how its healing power was discovered. During a NASA-funded experiment on grow lights in 1993, the scientist overseeing the experiment noticed that not only did red light boost plant growth; it also seemed to heal his skin lesions.
Red and NIR Wavelengths: What's the Difference?
One of the keys to choosing the right red light therapy device is understanding what red and NIR light can accomplish, physiologically speaking. This is directly related to the length and penetrating abilities of the wavelengths.
When we talk about red and NIR, we’re talking about a band of wavelengths; for red light, it’s from 630 nanometers (nm) to 700nm; for NIR light, it’s from 810nm to 850nm. Note that the greater the number, the longer the wavelength, and the longer the wavelength, the deeper it penetrates the skin.
Red light penetrates the surface of the skin to about 1/3” (8.47mm), so it’s able to reach the epidermal and dermal layers. This makes it extremely effective for treating skin conditions and hair loss that take place in these layers.
NIR light penetrates more deeply, to about 3” (76.2mm) below the surface to the subcutaneous tissue, muscle, bone, and interior tissue. At these depths, NIR light demonstrates anti-inflammatory and healing properties in the large muscle groups and layers of tissue. Because NIR can penetrate bone, it’s able to stimulate the production of stem cells, thereby supporting the immune system.
Within those red and NIR ranges are specific wavelengths that scientists have identified as peak performance. These include:
- 630nm: Ideal for targeting many skin concerns such as fine lines and wrinkles, psoriasis, hair regrowth, superficial skin cancers, and acne.
- 660nm: Produces an anti-inflammatory effect, encourages bone healing, reduces swelling following injuries, addresses neuropathic pain, and accelerates wound healing.
- 810nm: Improves healing and recovery following strenuous activity, accelerates wound healing, improves symptoms of psychiatric disorders, aids recovery from traumatic brain injury, and promotes hair regrowth.
- 830nm: accelerates healing and wound infection, increases feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, improves bone repair and growth, accelerates recovery and return-to-play after injury.
- 850nm: Produces anti-inflammatory effects to reduce joint and muscle pain; enhances muscle recovery and decreases inflammation and oxidative stress after strenuous exercise; heals skin wounds; reduces lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
Look for Devices With Red AND NIR Wavelengths
It’s worth noting that not all devices include both red and NIR light wavelengths, so it’s important to consider the benefits of each range when choosing a model. For example, if you’re seeking anti-aging or general skin health treatments, you’re best sticking with a red light. If you’re hoping to address an autoimmune disorder like arthritis, or more serious skin conditions like hyperpigmentation, you’ll need the extra penetration and healing power of NIR.
But why decide between red and NIR when you can have both? All PlatinumLED Therapy light devices come in multiple configurations of at least two wavelengths — 660nm and 850nm — or a combination of the two. The combination (R/NIR) models can even be switched to provide only 660nm or 850nm at one time, in addition to both being used at the same time. Or you can level up to the PlatinumLED BIOMAX lights, which use a patent-pending R+|NIR+ spectrum that blends the five different wavelengths mentioned earlier.
In fact, getting a device that provides both red and NIR light is probably the best option. Clinical research suggests that red light therapy works best when red and NIR wavelengths are delivered in tandem, as they deliver a greater range of benefits to the body’s cells and tissues.
Power and Irradiance Matter
Another huge difference between red light therapy devices is irradiance. This is the measure of how much power a light emits over an area—or in the case of your body, how much light energy, in the form of photons, it receives.
If you’re wondering why irradiance matters, it’s because of how much light energy is delivered to the cells. Devices with lower irradiance give off less light energy, which deprives cells of the stimulation they need to spark those desired biological reactions.
You’ll have to sit through longer sessions to achieve the same effects you’d receive from a device with higher irradiance. Or, you’ll have to move closer to the device, which will diminish the total area you can treat in one session. Either way, lower irradiance means more time invested to achieve the desired effects of red light therapy.
Some manufacturers list a device’s irradiance—commonly measured in milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm²). But they might not tell you the distance you must be from the device to receive the full benefit of its irradiance.
Suppose, for example, a company claims that its LED panel produces 100mW/cm², but does not tell you that you must be two inches from the device to achieve that intensity. You will have to undergo multiple sessions to expose a sizable area of your body to that light energy. And not knowing the irradiance distance of a product makes it impossible to compare the actual light output of that device with others on the market.
That’s why all product descriptions of PlatinumLED devices include a visual that depicts the total footprint at light-meter distance. This allows you to see how much surface area the light can reach and at what irradiance, as well as how close you have to be to it.
For a great visual about the importance of side-by-side light output testing, check out this comparison video by PlatinumLED.
Joules vs Irradiance In Red Light Therapy Devices
As you're reviewing device power output, you may see two types of power measurements used: Joules and Irradiance. Here's a quick overview of how they differ and how to convert from one to another:
Irradiance is the measure of power that a light is emitting over an area. Basically, this will be the amount of energy a portion of your body is receiving at a given time while using the light.
In light therapy, the most common format to measure irradiance is milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm²).
A common device for comparing and measuring the irradiance of a red light therapy device is a solar irradiance meter which is indeed a very accurate tool especially for comparisons between two lights. These meters use different units than we use in the light therapy industry which is watts per square meter, or abbreviated this would be W/M².
To convert W/M² to mW/cm², you simply move the decimal point one space to the left. For example, 200 W/M² = 20 mW/cm². It’s literally that simple!
Joules is a measurement of the energy received over a given area over time. The energy per area unit you use to calculate joules is mW/cm², the same one we use in light therapy. You take this number, divide it by 1000 and multiply it by the number of seconds you are using the device.
Joules = mW/cm²/1000 X seconds
For example, if your device is putting out an irradiance of 100 mW/cm², and you use it for 1 minutes (60 seconds), then total joules = 6 J/cm2
Thus, when joules are quoted, the distance and time in front of the light must be quoted in the measurement.
Size Matters in Red Light Devices
So now you know about wavelengths and irradiance. What else do you have to know before buying your device?
Size is the next consideration because the size of the device dictates how much of your body you can treat, and how well the device fits your lifestyle. Bigger devices treat a larger area of the body all at once, like your back; smaller devices have a limited range of treatment—say, those pesky laugh lines around your mouth. Larger devices are best left in the home, while smaller devices can travel with you on the road.
Whatever your size preference, beware that (generally speaking) the smaller the device, the weaker and less effective it is at producing the energy output needed to spark real physiological benefits. Smaller consumer products are certainly more convenient in terms of portability, and cheaper than clinical-grade devices available in gyms, spas, and doctors’ offices—but their efficacy is questionable. Many argue that when buying red light therapy devices, it’s best to “go big or go home.”
Now let’s look at some of the ways smaller and larger devices are used.
Smaller Devices for Targeted Treatments
When we say “small,” we are talking about red light therapy devices such as wands, face masks, and hair caps.
- Wands are handheld devices that you move around your face. They usually consist of tiny LED bulbs in a range of colors—among them, blue (for acne treatment) and red light.
- Masks are hands-free hard masks fitted with LED paneling on the inside. You put the mask on your face, set the timer (some masks allow you to set a timer on the device itself), and sit back and relax.
- Hair caps are hard caps that fit over your skull. They are similar in construction to face masks, in that they are hands-free and outfitted with LED paneling, except the caps target hair follicles to encourage hair growth.
Wands and face masks are most often used on the face for anti-aging treatments; caps address hair loss.
Using Red Light Therapy for Anti-Aging, Skincare, and Hair Loss
What makes red light therapy so great for treating aging skin and hair loss? As discussed earlier, red light stimulates cellular activity. This stimulation increases the production of collagen, a protein responsible for the skin’s elasticity, plumpness, and hydration (i.e, the ingredients of youthful-looking skin). As we age, our bodies produce less (and lower quality) collagen, and our skin starts to wane from the effect of sun damage. This is why a lot of beauty and anti-aging treatments are geared toward producing more and higher-quality collagen.
Studies show that consistent red light therapy treatments can visibly reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. In a 2009 study published in the Society for Investigative Dermatology, researchers from Quebec found that red light therapy sessions appeared to reduce the depth and severity of lines and wrinkles in 94 percent of participants.
Red light therapy can also help promote hair growth by increasing blood flow in the scalp, which stimulates the metabolism in hair follicles, as shown in a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.
While red light is the wavelength most associated with skincare and anti-aging, some wands and face mask products on the market incorporate NIR light as well. This is helpful, as the 850nm wavelength is associated with collagen production and wound healing.
However, consumer products like wands, face masks, and caps usually have a low irradiance—far lower than the clinical-grade devices used in the aforementioned studies. This means you’ll have to spend a lot of time targeting small sections of your face, for optimal results.
To summarize: most smaller devices fall in the anti-aging, skincare, or anti-hair loss category. They tend to be portable due to their size, yet less powerful and with lower irradiance, due to the limits of their technology. This makes them fine for targeted treatments.
For a more elevated performance with a device that’s not much bigger, consider the Platinum LED Bio 300, which is just 19 inches tall, 11 lbs, and comes in red light, NIR light, or a combo configuration. The irradiance is much higher than anything you’ll find among the smaller, handheld consumer devices, and it’s not so big that you can’t consider taking it with you for on-the-road sessions.
Larger Devices for All-Body Treatments
If you’re looking for greater coverage and more holistic treatments from your red light therapy sessions, you’ll want to use a larger device such as a panel.
The larger panels on the market are rectangular-shaped devices that range from about a foot and a half tall and 10 lbs. to three feet tall and 20 lbs. or more. Some can be hung on the back of a door, so all you have to do during a session is stand in front of it. Most of the leading red light therapy device manufacturers offer panels with modular capabilities, which allows you to create a configuration out of different panels to suit your needs.
So, what kind of conditions can you treat with a larger panel or array of panels? Let’s have a look.
Red light therapy is a favorite treatment of professional athletes, and there’s a good reason why. Multiple studies have shown that red light correlates with lessened muscle fatigue and stronger performance.
One study from 2008 by researchers from Brazil found that professional male volleyball players who underwent sessions of LLLT were able to do more bicep contractions by the end of the weeklong trial than they did at the beginning—and more than their colleagues who underwent placebo sessions were able to achieve. What seemed to be happening at a biological level, according to the researchers, was that LLLT was delaying the onset of muscle fatigue and exhaustion.
But you don’t have to be a professional volleyball player to benefit from red light therapy. Use it after bouts of intense exercise for the active recovery of your muscles, which can, in turn, lead to better performance.
Rachel Callahan, author of the popular running blog Grasping for Objectivity, has been writing about her experience as a runner using PlatinumLED devices. Nine months after starting regular treatments, she has increased her personal best running time by nearly two minutes per mile—an achievement she credits to regular use of her red light therapy device.
Aches and Pains
Though we’ve all experienced it, “pain” is a pretty general term. There’s acute pain, like a broken bone or sprained ankle; chronic pain, which lasts for more than six months and stems from known sources (back pain, arthritis) and unknown sources; and neuropathic pain, which results from damage or malfunction of the nervous system (nerve compression, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.).
Although there’s no one remedy for the myriad types of pain, red light therapy does an amazing job of relieving pain from a range of conditions. This is because red light has a mitigating effect on inflammation—which, generally speaking, is a major factor in most experiences of physical pain. Red light stimulates cellular repair and regeneration, which reduces inflammation. A diminished inflammatory response can accelerate the healing process and lead to reduced pain.
If you’re suffering from some kind of pain, first see a medical professional. If you’re ready to try something different, regular red light therapy sessions could prove immensely helpful. A 2007 study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful autoimmune disease, found that using red light therapy reduced their joint pain by 70 percent when compared with the placebo group. Patients also saw significant increases in palm flexibility and a reduction in morning stiffness.
Red light therapy can also abate pain resulting from an injury and help with return-to-play. A 2016 study published in the medical journal Laser Therapy showed an accelerated return-to-play among athletes who underwent two to six sessions using 830nm NIR light on the site of the injury. They also experienced enhanced blood flow, relaxed muscle spasms, and reduced inflammation.
How to Use Larger Panels
To treat the greatest variety of conditions, you’ll want to go with a panel that offers a combination of red and NIR light. It is also wise to choose a device that offers a range of benefits, as well as the ability to use NIR and red light together or separately.
As for how to use the panels for full coverage treatments, the sessions can be semi-active or passive. Which option you should choose depends on what kind of benefits you’re seeking, as well as what your schedule and activity level allows.
It’s perfectly fine to sit, stand, or lie down in front of your red light therapy device. The irradiance and coverage area will determine how long your sessions are, and how many times you have to shift position in front of the device. Obviously, the bigger the device, the greater the coverage, and the less shifting around you have to do to attain a full body’s worth of benefits.
For the restless or athletically inclined, try doing something in front of your red light device, such as yoga. Not only is yoga great for stretching, balancing, and focusing the mind, doing it while positioned in front of a red light therapy device benefits cellular activity and blood circulation. Think of it as stretching your muscles while repairing and healing them.
Professional athletes take it a step further by cycling on a stationary bike in front of a red light panel. As with the yoga example, this kind of active recovery practice gives a double dose of benefits to your body: one from the activity itself, the other from the healing and recovery properties of the red light.
General Tips for At-Home Red Light Therapy
Engaging in red light therapy sessions with home devices offers many benefits. It’s far cheaper in the long run than having regular treatments at a spa, gym, or wellness clinic. You can do it on your own schedule, at your own pace, and in private. Multiple family members can enjoy the benefits of red light therapy. The list goes on and on.
There are, however, a few things to keep in mind before you begin home use of red light therapy treatments. First, choose your device wisely. Think about the information covered in this article—wavelengths, irradiance, size, conditions treated—and consider how you want to use red light therapy now and in the future.
Is a small RLT mask or panel really enough? Or, do you think you’d benefit from a larger device down the road—say, for post-workout active recovery? Maybe you’re considering a red light device to address skin damage. Are there people in your household with aches and pains who could benefit from the more deeply penetrating NIR light, and if so, should you go with a combination configuration instead? Are you rarely home and in need of something you can pack in your carry-on?
Also, remember that most consumer products lack the irradiance and efficacy of clinical-grade devices, so buying one of these does have limitations. But a high-quality device from a reputable manufacturer is worth the investment because it will stand the test of time.
Consider PlatinumLED, which has been designing and manufacturing ultra-high power LED panels for over eight years, and is one of the global leaders in LED panel manufacturing and technology, in both the therapy and horticulture arenas (check out our sister company, PlatinumLED Grow Lights). Our reputation, research, and integrity stand behind PlatinumLED lights, which are the most powerful LED therapy lights on the market.
Finally, it’s important to commit to regular and consistent treatments, preferably after consulting with a medical professional. The benefits of red light therapy happen at the cellular level, and they are cumulative. So if your crow’s feet don’t disappear after two sessions, or your back pain persists, just stick with it.
Writing out a schedule and keeping a journal about your treatments and any changes you notice is a great way to assess your progress—as well as a more scientific way of charting change over time.
For more tips on home use of red light therapy, check out this article on the PlatinumLED blog titled, “Do At-Home Red Light Therapy Treatments Actually Work? Here's What the Science Says.”
And for more information on PlatinumLED’s Bio and Bio Max series, take a look at the comparison of these two models on our website.