Red light therapy is an increasingly popular alternative therapeutic method used to improve skin health, decrease pain, reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, improve sleep, reduce signs of aging, and boost overall health and wellness. It sounds good to be true, but red light therapy offers science-backed health effects that we could all potentially benefit from. Let’s learn about red light therapy and its benefits.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy (RLT) is an alternative healing method that uses red low-level wavelengths of light for a variety of therapeutic purposes, including reduced inflammation, decreased pain, better skin, improved sleep, and more. It is most commonly used at alternative medicine practices, salons, spas, and dermatology practices for cosmetic skin concerns, and at-home settings (1).
How Does Red Light Therapy Work
Red light therapy is low-level laser light therapy, which is a type of photobiomodulation. Photobiomodulation (PBM) is a process that uses light to regulate biology and support your body on a molecular, cellular, and tissue level (2).
Low-level red lights can penetrate deep into your skin. The most effective red light therapy is the 630nm to 660nm (red light) and 810nm to 850nm (near-infrared light) range. Unlike ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, red light therapy is safe and will not cause sunburn or sun damage. Though you won’t get a tan, red light therapy will increase cellular energy, support mitochondrial health, create more ATP energy, increase antioxidants and improve cellular repair and rejuvenation (1).
Benefits of Red Light Therapy
One of the biggest benefits of red and near-infrared light therapy is wound healing and treating various other skin conditions, such as burns, psoriasis, vitiligo, and herpes virus lesions (1, 3). However red light therapy offers many other health benefits.
Reduced Inflammation and Pain
Research has shown that when used regularly, RLT treatments may reduce chronic inflammation and pain. It may help to improve tendonitis, psoriasis, arthritis, autoimmune thyroid disease, and obesity (4, 5, 6). According to a 2000 meta-analysis published in The Journal of Rheumatology, RLT may be particularly beneficial for joint-related issues, such as pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (7).
Improved Mitochondrial Health
The mitochondria are tiny organelles that provide cellular energy in your body. RLT may stimulate mitochondrial health and allow your mitochondria to create more energy (1, 8). How this happens though is not completely clear. According to a 2018 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, RLT stimulates the enzyme, cytochrome c oxidase, which leads to increased ATP energy production (9). However, according to a 2019 study published in the Annals of Translational Medicine, the answer lies in the fact that red light photons may reduce the watery nature of the mitochondria envelope, which results in faster mitochondrial function and increased energy production (10).
Improved Collagen Production
Collagen is a primary structural protein found in your skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and teeth. Decreased collagen production over time will reduce your skin elasticity and cause wrinkles. Collagen is also critical for your gut health, mood, ligament, and joint health, nails, and hair. According to a 2014 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, red light may lead to collagen production and intradermal collagen density increase (11).
Better Skin and Wound Healing
One of the most well-known benefits of RLT is supporting skincare and anti-aging. RLT may improve collagen and fibroblast production and skin mitochondrial health. As a result, it may reduce free radical damage, fine lines, and wrinkles, and may improve facial texture, skin tone, skin elasticity, and skin complexion in various skin types (1, 11). It may also improve wound healing and support tissue repair. According to a 2014 review published in Anais Brasilienos de Dermatologica, wound healing and tissue repair was supported by stimulating new blood vessel growth, decreasing inflammation in the skin cells, and supporting collagen and fibroblast production (12).
Increased Hair Growth
Another visible benefit of RLT may be better hair quality by promoting the regeneration of hair follicles. This may be particularly beneficial for those struggling with alopecia or other kinds of hair thinning or hair loss (13). A 2019 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials had found that RLT may increase both hair growth and hair density in androgenetic alopecia (14).
Red light therapy may support your body’s natural circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep quality. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training has found that 14 days of 30-minute RLT sessions improved the sleep and endurance performance of female basketball players (15). A 2016 review on brain disorders published in BBA Clinical has also found improved sleep (16).
Improved Symptoms of Chronic Conditions
Red light therapy may help to lower inflammation and support your immune system, such that it may help to reduce the risk and support the treatment of various autoimmune, inflammatory, and chronic conditions. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has found that RLT may help boost D vitamin levels, regulate T cell production, and support your immune system (17). A 2019 review published in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports has found that RLT may support the treatment of inflammatory, musculoskeletal, and autoimmune conditions (18). A 2019 study published in Medicine (Baltimore) has found that RLT may support the central nervous system and aid the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and spinal cord injury (19).
Improved Brain Health
Red light therapy may also improve your brain health. A 2016 review published in BBA Clinical noted improved cognition, neurodevelopment, and sleep (16). Cognitive enhancement in “normal” individuals is one potential application. Another is support for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism (ASD) and ADHD. Moreover, researchers found that RLT may benefit those with dealing with the effects of traumatic events, such as stroke and TBI, and degenerative conditions, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. A 2014 study published in Neurotrauma had found that RLT may improve sleep and cognitive function in TBI (20). As noted in the BBA review, “many investigators believe that PBM for brain disorders will become one of the most important medical applications of light therapy in the coming years and decade.”
Increased Mental Health
Red light therapy may also improve your mental health. A 2016 review published in BBA Clinical has also found that RLT may improve mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (16). According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, only 1 hour of RLT may improve depression scores in those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (21).
Given the aging population, the interest in brain health, the epidemic of mental health problems, and the need to better manage both neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders, the research relating RLT/PBM to cognitive and emotional medical conditions is very encouraging.
How to Use Red Light Therapy
If you’re looking to gain an edge in energy and mental clarity, and reduce chronic pain, check if RLT is right for you. Using red light therapy is incredibly simple. You can find some affordable, small, and easy-to-store RLT home devices. Many alternative medicine practices, spas, and gyms also offer RLT.
Before using a red light therapy device, remove your clothes only leaving your underwear and socks on. Sit or stand about 4 to 6 inches away from the device. If it’s your first time, start with only 1 to 2 minutes with each area that needs attention and slowly increase the time to 5 to 10 minutes as your body gets more used to red light. You can use RLT on your entire body for 5 to 10 minutes on each side, 10 to 20 minutes total. And use red light therapy several times a week or even daily. However, allow at least 6 hours between your treatments. In addition to RLT, I recommend that you follow a nutrient-dense diet and lead a healthy lifestyle to protect your health.
If you are experiencing symptoms of chronic health issues or simply want to improve your health, I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here.