Light therapy has long been used for treating skin issues, seasonal affective disorder, jaundice in babies, and even cancer treatments. Now, we’re learning more about the many benefits of red light therapy and near infrared (NIR) exposure.
Although it may be hard to believe that light could have such an impression on us, human bodies are very sensitive to the environment we live in — lighting included.
What is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is the use of low-level red wavelengths to treat different skin issues an individual may have. This practice goes by many names, such as photobiomodulation, low level light therapy, and cold laser therapy, to name a few.
Sometimes red light therapy is used as the antidote itself or to activate or aid certain treatments for various afflictions. It can be hard to track down every cancerous cell there is, so when light therapy is partnered with a tracking system, it makes it possible for surgeons to more accurately target and remove any remaining cells with mesothelioma.
Unlike other forms of light therapy, this method does not involve lasers, but is more similar to a lamp shining on your body. Even though the NIR and red light is penetrating your skin up to 10 millimeters, no pain or discomfort is ever felt during a session.
In the 1960s, a physician named Endre Mester discovered some interesting qualities about red light. By shining said light on bald mice, Mester found that these rodents grew hair much faster than bald mice who weren’t exposed to the red light. Ten years later, he shifted his attention to humans and began using red light therapy to treat skin ulcers that wouldn’t heal.
Red light even made its way to the stars and was used to grow plants in space during the 1990s. Scientists realized that the light emitted from red LEDs initiated photosynthesis and helped the cells within plants to grow. This led to the eventual thought process: if red light does this to plant cells, what can it do for human cells?
So what was first used for mice and space plants made its way to humans on earth to see what could be reaped by this discovery.
The Science Behind Red Light Therapy
Our bodies are very reactive to the presence and absence of light. It is because of light that we know when to wake up and go to sleep. It’s the essential ingredient to the production of vital nutrients and chemicals within us. However, not all lights on the electromagnetic field are as good for your health as red light appears to be. The electromagnetic spectrum is made up of energy.
Different wavelengths of light facilitate or prompt different bodily reactions — with some reactions better than others. At the extreme ends of the electromagnetic spectrum reside harmful wavelengths such as X-rays, gamma rays, and electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). In the middle, though, are wavelengths that contain healing properties.
Each hue of light is unique in the effects it can produce. So red light does not do the same things as white, blue, or green lights and vice versa. Being exposed to red light activates a chemical reaction within our cells that provides the mitochondria with power. Cells contain chromophores that produce energy when they absorb red and infrared light that the mitochondria can then use to work.
When charged up, the mitochondria create energy molecules known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When cells have an abundance of ATP at their disposal, cells are able to work more efficiently, which means abilities like damage repair and immune function among other things are performed even better.
The Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Red light stimulates both the functioning of fibroblasts and our circulation to aid in faster wound repair times. That’s why this therapy has been used to treat injuries such as burns, infected injuries, and amputation wounds to ensure a higher success rate for healing. Another thing fibroblasts are responsible for is the production of collagen.
Natural sunlight is a combination of the entire visible light spectrum (400-700 nm) as well as ultraviolet (UV; 300-400 nm) and infrared (700-1000 nm) light. Most people are well aware of the potential dangers of too much sunlight due to damaging UV rays. However, the body has specific positive responses to light in the 600-900 nm wavelength range, also called the “therapeutic window”.
This light energy can pass through human tissue much easier than other wavelengths. Specifically, light in the mid-600 nm and mid-800 nm range has been shown to provide optimal biological responses.
This energy is absorbed by the body and stimulates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the mode of chemical energy transportation at the cellular level. In other words, cells that receive this rejuvenating, anti-aging energy boost are able to perform their natural functions at a heightened level.
Some of the documented benefits of light therapy include:
- Improved skin tone and complexion
- Stimulated production of collagen and elastin
- Enhanced muscle recovery and athletic performance
- Reduced joint pain, inflammation, and arthritis
- Improved appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and stretch marks
- Reduced acne, rosacea, and eczema
- Increased circulation
- Faster healing of wounds and injuries
When your fibroblasts are exposed to red light, they create more collagen as well. Collagen makes up more than half of the protein found in our skin, so by having more of it present, wrinkles, stretch lines, and other skin blemishes begin to fade and become less noticeable.
Red light therapy treats other skin conditions as well such as psoriasis. One study found that people with psoriasis who were treated with NIR and red light therapy saw significant results due to near infrared’s anti-inflammatory nature and red light’s ability to heal wounds quickly. This inflammation relief also alleviates joint pain from conditions such as arthritis.
Another plus of using red light therapy is hair growth. This method doesn’t encourage the growth of hair all over your body, but does show promise in helping individuals with thin or balding hair obtain thicker locks.
Light has amazing qualities that affect us in ways we could never imagine, especially when it comes to NIR and red light. Red light therapy shows much potential in the healing process of our skin and bodies on a molecular level and beyond.
How to Use Red Light Therapy
Your health care provider may also be able to refer you to a trained professional red light therapy provider, but treatment isn’t always covered by health insurance. Some spas and salons offer red light therapy, but the cost can range from $50-100 a session.
If you’re interested in an at-home device, you can find them online. You’ll want to make sure you choose one that uses a combination of wavelengths so you can get the benefit of the deeper penetration of the higher wavelength and the cellular “charging” of the lower visible spectrum.
After much research, the Green Child team opted to go with the Joovv Duo Light Therapy device. The unit is long enough to cover a large surface area of the body – head to almost knees on most of us who are average height women.
Since using 4 or 5 times a week for about 15 minutes (generally before bed) for the past 4 months, here are the red light therapy benefits we’ve noticed:
- Significantly improved sleep – We’ve found if we use the Joovv light right before bed without exposure to any fluorescent lights or smart phone screen, falling asleep is faster and it’s easier to stay asleep longer (and falling back to sleep after a trip to the bathroom is easier).
- Fading scars and stretch marks – Some of us have had pregnancy stretch marks for 15+ years and were surprised to learn they can fade after so long.
- Forehead lines are less noticeable – This seems to be a benefit in conjunction with drinking more water, but hey – we’ll take it!
- Increased libido – This was a side benefit we didn’t know to look for. When we tried to research it, all the studies are on men and their testosterone levels. So we don’t know if it’s testosterone or increased blood flow, but it worked for us within a matter of minutes.
- Decreased inflammation – One of the Green Child grandmas suffers from arthritis in her ankle and has found relief by propping her foot on a stool in front of the Joovv light for 10 minutes a day.
Red light therapy is approved by the FDA. While there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be safe for you, check with your health care provider before you try it or purchase a red light device. You’ll find tons of FAQ’s at Joovv’s website, but if you have specific questions based on our experience, feel free to ask us here in the comments.
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