Light therapy has long been used for treating skin issues, seasonal affective disorder, jaundice in babies, and even cancer patients. Now, we’re learning more about the many benefits of red light therapy and near infrared (NIR) exposure.
Our team tested five different at-home red light therapy devices so we could provide both research and personal experience to this article.
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.
Table of contents
- What is Red Light Therapy?
- The Science Behind Red Light Therapy
- The Benefits of Red Light Therapy
- Our Personal Experience Using At-Home Red Light Devices
- How To Use At-Home Red Light Therapy
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 (source).
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?
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The Science Behind Red Light Therapy
There are more than 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing incredible health and anti-aging benefits of red light and NIR light therapy, with no known negative side effects (source).
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.
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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 (source).
Red Light Therapy for Acne Scars
Red light therapy helps to calm the inflammation associated with acne. it can also decrease redness and minimize oil production and bacteria on the skin.
“Acne and sensitive skin are often associated due to the involvement of an impaired skin barrier in both conditions, which can be further aggravated by certain topical acne treatments. Research has confirmed the benefits of red and blue light therapy in the treatment of mild to moderate acne, with blue light reported to target acne-causing bacteria and red light demonstrating anti inflammatory activity.”(source)
Red light therapy treats other skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, and 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.
Anti-Aging Benefits of Red Light Therapy
A 2019 study in The Journal of The American Academy Of Dermatology found that red light therapy increases elastin, hyaluronic acid, and collagen production in the skin in as little as three days of use. (source)
When 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, fine lines, stretch marks, and other skin blemishes begin to fade and become less noticeable.
Our team combines red light therapy with drinking collagen peptides for a combined effort against the effects of aging.
Red Light Can Stimulate Hair Growth
Another plus of red light therapy work is hair growth. For androgenetic alopecia (male and female pattern hair loss) some studies support red light therapy as an effective treatment. It may not work for everyone, and is best used in the earlier stages of hair loss and for less severe cases. And just in case you’re wondering – it doesn’t encourage the growth of hair all over your body.
At-Home Red Light Therapy for Weight Loss
Many factors contribute to weight loss. The main benefit we’ve seen from consistent use of the stand up red light is a decrease in the “muffin top” area. In a gut health seminar we attended, an expert said that if you wake up in the morning with a fairly flat stomach and hip areas, but have a muffin top by the afternoon – that’s inflammation.
So it makes sense that the inflammation reduction from red light could lead to a flatter tummy area.
Red light increases your body’s metabolic rate. A regulated metabolism leads to better allocation of food energy. And as you’ll see below, red light can help reduce autoimmune activity in the thyroid. One side effect of a low functioning thyroid is excess weight gain.
Following a healthy diet (or at least the 80/20 rule) and active lifestyle with plenty of sunshine and filtered water are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. But it’s nice to have all the help we can get!
Eye Health & Supporting Healthy Vision
Exposure to deep red or near-infrared light can improve the function of the eye’s mitochondria, the powerhouses in cells, resulting in slight but lasting improvement to declining eyesight. (source)
Joint Pain & Muscle Recovery
The Clemson University football team uses a variety of red light therapeutics in their recovery center. They also offer a sensory deprivation tank to help athletes recover. (source)
At a college gymnastics meet, several of the girls used wearable red light therapy belts between rotations. This therapy increases blood circulation, and can reduce joint pain, inflammation, and issues associated with arthritis, so it’s ideal for enhanced muscle recovery and athletic performance.
Wound & Scar Healing
In additions to acne scars, red light exposure can help minimize scar tissue and keloids as it helps boost circulation and brings more oxygen to the area. (source) It’s also been found to boost the immune system to promote overall healing.
A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study tracked the benefits of light therapy on chronic autoimmune thyroiditis. This study showed an overall improvement in thyroid health from near infrared and light therapy. A shocking 47 percent of the participants no longer needed thyroid medication during the entire nine-month follow-up after the light therapy treatment. (source)
People have reported other benefits like less depression (especially during the winter when sunlight deficiency strikes), less brain fog, and overall better sleep.
Red Light Therapy for Cold Sores
If you deal with reoccurring cold sores (oral herpes simplex virus), red light therapy can help accelerate healing time and decrease pain associated with these lesions.
Our Personal Experience Using At-Home Red Light Devices
After much research, the Green Child team opted to try the Joovv Duo Light Therapy device. The unit is long enough to cover a large surface area of the body – head to almost knees for most women of average height.
Since using 4 or 5 times a week for about 15 minutes (generally before bed) for the past two years, 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. We add collagen peptides to our tea, coffee, and water, which seems to help boost the skin and joint benefits of red light therapy.
Less Noticeable Forehead Lines
This seems to be a benefit in conjunction with drinking more water, but hey – we’ll take it!
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 for our all-female team or increased blood flow, but it works for us within a matter of minutes.
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.
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 At-Home 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, the good news is – they are available.
And the even better news is that our favorite brand has just introduced their most affordable (and portable) option yet — the Joovv Go.
You can also try a form of wearable light therapy from a great new brand called DNA Vibe. Their Intelligent Light Therapy technology is based on the underlying sciences and their proprietary research into the relationship between genomics and wave-particle physics.
While there are red light therapy devices available on Amazon, do your research before choosing one. The safest, most effective device 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.
If you’re ready to try red light therapy, you can get $50 off your order with code: GREENCHILD.
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.
If you’re ready to try red light therapy, you can get $50 off your order with code: GREENCHILD.
This article was originally published in August 2018 and updated in October 2022.