Do I Need Eye Protection for Red Light Therapy?

Question: Do I have to wear eye protection during red light therapy? I especially want the effects of red light therapy around the eye area and I’m worried that goggles or glasses would block the light. Wouldn’t it be good enough if I just closed my eyes?


Answer: In short, the answer is yes, you should wear eye protection during red light therapy treatments.

The first reason you need eye protection is because the light is so bright it is going to be very uncomfortable on your eyes. Depending on the bulb or device you’re using, it might even be bright enough to harm your eyes.

Just closing your eyes may not be good enough to protect them. Have you ever still been able to “see” light even with your eyes closed? That happens because the light is still making contact with your eye’s retina. The brightness of a red light therapy bulb could certainly cause that to happen.

Another reason is that some people, especially those with certain medical conditions, are more likely to react to light. Bright or flashing lights can trigger migraine headaches or seizures in susceptible people, for example.

So what can you use for eye protection during red light therapy? Fortunately, if your therapy is ONLY red light (no other colors and no infrared light, which is different from red light) you have a lot of options. You basically just need to block enough light to make your eyes comfortable. Extremely dark tinted glasses or goggles might work. And there are red light therapy eye goggles and glasses on the market that are specifically made for it. You could even opt to block all light from your eyes entirely. If you want an inexpensive, basic option, our favorites are RubyLux All-in-One Goggles.

It is true that the effects of red light therapy would be particularly nice around the eye area. It may be possible to use red light therapy in the eye orbital area as long as the light is not directly going into the eye. Meaning, if the position of your red light therapy bulb is making your eye uncomfortable, you shouldn’t keep the light there.

In general, red light therapy treatments are very safe and effective, but the light is still very bright. Wearing adequate eye protection is the smartest, safest way to enjoy red light therapy.


Red Light Therapy for Wrinkles and Fine Lines

woman using red light therapy for skin rejuvenationRed Light Therapy for Wrinkles…Sounds Too Good to Be True

If you’ve been reading all the marketing info manufacturers put out about red light therapy, you’ve probably noticed how unrealistic some of the claims are. I mean, if all of this were true, why isn’t red light therapy for wrinkles more well-known?

I could launch into a opinionated tangent about how a mixture of intellectual property laws and FDA regulations make it unprofitable (and in some cases, impossible) for businesses to sell affordable red light therapy bulbs and devices, but I’ll contain myself. Suffice it to say that without patent protection, there is often insufficient profit incentive for businesses to shell out for the FDA’s costly application and registration fees. And red light therapy itself is not patent-able, as it was discovered by NASA and has been around for decades.

Now, what really matters when it comes to red light therapy for skin is: is there scientific evidence showing it works? The answer is yes.

A lot of the red light therapy products available make outrageous claims. They say they can erase wrinkles and fine lines, make your skin glow, bring back firmness and elasticity. But do they deliver? Indeed, if a bulb or device is properly designed, it can do all of these things and more. The key is finding a product with the right attributes. And like many things of this nature, results seem to vary from person to person. I’ve received emails from people raving about how much of a difference they could see after one use. I’ve also received messages saying it didn’t do anything for them. Fortunately, out of thousands of sales, I can still count the latter on one hand. Anyway, my point is that in general, red light therapy works for skin rejuvenation, wrinkles, fine lines, thinning skin, sagging skin, enlarged pores, and many other signs of aging.

How Red Light Therapy for Wrinkles Works

Red light therapy has more than one mechanism of action. Here are some of the effects it has, which are believed to be the reasons that red light therapy works for wrinkles and other anti-aging objectives.

#1: Red Light Therapy Increases Blood Flow

It increases circulation to the area, bringing oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the skin, which is often a last priority to the body as we age. It encourages the formation of new capillaries. In the short run, this will give you a healthful glow. In the long run, your skin can use this to rebuild and repair itself. Most of us have been told that older skin doesn’t repair…this is nonsense. It just isn’t as efficient and doesn’t have as good of blood flow to power the process. The good thing is that rarely can you go wrong by encouraging good circulation. The one exception that comes to mind is encouraging blood flow to a swollen, recently injured area. Don’t do that without a doctor’s direct supervision.

#2: Red Light Therapy Increases Lymph Drainage and Circulation

Good lymph circulation is not only good for your health. It’s good for your skin. It reduces swelling and puffiness. If you have Lyme disease/Acrodermatitis Chronica Atrophicans, this is a particularly helpful benefit.

#3: Red Light Therapy Promotes Collagen and Fibroblast Production

There it is…the holy grail of anti-aging products: collagen production. It is reduced the older we get and it can be pretty darned difficult to get it back. Collagen is the foundation of the skin, making it firm, full and elastic. Solid collagen structure is associated with having less (or no) cellulite and with having smooth skin in general. It may take some time- think about 2 to 3 months of consistent red light therapy treatments- but your collagen and fibroblasts can be revived!

#4: Red Light Therapy Causes ATP Release

Remember back in biology class when they said that ATP is the basic unit of energy for a cell? That’s the ATP we’re talking about here. And it matters because ATP is usually the rate-limiting factor in most cellular processes. Without it, skin cells cannot carry out their rebuilding and repair functions. As we age, skin cells get less and less energy.

One hugely important effect of red light therapy is that is provides this energy for the cell. Cells then utilize it to spruce things up and get rid of waste…and it shows in your skin.

Anti-Aging Benefits of Red Light Therapy

As far as anti-aging efforts go, red light therapy can accomplish quite a bit. Here are some of the effects it can have:

  • Gives the skin a healthy glow
  • Makes skin smoother
  • Reduces the number and/or severity of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Fades crow’s feet
  • Improves under-eye circles that were a result of thinning skin
  • Reduces marionette and laugh lines
  • Speeds up the healing of skin wounds, like those from acne or cystic acne
  • Improves redness, inflammation, pimples and pustules from rosacea
  • Reverses sun damage
  • Heals and improves the appearance of broken capillaries and telangiectasias
  • Improves the appearance and smoothness of scars
  • Reduces the severity of stretch marks
  • Encourages well-nourished, moisture-rich skin
  • Stimulates hair growth

Honestly, the list of potential uses is much longer. That makes sense when you think about how red light therapy works. It gives your cells free energy. Think of all the processes cells carry out. No wonder red light therapy has so many benefits and uses.

red light therapy before and after pictures

Trying Red Light Therapy for Anti-Aging

One of the ways you can test how does red light therapy work is through a professional, such as a dermatologist or aesthetician. Some places to look include doctor’s offices, med-spas, day spas and salons. Some gyms and tanning salons are also now offering red light therapy (I believe I’ve heard that Planet Fitness offers full-body red light therapy).

There are a few advantages to having a pro do your treatments:

  • It can be a relaxing, revitalizing spa experience.
  • You can choose someone knowledgeable and skilled at doing or overseeing the treatments. This is helpful if you are new to red light therapy or have a lot of questions.
  • You don’t have to commit. You can try the treatments without buying a product outright.

Yes, of course I am biased. I prefer doing my own red light therapy treatments at home. This is a good thing, since I do light therapy of one variety or another every day. I use it to regulate my circadian rhythm, for near-infrared sauna and of course, to improve how my skin looks and feels. In my opinion, these are some of the benefits of doing at-home red light therapy:

  • Your bulb or device can be yours alone. If you’re concerned about bacteria, you have direct control over how your product is cleaned and cared for, and whether you allow anyone else to use it.
  • It’s convenient. Personally, I am usually too busy and too cheap to go somewhere and pay someone to lay around for 15-30 minutes and stare at their walls. I’m far happier grabbing my bulb when it’s convenient.
  • It’s cheaper. A lot of pros will try to tell you that their devices are the only ones that work, that their devices are more powerful or that you need a professional to administer red light therapy. I don’t necessarily agree with those statements across the board. What’s more likely is the device’s marketing department has to cook up these sorts of explanations as justifications for the device’s high price tag. Don’t be fooled- look at the facts and numbers yourself to determine if their device really is better than what you could buy for at-home use.
  • Way more treatments. Unless you buy a product with limited uses, such as Illumask, you can get far more treatments if you buy your own bulb or device for at-home use.

The FDA’s Take on Red Light Therapy

Let’s skip my personal (overall negative) opinion on the FDA. For the purposes of this section, let’s pretend they are a valid, reliable guardian of public safety that makes sure the best treatments are available to US consumers.

The FDA has approved many red light therapy devices for reducing and eliminating wrinkles. It has also approved/cleared it for many other uses.

Types of Red Light Therapy Bulbs and Devices

One of the most common options are relatively small, hand-held devices. These travel well and are usually good for spot-treatment. Compared to larger machines, they can be more affordable. The downsides are that you have to hold them on your skin and you might have to move them around constantly (depending on the device). You can only treat one small area at a time and at that rate, doing your whole face can take a while. Forget about doing your neck or hands or décolleté.

A similar option- which is my own personal favorite- is the red light therapy bulb. With these, you have the benefits of hand-held devices, but you can avoid most of the downsides. For instance, they are usually pretty affordable. They travel well. You are free to choose your own lamp type, so you could avoid having to hold it on your skin with your hand. You can choose larger sizes to cover a bigger treatment area at one time. Most of them do not require constant motion.

The third most popular option are red light therapy panels. These are often meant for hands-free use and are usually big enough to do your entire face at once. The cons are that they are kind of pricey, take up a lot of space and you can’t travel with them.

What Red Light Therapy is Like

Red light therapy for collagen and wrinkles is different depending on the product (or professional treatment) you use. In general, this is what most red light therapy treatments are like:

  1. First you’ll need to wash your skin.
  2. The light will be on your skin anywhere from a minute to 20 minutes. It may touch the skin or it may be a few inches away. (In the case of near-infrared light therapy, you’ll be further away from the bulb or device.)
  3. It’s bright. You should wear eye protection to shield your eyes from the brightness.
  4. Most people report that it feels very calming and soothing.
  5. No pain is involved. At no time should you feel uncomfortable.
  6. You may be able to accelerate your results by using compatible treatments, such as microneedling or topical application of green tea extract, which has been shown to amplify results of red light therapy treatment.
  7. Basically, you just sit there and let the light do its job.


What to Expect

I’m sure you’ve been checking out before and after red light therapy photos. But results vary from person to person, so you may be wondering what you should expect from trying red light therapy.

Expect results to take time. While some people do see immediate results, most need to do red light therapy treatments for at least several weeks- if not several months.

Expect to be looking so hard you miss it. Since results are gradual and happen over time, you might not notice some of the changes in your skin. Be prepared for this and take photos before you start. If you’d like to share your before and after red light therapy photos on RedLightTherapy.US, contact me.


Red Light Therapy for Acne and Wrinkles

acne and wrinklesWhat is LED therapy?

Light-emitting diode (LED) therapy, also known as low level light therapy (or LLLT) is becoming very popular as a cosmetic and medical treatment.  Did you know that red light therapy was developed for NASA plant growth in space? It’s true! But since then there’s been a lot of scientific advancement in red light therapy.


Anti-Aging Effects of Red Light Therapy

The aging process is accelerated by the sun! Sun and pollution can act together to destroy collagen. Collagen is the support of the skin and is the main source of elasticity and strength in our skin. Therefore, you need to protect your skin: apply sunscreen every day, even in the winter.

Even though you protect your skin, we can´t avoid aging, it is a natural process.  I am sure we all want to look young for longer time and we are aware about all fancy cosmetic treatments or alternative treatments as surgery.  However, is very difficult to find a 100% natural anti-aging treatment.  Don´t we all want to avoid chemicals on our skin?

Now, fortunately technological advances make it possible. Red light therapy for skin is becoming a very popular alternative, chemical-free treatment. It has already been scientifically demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of sun damage (Baez et al. 2007, J of Cosmetic Dermatology).

How does red light therapy work? Certain light wavelengths stimulate collagen synthesis and accelerate fibroblast–myofibroblast transformation, leading to a rejuvenation effect. Some red light therapy users report noticing a difference within days. A few say they saw a difference after only one treatment session.

It’s hard to tell which is the main advantage- getting a quick effect without any pain or getting it without chemicals.

Blue Light Therapy for Acne

Let’s consider for a moment what acne is. It is a skin infection of Propionibacterium acnes.  This bacteria is becoming very resistant to traditional acne treatments and we need alternative solutions, so blue light therapy is a very welcome advancement.

As an aside, red light therapy for acne may also be a helpful treatment. It seems that it helps skin’s oil glands to reduce cytokines, decreasing inflammation and redness.

Blue light therapy is becoming very popular and has been scientifically proven to control acne and improve the skin’s appearance (Gold et al. 2009 in Clin Aesthet Dermatol.)

acne red light therapy before and after photo

Figures 4a and b from Gold et al 2009

This female patient had her first outbreak of acne at the age of 17. Baseline (a) and after the eight-week treatment period (b). The total number of lesions had reduced by 62 percent.

How it Works: Certain wavelengths of blue light are used to develop reactive oxygen species that kill the bacteria. Depending on the strength of the light used, these treatments can result in redness and flaking for several days.

Benefits:  Blue light therapy is effective, is painless and no chemicals or antibiotics are used. You can do it on your own using an at-home blue light therapy bulb or device.

When to use: Blue light therapy works best for mild to moderate inflammatory acne. It can be used on severe acne as well.

Cons: Blue light therapy can be expensive if is done by a doctor (requires multiple sessions). Blue light therapy treatments are not always effective for cystic acne or blackheads- its effectiveness in these conditions appears to be person-specific. It’s a newer treatment, so long term effects are not as well known as, say, peroxide treatments.

Red Light Therapy for Wrinkles

Wrinkles are signs of aging and nobody wants to have a face looking like a road map. Fortunately, now we have the option of light therapy for skin.

How it Works: Mainly, using certain red light wavelengths causes new collagen to be produced. Remember that collagen is the main support of our skin. The red light helps to improve the ability of the skin to retain key elements that are used to generate new collagen.

Benefits: No pain at all. You can avoid chemicals and it is very effective not only at reducing signs of aging such as wrinkles, but also at controling acne. There are home-use red light therapy bulbs and devices available on the market. Some are quite affordable.

Cons: Some devices can be expensive. You need multiple treatment sessions (which could be very expensive if you opt for having treatments done by a medical professional). Time consuming: you need a bit of patience to see results.


Devices for At-Home Use

Before buying any red light therapy (or blue light therapy) bulb or device you should remember that there’s infrared light therapy that can cause harm. Please buy from reputable manufacturers and research safety and usage instructions before starting to use the device.

You should know that there are laws controlling the production of these type of devices. Producers have to use lower wavelength intensity than the lasers medical professionals use.

When using at-home LLLT devices:

  • Don’t overdo the treatment. More is not better.
  • Please read and follow the instructions and safety information.
  • Be patient. The effects may take a few weeks to see.
  • Use eye protection. Never stare directly into the light.
  • Remember that the FDA approves based on safety, not necessarily effectiveness. Research scientific results for safety and effectiveness.


To Keep in Mind

Finally, I need to conclude this article with some tips to keep in mind and help you to make a decision about whether red light therapy or blue light therapy (or some infrared light therapy) is right for you.

When it comes to acne, consult with a dermatologist first. Get a diagnosis- acne can come in different forms and some conditions mimic acne. Remember that treatment effectiveness depends on the type of acne you have. Traditional acne skin-care products and other medical options are the options where you should first start.

For anti-aging, red light therapy is a great complementary option. It does not mean that you don’t need an appropriate skincare routine. Together the two can give you wonderful results.

There are five pillars of a good skin care routine:

1. Cleanse with a gentle cleanser each day and night.

2. Exfoliate to remove dead skin cells.

3. Tonify.

4. Hydrate. Use a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type.

5. Protect your skin from sun damage by using sunscreen.

And if you decide to try LLLT keep in mind: be consistent and patient! If you want to invest the money in one of the at-home bulbs or devices, you need to be committed (don’t waste your money if you are not going to use it).  Not sure? Go and see your dermatologist and ask if LLLT is for you.


What Does Red Light Therapy Do?

paltrow infrared sauna dangersLots of people have never heard of red light therapy (or any low level light therapy, or LLLT) before. A lot of us are wondering…what does red light therapy do?

Here I’m going to explain some of the effects of red light therapy.


Red Light Therapy Increases Circulation

There are multiple studies showing red light therapy increases circulation and aids in the formation of capillaries. Now, improved circulation is not just a benefit for those with poor blood circulation. Especially as we age, and in some medical conditions like Lyme disease, poor circulation contributes to the cosmetic and health problems people experience. For instance, one of the reasons skin shows signs of aging is because as we get older, blood circulation to that area is not as good. Improving blood flow to the skin helps bring cells the oxygen and nutrients they need to carry out regenerative and repair processes. Equally important, it transports waste products away from the area so they may be eliminated by the body. This makes good circulation beneficial for many purposes, from weight loss to wrinkle reduction to joint pain. Improving blood flow helps more than just the cardiovascular system.


What Red Light Therapy Does: It Increases Lymph Circulation and Drainage

Similar to having healthy blood circulation, there are many health benefits to having good lympatic circulation and drainage. There are even a few beauty benefits- improving lymph system activity with red light therapy or other forms of LLLT reduces swelling and puffiness.


Red Light Therapy Speeds Up Healing

There are many studies showing that red light therapy speeds up tissue healing.


Red Light Therapy and Some Other Forms of LLLT Stimulate Collagen and Fibroblast Production

Collagen is the protein most associated with plump, firm, young-looking skin. Over time (or sometimes, as the result of an injury), collagen weakens. Red light therapy and certain other forms of LLLT simulate the production of new collagen, which improves sagging, thin-looking skin, fine lines and deeper wrinkles. Collagen is also important in joint health.

Also important for skin rejuvenation and healing are fibroblasts. Red light therapy encourages the production of fibroblasts, which promotes healing and has great beauty benefits for the skin.


Red Light Therapy Energizes Cells

LLLT is associated with the release of ATP, a cell’s most basic unit of usable energy. Since energy is often the rate-limiting factor in cellular processes, this additional energy can immediately be put to work healing and rejuvenating. There is plenty of scientific evidence showing this effect of red light therapy.


Red Light Therapy Stimulates the Removal of Pathogens and Cellular Debris

Red light therapy increases phagocytosis, the body’s process of removing pathogenic bacteria and debris.



Red Light Therapy Benefits

red light therapy benefitsRed light therapy benefits, compared to other possible treatments, has many advantages. Below are some red light therapy benefits.

  1. Pain-free. Red light therapy causes no pain. In fact, it is known to temporarily relieve pain as well as speed up healing time (which ultimately results in less pain, depending on what the LLLT is used for).
  2. Drug and chemical free. The fact that red light therapy involves no drugs or chemicals whatsoever (with the notable exception of the use of Teflon-coated near infrared bulbs, which we do not recommend) is a huge plus. The typical risks and side effects that come with drug and chemical exposure are not an issue in red light therapy.
  3. Allows for adjunct treatment. Often, people don’t find adequate relief or results from any one particular therapy, be it medication or a procedure or a lifestyle change. One particularly helpful feature of red light therapy is that it does not conflict or interact with most other treatments. While you should always check with your doctor for guidance on how to best use red light therapy (or any LLLT), the odds are in your favor that your doctor will approve.
  4. Non-invasive. Red light therapy requires nothing invasive. The light is applied to the outside of the body. Sometimes, surgeries or other invasive procedures are unavoidable. But at least those using red light therapy or other LLLT don’t have to deal with invasive procedures to use it.
  5. Non-ablative. While some laser treatments are ablative, meaning they involve damaging tissue, red light therapy and other types of LLLT are non-ablative. This means that on average, LLLT has fewer risks and side effects. It is more gentle and safe and it requires zero downtime.
  6. It’s natural.  Red light therapy causes reactions on a cellular level that make your own body heal itself.
  7. Requires no downtime. Red light therapy treatments are painless and require no downtime. You won’t have to stay at home in bed after a treatment and honestly, the treatments will probably change almost nothing about your routine (you may need to change the time you apply certain skin care products, or if you’ve done a near-infrared light therapy/sauna treatment you’d do best to shower immediately afterward, but that’s about it).
  8. Easily accessible. Red light therapy is available in many salons and spas. Even better, there are plenty of red light therapy bulbs and devices available for at-home use. If you do your red light therapy treatments at home, you can do them at the frequency you choose and in a manner that is convenient and comfortable for you.
  9. Red light therapy is easy. Whether you do your red light therapy (or LLLT) treatments at home or in a salon or spa, one of the biggest red light therapy benefits are that they’re simple to do. You don’t have to spend a ton of time figuring out how the bulb or device works. To do a treatment with an LED red light therapy bulb or device, you just turn it on and touch it to your skin. To do treatments with a near-infrared (non-LED) bulb, you put on your eye protection and hang out a couple feet from the bulbs.
  10. FDA approved/FDA cleared. Many red light therapy and LLLT options are approved or cleared by the FDA. The FDA recognizes the benefits of red light therapy.  In their Memo to the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, the FDA states that “Exposure to red light has been scientifically shown and is understood by consumers to affect skin structure, for example by reducing wrinkles for months after treatment, which may be the result of new collagen formation or reorganization, or repair of elastin damage.”
  11. Gets results fast. Red light therapy benefits the healing of wounds, scars, surgical sites, torn ligaments, bruises, sprains, etc. With red light therapy or other type of LLLT, you can heal much faster, allowing you to get back to your normal life. Often, athletes use red light therapy to heal injuries so they can continue training. It has even been used by athletes with no pain or injury issues- they use it to make their muscles recover faster after strenuous exercise.
  12. Is relatively inexpensive. Of course it depends on which red light therapy bulb or device you choose, but overall, there are affordable LLLT options out there. When you consider that many cosmetic laser treatments are hundreds or thousands of dollars, at-home LLLT devices are a bargain. Because red light therapy is useful in so many different conditions, buying a bulb or device could turn out to be the cheapest, most effective solution you’ve ever found.
  13. Red light therapy has many possible uses. Click here to read more about what red light therapy and other types of LLLT are used for.


Red Light Therapy Before and After Photos of Cystic Acne Wound

What can 15 minutes of red light therapy do? (In this case, it was combined with a bit of blue light therapy because the bulb I used had both.) I decided to test it out and take a few pics of before and after red light therapy. I used a RubyLux High Power Red & Blue LED Bulb on a small facial wound from cystic acne. I had already gotten the acne cyst to go down by about 50 to 75% by using blue light therapy for a couple of 2-minute sessions the day before. All before pics shown here were taken immediately before the 15-minute treatment with the red and blue bulb.  Below are the resulting red light therapy before and after pics.

After one 15-minute treatment where the RubyLux bulb touched the skin, here are the before and after red light therapy photos. Note that I am a person who typically heals very slowly.

red light therapy before and after photos cystic acne wound 1


These are before and after red light therapy photos from the side. These pictures were taken about 15 minutes after the 15-minute session ended because immediately after treatment, the imprint of the bulb’s LED’s were visible on my skin (you can see how the bulb imprint looks in the picture at the bottom of this page- the imprint is normal and is no cause for concern, but it distorted the photo a little).

red light therapy before and after photos cystic acne wound 2

This is another picture taken from a side angle. Again, these before and after red light therapy photos were taken immediately before (for the before photo) the treatment and 10-15 minutes afterwards (for the after photo).

red light therapy before and after photos cystic acne wound 3


Here is a picture of the area right after the 15 minute red and blue light therapy treatment. As you can see, there are temporary dimples in my skin. These are from the bulb resting on my skin and once the bulb is removed, they quickly go away.

Red Light Therapy Before & After Photos immediately after 15 min red light therapy

For a person who would normally take a week to heal a wound like this one, these red light therapy before and after photos show a huge acceleration of healing time. As many of you with cystic acne know, the acne spots and the wounds can be quite painful, so I am super happy with these results. Hopefully these before and after red light therapy photos have given you an idea of what is red light therapy.

What is Red Light Therapy?

red-light-therapyRed light therapy uses low level lasers or light emitting diodes (LED’s) in the red wavelength range to cause a variety of effects in human and animal tissue. Some of the most common uses of red light therapy are cosmetic (reducing acne, for example), but it is also used to provide temporary pain relief and to speed up the healing process. Still, most people have never heard of it before, and so our number one FAQ is: “What is red light therapy?”

Red light therapy, which opened the door to other types of light therapy, was first developed by NASA as part of experiments for space shuttle missions. Scientists noticed that astronauts exposed to the light healed faster than normal. NASA’s researchers were excited about this discovery, because it had previously been a problem that astronauts in space wouldn’t heal as fast as normal. It is this observation that led to further development and studies on LED red light therapy.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

In studies, red light therapy has been shown to greatly speed up cell healing and repair. Scientists do not know for sure how it works, but most believe it works by altering the energy that is available to the cell. It is possible that LLLT triggers an increase in cellular energy production. However, there is little consensus among scientists as to how does red light therapy work. The bottom line is, scientists just do not know for sure how red light therapy works.

One thing scientists have noticed about red light therapy is that cytochrome c oxidase, an enzyme involved in cellular energy production, seems to accept a transfer of energy directly from the light.

However, there are other effects scientists have noted from LLLT which could also explain its mechanism of action. (Or, perhaps, red light therapy has more than one mechanism of action.) These include:

  • Lowering levels of prostaglandin E2
  • Lowering levels of prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2
  • Lowering levels of interleukin 1-beta
  • Lowering levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha
  • Lowering swelling
  • Slowing bleeding
  • Lowering oxidative stress
  • Lessening the influx of neutrophil granulocytes into the cell

Some people are skeptical that some sort of light could have these effects. While I am a die-hard fan of healthy skepticism, a bit of research and logic easily shows that the effectiveness of red light therapy is not only possible- it’s probable.

We already know, for instance, that the human body does react to light. In some cases, the light required to achieve these effects is very small. Consider, for example, that the body produces its own vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. Or that the reaction of the retina to light exposure is how we have vision. Or that the reason we see in color is that our eyes react differently to various wavelengths of light. And there is no debate that the body reacts to lasers, which are made up of condensed light.

So the idea that the skin, hair or other type of tissue might react to light is not as far-fetched as it may sound at first.

You might ask: “if light or even certain colors of light have effects on the body, how come we didn’t know that before?”  Well, lights were just to bright and too hot for anyone to get close to them without being burned. The invention of the light-emitting diode has allowed us to more fully examine how light affects us. An LED is capable of producing a bright, powerful light with little heat. This makes it possible to safely place the light closer to the skin (or other tissue) than was ever possible before.

What is Red Light Therapy? Is It a Type of Laser Therapy?

No. Red light therapy is not the same as laser treatment. What is confusing is that many people refer to red light therapy as “low level laser therapy” or “cold laser”. This is a misnomer.

Both laser treatments and red light therapy (or other types of LLLT) use light. The difference is that laser light is “coherent”, meaning all its photons are synchronized. LED light is non-coherent. It does appear, though, that non-coherent light can have beneficial effects. Those effects and the question, “what is red light therapy?” are what this site is all about.

What is Red Light Therapy Good For?

woman using red light therapy for skin rejuvenationRed light therapy– the use of diffused light in the wavelength range of 620 to 750 to cause changes in a living organism’s tissue- has been researched for many different uses.  The research has steadily increased over the past few decades and now we have more information on which conditions red light therapy is good for (and which it is not).

Often, you will see the term “light therapy” referring to the light boxes made to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD lights have gained popularity in mainstream medicine because doctors and scientists agree that they are effective. They are ultra bright lights that mimic sunlight, which is another type of light known to help people suffering from SAD. This helps a person with SAD regulate his or her circadian rhythm (known to be part of what causes SAD). What’s great about SAD lights is that not only do they help people who have SAD, they expose people to the idea of light therapy.

However, there are many, many more uses for light therapy that have been researched. (Note: This does not mean light therapy was determined to be effective in all cases on this list.)  Some of these potential uses for red light therapy or other light therapy include:

What Uses of Red Light Therapy are FDA Approved?

The FDA has approved certain light therapy devices to be marketed for specific conditions. These conditions include:

  • Diabetic neuropathy (880 nm infrared light therapy)
  • Ulcers of the mouth in those taking chemotherapy (660 nm red light therapy)
  • Wrinkles (infrared light therapy)
  • Pimples/acne (infrared, blue and blue/red light therapy combinations, respectively)
  • Tendonitis
  • Joint pain
  • Fibromyalgia

Types of Light Used in Light Therapy

light therapyRed Light Therapy, Blue Light Therapy, Near-Infrared Light Therapy and Far-Infrared Light Therapy

Some of the most common types of light therapy you’ll find used are red light therapy, blue light therapy, and infrared light therapy (either near- or far-infrared). While there is some debate over which wavelength is best, it’s generally becoming clear that certain wavelengths are best for certain conditions. If you were thinking of trying light therapy, you would first want to decide what result you are trying to achieve. Then you would select the wavelength and type of light believed to be effective for that condition (based on the research available).

Red and near-infrared light wavelengths can penetrate anywhere between one to six inches deep (scientists don’t agree on how deep). While scientists do not know for certain how light therapy works, there are theories. One popular view is that the light triggers the cell to make more energy (ATP) and increases DNA and RNA activity.

Some believe that this beneficial energy effect only occurs if the cell is damaged. This idea makes sense because it is usually damaged or diseased cells that one is trying to treat. However, light therapy could also have benefits for healthy cells.

Which Type of Light to Use: LED’s, Sunlight, Infrared, Etc.

The type of light that is best depends on your condition and what effect you are trying to achieve.

Sunlight is one type of light people use for light therapy. Sunlight may be chosen to increase vitamin D levels or improve fibromyalgia symptoms, for example. While sunlight can be very bright (and therefore very powerful), not everyone has access to full, bright sunlight year-round. When a more powerful light is needed, or when sunlight is not sufficiently available, another light source can be chosen. Usually, the choice is LED’s (light emitting diodes).

LED’s are by far the most popular light source used for red light therapy and blue light therapy. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is that LED’s are capable of producing extremely bright, powerful (and therefore effective) light. Despite being extremely bright, LED’s require little energy and do not get as hot as other types of lighting. So using LED’s can be practical and also save on energy and costs. LED’s, because they’re stronger, can get the same effects faster than other light sources.

Other types of light can be used for different types of light therapy. For some conditions, these types are actually better than LED’s. An example might be using a halogen or fluorescent bulb.

What about Halogen Lights for Light Therapy?

Halogen lights put off light with a mixture of wavelengths. This “mix” is not that different from regular sunlight- it’s in the 600 to 900 nm range. This type of light can be effective and inexpensive, but it is not ideal for most applications. That is because the light it produces is not concentrated in the specific wavelengths known to be ideal/most effective.

Halogen can still have beneficial effects, however. For instance, some users of halogen light claim it temporarily reduced pain and irritation from injury. At least one other claim I’ve seen is that exercising in front of a halogen light burned more calories.

Infrared Light Therapy

Red light therapy for pain is not a new idea- people have been using infrared light for quite some time. It was believed that the heat the lamp produced was what helped so much. Now it is known that near-infrared light plays a role in relieving pain.

How Much Can Light Therapy Help Me?

There are a lot of factors in determining how much light therapy might help you: your condition, power of light used, source of light and more.

Light therapy is a very useful tool for some purposes, but it is not a magic cure-all. It is usually best used in addition to other treatments or therapies. For instance, if you are using light therapy to relieve pain, you might also apply ice and take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Light therapy should never be used as a substitute for professional medical care.

If you are using red light therapy for acne, you’d probably get maximum benefit from using it in addition to other treatments, such as topical antioxidant or anti-acne creams.

Results vary from person to person, but to give you an idea, some people say that after using light therapy for pain, their pain is reduced by 50-75%. The pain relief is temporary and usually lasts 4-6 hours. However, it is believed that using light therapy could help the injury actually heal faster.

If you have pain or a potentially serious injury, be sure to seek medical advice first!

What Wavelengths Should I Use?

The wavelength and type of light you choose depend on the results you are trying to achieve. Generally speaking, the most effective wavelengths of light are specific ranges:

  • 610 to 625 nm
  • 660 to 690 nm
  • 750 to 770 nm
  • 815 to 860 nm

How Much Light Therapy Should I Do?

When it comes to light therapy, more is not better. Doing light therapy treatments too much can cancel out the benefits you receive and depending on the type and source of light, it could also cause harm. For instance, in the case of sunlight or UV light therapy, more is not better.

If you are using light therapy for a condition that causes pain, it’s advised that you use it only long enough to cause a reduction in pain. This helps ensure you don’t overuse it and only use it enough to get the optimal result. The pain relief experienced is usually temporary and you will have to treat the area again in a few hours if pain persists. However, light therapy treatments are likely to help reduce healing time.

What’s difficult is determining how much light therapy is “too much”. That depends on the type of light source, the strength of the light, type of light, where the injury/condition is located on the body, etc. But because too much could cancel out the benefits you can get, it’s always best to err on the side of too little.

There is some evidence that the more recent an injury, wrinkle or other problem is, the more light therapy will help. So if you have a choice, it may be best to begin using light therapy soon afterwards. But not too soon! If you’re treating an injury, it is best to let inflammation subside before doing red light therapy or other light therapies. The reason is that red light therapy and most other light therapies increase blood flow to the region. If an area is already swollen and inflamed, more blood flow is not going to feel good and it is unlikely to help. Once inflammation goes down (if applicable), light therapy is often used multiple times in a day (for example, two to four times for 10 minutes each). However, in no case should you begin light therapy for a medical condition or potentially serious injury without first seeking professional medical advice. It would also be wise to discuss your case and how light therapy might be helpful with your doctor.

How Deep Can Light Therapy Penetrate Through Skin?

There is much debate over how deep light therapy devices can penetrate through the skin. This is an important matter, because if the light cannot penetrate deep enough into the body, it cannot help with problems occurring there.

One thing that is generally accepted is that the power of a light source has a big impact on how far through the skin it can reach.

Some argue that even very strong light therapy devices can only reach 1” to 1.5” deep through the skin. That implies that light therapy cannot work for anything that is deeper than that, such as a joint that is not on the surface.

Others claim that light therapy devices can sometimes reach 3” to 6” through the body- even through the skull into the brain.

Safety Tips for Red Light Therapy

red light therapySafety Tips for Red Light Therapy Bulbs and Devices

LED-based, non-laser red light therapy is very safe for most people. The main concern with red light therapy is the brightness of the LED’s on the eyes. People with skin photosensitivity from conditions such as rosacea or from taking certain prescription medications could have skin irritation from the light. Some other people have conditions that bright light is known to affect, such as seizures, migraines or bipolar disorder. Below are some safety tips for using red light therapy.

  1. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and safety information before using the device.
  1. Do not stare into the bulb or device when it is switched on. As long as you do not have a medical condition affected by light, a very brief glance in the light’s direction might be okay, but honestly it’s a much better idea to play it safe. Avoid staring into the light source when it is on. This includes infrared LED’s, which emit light that is not visible.
  1. Always wear appropriate eye protection when using a red light therapy bulb or device. For non-laser, LED-based light therapy that is red light only, tanning goggles may be sufficient. To be on the safe side, I do not recommend directing the bulb/device towards unprotected eyes for prolonged periods of time, even if your eyes remain closed. Another option would be to choose goggles meant to block out all light. And if your red light therapy bulb or device includes infrared or blue LED’s, tanning goggles may not be sufficient.
  1. If you have any condition that could be affected by exposure to light, be sure to discuss red light therapy with your doctor before trying it. Examples of conditions that can be affected by light exposure include seizures/epilepsy or migraines that are triggered by light flashes. Other possibilities include medication side effects that cause photosensitivity and medical conditions where bright light exposure may have unusual effects, such as bipolar disorder.
  1. Some common skin care products can cause temporary photosensitivity, so you should not do your red light therapy treatments immediately after using them. Examples include vitamin C powder/cream/serum, retinol or lemon juice. If the product recommends avoiding light or sunlight for a period of time afer application, you should also avoid red light therapy treatments for that period.
  1. Many medications also cause sensitivity to light, either through the eyes or the skin. A full list of these medications is too long to list here, so you should check with your doctor or pharmacist before trying red light therapy if you take any type of medication. Some types of medications that can cause photosensitivity include anti-histamines, coal tar derivatives, psoralens, NSAID’s, tetracyclines and tricyclic antidepressants.