Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Does Infrared Light Therapy Work

Red light therapy is a form of phototherapy, which involves being exposed to daylight or specific wavelengths of light using various light sources dependent on the clinical indication. The light exposure is prescribed for a particular length of time and occasionally doses must be given at certain times of the day. Red light therapy penetrates deeper into the skin than other light wavelengths and is thought to rejuvenate skin and is commonly used to treat skin conditions such as acne and rosacea, as well as pain and even wound healing.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy is the process of exposing skin to red light wavelengths which have low energy. Unlike other light wavelengths, this is absorbed deeper into the skin where it can heat and positively affect cells and processes within the body. Different wavelengths of light can be used to target the skin differently and treat varying conditions. There are virtually no adverse effects of red light therapy and it can have many benefits.

Benefits

There are many benefits of red light therapy. It has been shown that the red light can increase circulation and therefore oxygenation and nutrient delivery to the skin, as well as increase the activity of fibroblasts, which aid the production of collagen and elastin. The improved circulation can reduce inflammation and aid lymphatic drainage which clears waste products away from the skin. It can also promote the production of DNA and ATP (cell energy).

Red light therapy can, therefore, be used to treat or complement treatment of a number of conditions. From reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to soothing psoriasis and eczema. When treated using an appropriate light source and regimen it can work very successfully, with noticeably results very quickly.

What Is The Red Light Used In Red Light Therapy?

The light used in red light therapy varies depending on the requirement. Doctors will prescribe different wavelengths of light to treat different conditions and for different lengths of time. For some conditions, the source of light may be a fluorescent lamp while others may be light emitting diodes (LEDs). Other sources of light for red light therapy include polychromatic polarized light or lasers. Most commonly the lights used in at-home red light therapy are LEDs, which are safe to be operated by untrained users while still maintaining effectiveness.

Red Light Therapy Uses

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

Red light therapy does not involve using ultraviolet (UV) light, which is a form of radiation which can ionize cells and lead to cancer. Red light therapy instead uses light energy radiation which cannot ionize cells and consequently cannot cause them to mutate. Red light therapy is therefore considered a safe treatment. Findings in a study by Myakishev-Rempel et al. suggested that red light therapy within the parameters tested may also be safe to use on pre-existing tumors, but we advise against using it on known tumors unless it is advised by your oncologist.

Does It Hurt Your Eyes?

Red light does not itself damage eyes. However, the light source will usually produce high glare. For this reason, you should not shine the light directly into your eyes. Most reputable products will be supplied with eye protection, or you can get some separately if not. Just like you would never look directly towards the sun, do not stare directly into the light source.

What Are The Side Effects Of Red Light Therapy?

There are only a few minor side effects to red light therapy when used alone. However, these side effects are rare and usually short-lived. Such effects may be:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Dry skin

You may, however, be more likely to experience side effects such as skin peeling or crusting if light therapy is used in conjunction with prescribed dermatology medications, which is called photodynamic therapy.

How Often Should I Have Red Light Therapy?

The frequency of treatments of red light therapy depends greatly on the condition it is being used to treat, its severity and whether it is being used in conjunction with complementing medications. Some regimens require multiple treatments per day, others a few a week, others weekly or less. If you plan to treat yourself at home with at-home red light therapy kits, is best to first contact your doctor for personalized advice, in order to get the most effective treatment plan for you.

At Home Red Light Therapy Kits

There are now many FDA-cleared at home red light therapy kits available. This includes facial masks with built-in eye protection to act on the whole face, smaller wands which target specific areas and large stands which can act on larger areas of the body such as the back. Some also combine the benefits of blue light therapy which acts act on the skin in a slightly different way to maximize the benefit you can achieve. Different kits are designed to aid different requirements.

How Long Does It Take For Red Light Therapy To Work?

Patients can experience a reduction in symptoms quickly – even as early as after their first treatment session. Better results are found with more treatments, but results are long-lasting and can continue for weeks after the final treatment.

Safety Of Red Light Therapy

Different Uses for Red Light Therapy:

Pain

Red light therapy has been found to relieve pain in chronic conditions successfully. A study by Stelian et al.  in 1992 found that it is effective in relieving pain and disability in patients suffering from degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. It is thought that this is due to how the light penetrates the skin and promotes mitochondrial functioning within the cells. This encourages healing and produces protein and collagen. It won’t solve the source of the chronic OA, but it can greatly relieve the symptoms and restore function. Red light therapy has also been found to improve movements and decrease the pain for people suffering from chronic neck pain.

Restless Leg Syndrome

A study by Mitchel et al. found that red light therapy decreased symptoms in people who suffer from restless leg syndrome, concluding that it could become a valuable new management option. Even a month after the treatment programme ended, symptoms were relieved. While an exact reason was not decided in this study, it could be due to red light therapy increasing circulation.

Sleep

Humans are typically diurnal (awake during the day), and our daily cycles are influenced by light. Red light has a lower wavelength than blue light, which is at the opposite end of the scale to red light. Harvard Health explains that blue light will generally boost attention, reaction times and mood. However, exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep. It is for this reason that we are advised not to look at screens at night. Red lights, on the other hand, is thought to have the ability to promote melatonin production. This means that red light therapy can encourage sleep by making you feel drowsier and also improve the quality of sleep you attain.

Skincare

There are a number of ways that red light therapy has been used in skin care. These are just a few of the conditions it can treat:

Acne

There have been many papers looking into the effects of light based therapy on acne. A review by Pei et al. found that red and blue lights are the best light-based treatments, being particularly effective on mild to moderate acne. As red light therapy is able to reduce inflammation and improve circulation and drainage, many patients who have been treated with red light therapy for acne have achieved successful outcomes, even those with painful, cystic acne.

Melasma

Red light therapy has been shown to reduce the discoloration of the skin in people who have been diagnosed with melasma.

Rosacea

Red light therapy is able to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, resulting in a reduction of redness, itching and pain, which are common signs of rosacea.

Wrinkles

As red light therapy can successfully increase circulation and the production of collagen and elastin, patients can achieve great results from red light therapy. A study by Sommer et al. found that using LED light therapy resulted in rejuvenated skin, reduction in wrinkles and fresh complexion which had lasting resilience.

Weight Loss

There is some evidence that suggests because red light therapy improves circulation and lymphatic drainage that it can, therefore, aid weight loss. When combined with exercise, red light therapy may give the extra boost your body needs to encourage fat loss. There have also been some anecdotal claims that suggest red light therapy may make liposuction more successful.

Wound Healing

Many studies have found that cells which are exposed to LED red light therapy grow between 105 and 200% faster than cells which have not been exposed to the red light. This may be due to the light increasing mitochondria production in the cells, giving them more energy, as well as the improved circulation providing them with more oxygen and nutrients. As a result of this, many studies have shown that non-healing wounds can be healed after exposure to red light therapy. This includes wounds such as diabetic ulcers, serious burns, pressure ulcers and cancer treatment-related wounds which are exposed to red light therapy.

As you have seen, many conditions can benefit from red light therapy. We reviewed the top 8 red light therapy products including a mask.

Amy Tribe

I discovered my passion for research when studying for my degree in Medical Imaging. Once graduated, I worked as a diagnostic radiographer and as a member of the hospital’s gastrointestinal imaging research team. I love learning about new technologies, particularly in the health and beauty field, and enjoy writing about how they can benefit both our every day and long-term health and well-being.

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