Red light therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT). It uses low-energy light emitting diodes (LEDs) or lasers as an alternative therapy for pain relief, or to promote good cell functions. In contrast to high power lasers which can damage tissues, certain wavelengths of lasers are effective in applications such as speeding up wound healing, reducing the symptoms of restless leg syndrome and lowering pain in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Types Of Red Light Therapy
- 2 How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
- 3 Benefits Of Red Light Therapy
- 4 What Is Red Light Therapy Used For
- 5 Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
- 6 How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy?
- 7 How Long Has Red Light Therapy Been Around?
- 8 Red Light Therapy At Home
Types Of Red Light Therapy
There are a few different ways that you can treat yourself with red light therapy. Some salons offer a tanning bed-style red light therapy machine, which looks very similar to a sunbed. However, the red light therapy beds do not release dangerous ultraviolet (UV) radiation as sunbeds do.
The most convenient way to treat yourself with red light therapy though is at home. Many kits can be bought for home use. Some kits are designed for use specifically on the face and come in the form of a facial mask, while others are hand-held devices that you hold onto your body, and others are larger screens that can treat larger areas such as the back or chest.
Another way that red light therapy can differ is the actual light used. Often nowadays, LEDs are used, but low-energy lasers can also be used. The light produced can vary between machines, with different wavelengths being emitted, such as infrared light. Different wavelengths can affect different symptoms differently, so it is good to find out which wavelength is best suited to treat your condition.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
The principle of red light therapy can be thought of as like a human version of the way plants photosynthesize. It is thought that certain wavelengths of light can enhance the functioning of mitochondria, which are the organelles in a cell which take in nutrients and break them down to create energy molecules for the cell. By enhancing the cellular respiration, it will improve the functioning of the whole cell.
Benefits Of Red Light Therapy
The main benefits of red light therapy are thought to have come from the energy exchange. The responses of cells and tissues to red light therapy, which does not itself produce much heat, can be comparable to the body’s reaction to heat. Certain wavelengths of red light can penetrate beyond the skin’s surface, where it is absorbed into the cells deeper than other wavelengths of visible light can. This deeper-reaching light can have the following benefits:
Reduce Joint Stiffness
Applying heat to a joint can reduce stiffness by as much as 20%, and effects of red light therapy are thought to be similar. This can have a cyclical pain-reduction result as less stiffness and associated pain can encourage you to use a joint more, which can reduce further stiffness.
Relieves Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms can cause pain because they can restrict the blood flow to certain areas of the body, which can cause cells and tissues to be starved of oxygen. Applying red light can result in the muscles relaxing which will allow better circulation of the area. This means that conditions such as restless leg syndrome can be very responsive to red light therapy.
Improves Blood Flow
Just like the body’s natural response to heat is to dilate blood vessels, it does the same when exposed to red light. This widening of blood vessels reduces resistance to the blood flow, therefore improving the rate at which it can move around the body.
This is a great benefit because the restriction of blood flow can cause cells to be starved of oxygen. Lack of oxygen, which is called ischemia can permanently damage tissues, particularly in the muscles as it can kill cells, some of which cannot be replaced.
The improved blood flow and lymphatic circulation aid the removal of waste products from the lymphatic system. This reduces and prevents the build-up of fluids which can cause edema, therefore reducing pain associated with swelling and can even enhance the healing mechanisms.
Aids Pain Relief
The reduction in pain relief can come from a combination of the above effects on tissues. Joint stiffness, muscle spasms, restricted blood flow and inflammation can all cause and contribute to pain. By reducing those symptoms, red light therapy can, therefore, reduce pain.
Improves Elasticity of Collagen Fibres
Red light therapy at certain wavelengths is thought to stimulate the productions of collagen and elastin fibers, as well as the creation of new capillaries. A greater number of capillaries within the skin will improve blood flow to the skin tissues and therefore the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, while the extra collagen and elastin will smooth and plump-out the skin. This can slow and reduce the effects of aging on the skin, giving a more youthful appearance.
What Is Red Light Therapy Used For
Red light therapy has been used to treat many different conditions and ailments.
Red Light Therapy Acne
Red light therapy can soothe acne because it can improve circulation and inflammation through the energy transfer. This means that painful, swollen spots may be reduced in size and the lymphatic system can more efficiently clear away waste products, which could prevent the build-up of spot-causing products within the skin. It is also thought that it can shrink oil glands and therefore reduce the amount of oil which is produced.
Red light can also be used in conjunction with blue light to treat acne. While the red light is reducing the visual effects of acne by decreasing swelling and pain, the blue light can kill certain types of spot-causing bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes. When used together, the two types of light therapy can, therefore, reduce and prevent future breakouts.
A key factor in treating acne with red light therapy facials is that lower doses are the most effective. It is not beneficial to dry your skin out, but a “little and often” treatment plan will give you the best results. While this may take you a while to see the benefits, it is worthwhile in the long run.
A final consideration for treating acne with red light therapy is its effect on scars. You may find that superficial acne scars soften in appearance, becoming less noticeable. Using red light therapy to treat acne may also reduce the rate at which scars occur. This is thought to be partly due to the enhanced collagen and elastin production and partly due to the improved circulation which can promote good healing.
Red Light Therapy For Weight Loss
Red light therapy can aid weight loss due to the way it increases the rate at which mitochondria produce energy, as well as the increase in circulation. The energy currency in the body which all cells require to be able to function is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Organelles in the cells, called mitochondria, convert glucose by a complicated process into ATP which can be used to fuel cells. If the mitochondrial function is enhanced by the red light, more glucose will be converted, which could aid weight loss.
The improved circulation can help with weight loss as it will increase the rate at which waste products are removed from the body. However, it is important to understand that red light therapy alone will not cause to you lose a great amount of weight. For best results, it should be combined with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Red Light Therapy For Frozen Shoulder
A review by Page et al. concluded that both low-level laser therapy (LLLT) alone and LLLT used in conjunction with exercise was more effective at easing symptoms of adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, than the study placebo. This was a fantastic step forward in the management of frozen shoulders, which are notoriously difficult to treat.
Red Light Therapy For Restless Leg Syndrome
A study by Mitchel et al. in 2011 found that red light therapy using near-infrared light for the treatment of restless leg syndrome (RLS) saw significant improvements in symptoms. Out of a total of 34 volunteers, the study group has much greater improvement that the control group did, with results still significantly improved 4 weeks after the treatment period ended. This was a valuable breakthrough which could see patients with RLS being treated with red light therapy instead of dopamine-affecting drugs in the future.
Red Light Therapy For Wound Healing
Many studies have shown that red light therapy is an effective therapy for the treatment of skin wounds, as discussed in a review in 2014. A reduction in inflammatory cells, increase in the formation of new blood vessels, known as angiogenesis and an increase in collagen productions are among the biological effects noted which are thought to enable to enhanced wound healing. This review also noted that there didn’t seem to be a difference between results from studies which used lasers for the delivery of the light or whether it was from LEDs.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
Red light therapy uses visible light in the form of lasers or LED. It cannot affect DNA so cannot cause cells to mutate. Red light therapy is generally tolerated very well, although results will vary between people and some conditions will respond better than others.
Red Light Therapy Side Effects
It is thought that red light therapy has virtually no side effects and those which may occur will be mild and will not last long. For example, eye strain or a headache may be caused by the glare of the intense light. Take care not to stare directly into the light to prevent this and wear suitable eye protection. Some red light therapy kits have built-in eye protection.
Care should also be taken when considering the dose being given. Lower doses can be more effective than higher doses. Some effects such as mild nausea or dizziness and muscle weakness may be attributed to overuse, so care should be taken when considering how long a light therapy session will last. Overuse, particularly by infra-red sources, can cause burns so care should be taken to prevent overexposing your skin. If you do suffer a burn, treat it as you would sunburn, keeping it clean to prevent infection and keeping it moisturized.
The skin may be more sensitive to sunlight after red light therapy, so take care to always wear adequate sun protection.
How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy?
Dosages vary depending on what condition you are trying to treat, and it is always best to consult a doctor for advice on how often you should use red light therapy. For anti-aging, some regimens suggest 2-3 treatments per week for 3-6 weeks, and then a single maintenance session every two weeks. This however changes for the age of the client and the severity of the condition they are looking to improve.
On the other hand, for pain relief, some programmes suggest treating the area twice a day for two weeks and then continuing with 1 or 2 sessions per week. You should always follow the directions of the device you are using, and to find the most effective red light therapy treatment plan for you, it is best to speak to your doctor.
It is possible to overdo red light therapy, in which case it will not be effective. Follow treatment plans closely to get the best results and do not use it more often as it can stunt the results that you see.
How Soon Will I See Results?
In some cases, for example, using red light therapy for pain relief, effects can be noticed as soon as 20 minutes after a treatment session. In comparison, wound healing enhancement may be first noticeable after 24 hours.
How Long Has Red Light Therapy Been Around?
Using light as treatment goes back a long way. In 1903, Niels Ryberg Finsen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his successful work on using ultraviolet (UV) to treat people suffering from lupus vulgaris, a type of tuberculosis. A while later and after the invention of low-level lasers such as the ruby and helium-neon laser in the early 1960s, a Hungarian physician called Endre Mester discovered by accident that low-level ruby light could enhance hair growth. He also went on to discover how lasers could accelerate wound healing.
With the introduction of LEDs by those studying the techniques, the term was changed to “low-level light therapy” or photobiomodulation. The methods have been promoted for the alternative treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and even smoking cessation among many others.
Red Light Therapy At Home
There are now hundreds of red light kits available for you to buy and use at home. These are specially developed to be used by untrained and uncertified people, so they are safe to use. We compiled the best 8 red light therapy devices on the market.