A Beginners Guide to Red Light Therapy

A Beginners Guide to Red Light Therapy

You have probably heard about red light therapy and you’re here because you want to know more. Red light therapy is a well-known beneficial tool for healing a variety of injuries, chronic pain, and skin issues.

Incorporating it into your everyday wellness routine will provide many health benefits including fighting the signs of aging, promoting healthy skin and hair, and easing inflammation.

Recently, researchers, universities, and medical facilities have been exploring the potential of red light therapy, while at-home devices have made it even more accessible to the general public.

Dr. Jared Jagdeo, the founding director of the Center for Photomedicine at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, New York, defines red light therapy (RLT) as a form of photomedicine, which is "the application of light to treat skin and other health issues." And no, it won’t turn you red!

In this article, we will discuss the historical background of the therapy, how it is used, the advantages it may provide, eventual benefits, and more.

The Invention of Red Light Therapy

The history of red light therapy is an intriguing one. It started in 1967 when a Hungarian physician Endre Mester experimented with red lasers on rodents, resulting in the stimulation of hair growth and wound healing, as accounted in this research article from December 2017 in Journal of Biophotonics. Afterward, he used the red lasers to promote wound healing.

In the beginning, the scientific community was skeptical about the efficacy of light therapy. However, thanks to the current findings (although some are conflicting), light therapy is now being taken more seriously.

Currently, red light therapy, also known as low-level laser treatment (LLLT), photostimulation, photobiomodulation (PBM), and cold laser treatment, is deemed unconventional in America. Nevertheless, Dr. Arany reports that there is an increasing number of academic and medical institutions that are utilizing the technique and providing it to their patients.

At institutions, like Shepherd University, education on the legitimacy of PBM as a clinical treatment is provided to healthcare professionals and scientists. The North American Association for Photobiomodulation Therapy (NAALT) and the PBM Foundation are two such professional organizations. 

One of the more popular applications of red light therapy is in skin care, and its popularity has grown with the introduction of more affordable home devices. 

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy (RLT) is a natural, non-invasive therapy that works by exposing the body to low doses of red light. This light is absorbed by the cells, giving them the boost of energy they need to stimulate healing and regeneration. 

The light helps to reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and encourage the production of collagen and elastin, which can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin tone. The light also works to reduce pain and can help to reduce the symptoms of various skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

Arany explains that red light therapy applies photobiomodulation which utilizes light that falls within a range of 400 to 1,200 nanometers (nm). This encompasses both blue and near-infrared light. The National Center for Atmospheric Research reveals that red light has a range of 620 to 750 nanometers and is considered visible light.

According to Arany, different wavelengths of light, such as blue, green, and red, have been successfully employed in PBM treatment. Near-infrared light, which has a longer wavelength (up to 1,200 nm), is also utilized in PBM and can be found in infrared saunas. This type of light is not visible, yet it is able to heat the body internally and bring about physiological changes.

In recent years, the utilization of red light therapy has become increasingly popular and widely known. Arany says these devices are easier to produce and can be easily accessed.

American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery explains that red light therapy works when light particles or photons are applied near the skin. They penetrate the tissue and activate chromophores, which is a part of the molecule that gives the substance its color. In addition, red light therapy also influences the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of cells and generates energy, known as ATP, to help the healing process

A key factor in the success of red light therapy is adhering to the appropriate treatment protocols and dosages according to the health issue, as stated by Arany. He advises that individuals receive this type of therapy at a hospital, university, or clinical setting, rather than a salon or spa. According to Dr. Jagdeo, home-use red light skincare devices are generally considered safe if used correctly.

What Are the Types of Red Light Therapy?

Different types of red light therapy are available to address various treatments. Some approaches involve the use of lasers, while others rely on forms of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The type of therapy chosen largely depends on the condition being treated, as each form of red light therapy can have different effects.

There are various pieces of equipment available that use red light therapy, such as handheld devices, LED panels, or full-body beds. Most of these utilize only red light, however, there are a few that combine both red and near-infrared lights. In any case, there is not an array of types of red light therapy.

What Are the Advantages of Red Light Therapy?

Although studies supporting the use of red light therapy for various health conditions have revealed promising results, there are still some conflicting findings. To better understand the potential benefits of this therapy, more standardization in timing and dosage must be implemented. Below are some of the benefits of red light therapy according to experts.

Promotes a Vibrant Appearance in the Skin

It can be used to reduce inflammation, leading to an improved appearance in regards to redness, acne, and hair growth. Furthermore, this therapy increases the body's immune defense against bacteria associated with acne formation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the treatment targets enzymes that cause collagen breakdown and stimulates collagen production, which is beneficial for lines and wrinkles.

Helps in the Recovery Process of Sports Injuries

It can be challenging to be put out of action by an injury in both the physical and mental sense. However, applying red light therapy can help you to recover. According to Arany, "red light can be used to improve skeletal muscle performance, reduce pain, and speed up recovery from injury." A review published in December 2021 in the journal Life suggested that this form of photobiomodulation might be used for rehabilitating sports injuries and also to enhance performance, although further research is required. 

Promotes Wound Healing

Arany's review in Advances in Skin and Wound Care from April 2019 has indicated that the anti-inflammatory properties of red light can help the body to heal, regardless of whether the injury is in the mouth or elsewhere. His research indicates that photobiomodulation (PBM) can stimulate a strong growth factor that promotes tissue regeneration, which could be particularly beneficial for oral wounds, as research has suggested.

Reduction of Pain

Treating pain is a challenging task, but light therapy is a viable option for treating chronic pain conditions. According to Arany, "Certain neurons are affected by red light which can help diminish pain."

A recent review published in July 2022 in the Journal of Pain has concluded that red light may prove to be more beneficial in alleviating pain associated with certain conditions than others. The authors highlighted that there is evidence to suggest that red light can be used to treat fibromyalgia, chronic low blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and neuropathy.

Reducing the Side Effects of Some Cancer Treatments

Arany states that utilizing red light therapy prior to chemotherapy or radiation treatments may possibly diminish the intensity and occurrence of side effects like pain. However, further research is necessary to understand thisfully.

In December 2021, a study published in Photonics examined the effect of red light and near-infrared therapy on mice with skin damage caused by radiation. Results showed that this form of therapy could help decrease the severity of the damage and improve healing. While this is only an animal study, it is a crucial step in the direction of further research.

Studies conducted in the past have demonstrated that PBM therapy was effective in reducing oral tissue swelling and inflammation in people with head and neck cancers. Nevertheless, further research is essential to support these findings.

What are the Side Effects of Using Red Light Therapy?

In general, there are no major risks associated with red light therapy. However, It is important to note that there are some potential risks associated with its use. As with any medical treatment, it is important to consult a qualified healthcare professional to weigh the potential risks and benefits before beginning a course of treatment.

The PBM Foundation states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved red light therapy. Jagdeo affirms that it is generally safe; however, people can misuse the at-home device if it is not applied following the manufacturer's directions. Fortunately, many of the at-home devices come with an auto timer and shut off, which helps to avoid overuse. It is worth mentioning that according to the Journal of Pain review, using this therapy could worsen migraine symptoms in some cases. Thus, it is essential to read the instructions carefully.

It is essential to inform your doctor (dermatologist or primary physician) of your decision to utilize red light therapy. Additionally, make sure to only receive treatment from a trustworthy practitioner. Dr. Jagdeo remarks, "When the correct procedures are employed, there is no potential for harm."

Who Can Benefit from Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy should be seen as a supplementary treatment. This means that it is not likely to be the sole treatment used to address skin or health issues. For example, Jagdeo explains that in addition to using red light, you may also need to apply a topical treatment (like a retinoid) for acne or wrinkles.

Arany advises pregnant individuals to steer clear of red light therapy as more research needs to be conducted in this area, and that anyone with a medical condition should get the go-ahead from their doctor prior to use.

In addition, research conducted on darker-skinned people showed aggravated hyperpigmentation. Therefore, they are generally advised to be aware of treatment durations. 

What You Need to Know 

Getting started with this form of therapy may seem daunting at first, but with a bit of knowledge and preparation, it can be a great way to improve your overall health. Before attempting red light therapy, it is best to make sure you know best practices.. This should be done with the help of a qualified healthcare professional.

According to Jagdeo, red light therapy sessions should be done consecutively over a period of time. For example, when treating skin issues, he suggests having three 10-minute sessions per week for a minimum of one month. He states that some people may see results in just a month, but the best outcomes are seen after a longer period.

Before you decide to use an at-home red light therapy device, it is recommended that you consult with a dermatologist or pain specialist. This conversation will help you clarify your health goals and decide if red light therapy is the right choice for you. Plus, it will also help in finding the at-home device that is worth your investment.

What Should You Expect Before, During and After Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is usually not uncomfortable and causes no pain. The only thing you may feel is a slight pressure when the handheld device is placed on your skin if it is being used to treat an injury or pain. If you are using a bed or pod that includes both red and near-infrared light, you may sense warmth from the near-infrared bulbs. According to Arany, there should not be any negative effects.

Be mindful of your vision. Check if the practitioner requires you to put on protective eyewear during the treatment.

Relax and enjoy yourself. Jagdeo notes that one of the major benefits of red light therapy is the calm sensation people often experience after a session. Use this time to take a break and bask in the calming effects of the therapy.

Before starting treatment, consulting with your practitioner is recommended in order to know the number of sessions required and the frequency of the sessions, which vary depending on the medical issue being treated. Arany states, "Certain cases have seen beneficial results after just a single session, while the most intensive PBM requires at least four sessions per week for a period of four weeks in order to observe a major improvement."

Despite the advancements in phototherapy, continued research is required to identify the optimal wavelengths, doses, and devices for specific medical conditions. To gain the most benefit and minimize any potential risks associated with red light therapy, it is advisable to speak to a dermatologist, pain specialist, or physician. This expert opinion will help you assess which treatment option is best for your particular health objectives.

Bottom Line

Red light Therapy is a safe, natural, and beneficial way to treat a variety of skin and body conditions. To maximize its use, you need to consult a professional to help you understand which devices and treatment options are best for your specific context. At RedShift, we provide this service to our members.

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