Red Light Therapy: What It Is, Main Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

red light therapy the ultimate guide

Red light therapy is not a very familiar skin treatment technique with most people.

You’re probably just catching on with this “soul feeding” technique, but surprisingly, red light therapy has been around for over 50 years!

Right from the time of old Russia, the red light therapy has been used for various benefits such as acne treatments, stiff joints and pain relief and even for the skin – it cures lots of skin problems(it turns out that a lot of skin problems are associated with the zebra lines discovered by Alfred Blashko, a German dermatologist) and even slow down aging!

It is quite beneficial and the beauty of this procedure is that it requires very minimal efforts from you.

If you’re struggling to lose weight or burn fat, you can easily incorporate this therapy into your daily routine. It involves simple procedures that can help burn fats even without moving in parts of your body – without exercises!

You probably wanted to know more about red light therapy before getting committed to it.

We understand that very well. After all, your health should always be a priority. To come in your help, we’ve compiled a series of aspects you need to know in this simple and easy-to-read article.

We touched every major concern: what red light therapy is, how it works, its benefits, side effects and even how to do-it-yourself at home.

What is red light therapy?

Red light therapy is a simple technique that makes use of the small part of the visible light spectrum which generates the red color, to accelerate the production of energy at cellular levels.

Though most devices today use LED as a standard, sometimes a low laser light technique(LLLT) may be used as well. These are not as powerful as the lasers you are already familiar with, so they’re pretty harmless.

Red light therapy is a common photobiomodulation (PBM) procedure just like the popular sunbeds. However, unlike sunbeds, it does not emit any harmful radiation which can cause damages to body tissues.

The use of red light therapy actually begins around 1903 after the successful use of it in the treatment of smallpox and lupus by physician Niels Ryberg Finsen.

After this, one would have expected the procedure to become very popular but that was not the case, rather the world seemed to abandon the idea.

But Russian medicine continues with this simple technique with researchers publishing hundreds of studies over the use and importance of red light to the human cells.

The FDA has recently approved the use of red light therapy for treatment of chronic joint pain, slow to heal wounds, wrinkles, hair loss and acne, so you can be sure you’re actually going for a safe therapy.

Red light therapy is called by many names: Photobiomodulation, low-level light therapy (LLLT), biostimulation, photonic stimulation or light box therapy. All these names suggest it’s various functions and structure of production.


Main Uses

Red light therapy is used to treat lots of common health problems which drugs otherwise might not be effective for. Below are some common applications in medical treatments:


1. For wound healing

electricity bulbFor a long time, red light therapy has been used for the treatment of wounds, especially slow-healing wounds. Recent studies have also come up with evidence that this phenomenon is quite true.

Inflammatory bacteria often slow down the ability of the skin to heal itself and this often leads to slow healing of wounds.

It is quite effective against this inflammatory bacteria and can be used to stimulate the skin to heal faster.

Red light therapy also helps stimulate blood circulation. It has also been found that it can help in the formation of new blood vessels following a process is known as angiogenesis. The formation of new blood vessels enhances the circulation of blood and nutrients to the injured body parts for faster recovery.

It is also effective in stimulating body cells for the production of collagen for faster wound healing. Overall studies have shown that red light therapy is just as effective as laser therapy for wound healing.


2. For acne

Red light can soothe acne because it improves blood circulation around the body. The improved circulation will cause a reduction in acne “bumps” as the body will become more efficient in moving acne-causing waste materials from point of production to site for excretion.

Red light therapy is also believed to affect oil production in the body. Though this has not been proven by any studies, evidence suggests that red light does suppress the oil glands and therefore reduce the amount of oil being produced daily.

For better and faster results for acne treatment, it is often advisable to use red light therapy in conjunction with blue light therapy.

Both therapy work hand in hand for better results. For instance, red light therapy is quite effective against the visible signs of acne such as bumps, pains, blemishes etc and can reduce these effects but it is not very effective against the internal causes of acne.

For that, you’ll need blue light which is quite effective against underlying causes of acne such as bacteria (it has been found that blue light therapy kills off spot causing bacteria such as Propionibacterium acne).

When it comes to the treatment of acne with light therapy, the key factor is not the “dose” received per section that gives faster recovery but rather is quite dependent on the frequency of treatment.

For quicker recovery, you may want to split each section into smaller units over the week. This will give better results than spending over 5 hours under the lamp once a week.

So if you’re going for acne therapy and want better results, you might consider using both red and blue light therapy.


3. For weight loss

Exercise is not the only way to burn off calories and lose weight. There are lots of other effective howbeit slower ways to lose weight of which red light therapy is one of.

Though we advise you to stick with your exercise plan and diets it wouldn’t harm if you can burn a few calories while resting under the flare.

Now how does this healing treatment help you lose weight?

First off, red light works on the cellular levels – it causes the mitochondria (the cell organelle responsible for the production of energy) to burn more glucose for the Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the major fuel which body cells use to power every other activity directed by the brain.

Psychologically, this therapy also helps to calm the mind. Stress is a major cause of weight gain.

As such if you’re battling with it, you might want to consider getting under the flare, as it can easily calm your mind and ease away stress.

Red light therapy is also effective in stimulating better blood circulation as mentioned above. The improved circulation will often lead to the removal of “bulky” waste materials from the body which will do a world of good for your weight loss program.

However, note that red light therapy alone won’t help you lose much weight hence it should never replace your exercise or diet plan.


4. Stimulation of the thyroid gland

red light bulb on the wallPoor thyroid gland functions in a negative feedback cycle. Poor thyroid function often result in poor energy levels in the body, the body translates this poor energy levels as oversecretion of the thyroid hormones and consequently suppresses its production which in turn causes a reduction in energy levels and the cycle continues.

The poor thyroid gland is often very difficult to treat because of this negative feedback cycle.

Recent studies have shown that red light therapy could actually help stimulate the production of hormones from the thyroid gland and could be a potential cycle breaker for the poor thyroid gland.


5. For treatment of restless leg syndrome

For most people suffering from restless leg syndrome, the only remedy can be found in dopamine-based drugs. While these drugs are quite effective, their use can be quite disastrous especially psychologically.

Most dopamine-based drugs are habit-forming drugs and are quite addictive. Most users face the problem of becoming addicted to these drugs if usage is not carefully monitored by medical personnel.

Recent studies have suggested that red light therapy could also be used to treat restless leg syndrome.

Of the 34 volunteers used for this study, most came out with far better results than those in the control group with the condition lessening over the week even after treatment with red light therapy has been discontinued.

For most victims of restless leg syndrome, red light therapy might prove to be the most effective treatment since it is quite affordable and does not have any effect on the user’s psychological condition as most dopamine-based drugs currently used to treat the condition.


6. Therapy for frozen shoulders

A review currently circulating the net by Page et al has shown that the use of red light therapy is quite effective in the treatment of adhesive capsulitis popularly known as frozen shoulder.

However, it’s important that the therapy is combined with good exercise for better and faster results.


How Does It Work?

Red light works by stimulating biochemical effects on cells that strengthen the cell’s mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of a cell – the place where cell energy is produced.

By increasing the function of the mitochondria, red light can help in the creation of more Adenosine triphosphate (the energy-carrying molecules at cellular level) the increase in the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) will help the cells to become more vigorous, function more efficient, rejuvenates faster after damage and even produce new cells.

Red light therapy is quite different from laser therapy as it does not cause any damage to the skin.

Unlike lasers which travel deeper into the body and often causes “controlled” tissue damages, red light only travels about 5 millimeters below the skin surface and does not have any damaging effects on body cells.


Side Effects

Red light is quite harmless and does not have any adverse effects on the human body. It is even used by NASA in space travel.

Unlike lasers, it is actually the regular light we use every day, however, it has its wavelength filtered in such a way that it only allows the red wavelength to come through (white light is actually made up of 7 colors – the spectrum or what you know as the rainbow) – therefore, it’s considered to be harmless.

However, being exposed to it for a longer period of time might come with side effects as well, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Eye strain
  • Irritability

All of which are common symptoms of overexposure to luminosity. Actually, you can get all of these if you look long at a bright light.

While these side effects are very minor and will go away on their own accord, you might want to take little precautions to prevent them from ever occurring. You should avoid gazing directly at the bulb or better still, wear suitable eye protection eyeglass.


Red Light Therapy at Home

Having your own red light therapy setup at home might prove a lot beneficial than going to a saloon. Aside from being way cheaper in the long run, it is more comfortable and gives you the option to sync your therapy with your daily routine.

It’s not as difficult as you’d think. It’s quite easy – all you’ll need to do is selecting the right kind of device for your needs.


How to choose the right red light device



The red light machine comes in various sizes and shapes. There are smaller ones which can be held in one hand and directed towards the face or any facial areas.

While such small handheld red light machines are quite portable, You might want to stay away from them anyways, especially if you don’t have a lot of time.

Such small size red light machines cover a very little area of skin at a time and will require probably an hour or more to effectively treat the whole body.

Fortunately, there are others which falls within the medium size and large size range. And of course, you can get one as large and convenient as your sunbeds.

Those are way more comfortable and faster and if you can afford it then don’t hesitate to go for one of those and don’t forget, you can always convert your sunbeds into red light beds anytime you want – it’s quite easy.


Consider the wavelength

Going by results from studies on various red light wavelength and its effects on the cells, studies conducted by T. Karu showed that there are actually four peaks of the red light wavelength which are better than others at stimulating cells to produce more energy. These “peak” wavelengths are 620nm, 670nm, 760nm, and 830nm.

If you’re looking for a red light machine for your home use, you might want to go for one that falls within one or all of the above wavelength as they are way more efficient than other wavelengths.

Overall, you should look for a machine with a wavelength ranging from 670 nm to 845nm or more.


Consider the light intensity

Intensity is quite important as it determines the level of penetration. From studies, an intensity with values ranging from 20 to 200 mW/cm is the best range for deeper actions.


How to use your red light machine at home


How close should the device be to your skin for better results?

This actually depends on the intensity of light coming from your machine. There are some machines with very weak flare that you’ll need to press on to the skin and hold in place for a long time to see any significant changes.

Overall, if you are going for a machine with intensity ranging from 20-200 mW/cm, you can conveniently keep those at most 10 cm or 40 cm at maximum range away from the skin for better results.


How long should the treatment be?

Closer and longer treatments are better for treatment of infections or acne otherwise, a daily dose of about five to 20 minutes is quite sufficient. However, if you are using a machine with very low intensity, you will need to spend more time with the machine for better results.


Benefits of Red Light therapy


The benefits of Red light therapy is thought to come from the light’s ability to stimulate body cells to produce more energy. The following are some of the benefits that come from the cellular energy exchanges:


1. Relieves Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms are a major cause of concern for most people especially the elderly, as it tends to restrict the flow of blood to some parts of the body. This restriction often results in starving of muscle cells and deprivation of oxygen.

Red light therapy is one of the best treatment for muscle spasm as it can help the muscles relax more and allow blood to flow freely in the body.


2. Improves Blood Flow

The body often responds to Red Light by dilating the blood vessels. This widening of blood vessels allows the free flow of blood around the body.

To prevent Ischemia, proper blood circulation is very vital as it ensures a continuous supply of nutrients and oxygen to all body cells.


3. Reduces Inflammation

Improved blood circulation and lymph movement are keys to preventing body inflammation as both processes help prevent the build-up of waste materials which often causes edema and pains associated with swelling and bumps.


4. Improves Elasticity of Collagen Fibres

Red light therapy is believed to help slow down skin aging. This is because red light therapy is thought to stimulate the production of collagen and fiber elastin as well as the formation of new capillaries.

The increased number of capillaries running under the skin and around body cells will lead to an increased supply of nutrients to cells, this will, in turn, lead to increase in cells ability to regenerate quickly.

Also, the increased in collagen and elastin will help smoothen the skin which can significantly reduce the skin’s aging rates.


5. Reduce Joint Stiffness

It has been demonstrated countless times how a little heat on a stiff joint can significantly reduce stiffness and improve motion in the said joint.

Red light is thought to have the same effect on stiff joints as infrared and can actually have cyclic positive feedback as the joints become less stiff, it encourages you to use it more, which in turn will cause it to become less stiff.


6. Aids Pain Relief

The red light therapy itself does not relieve pain like Morphine or other severe painkillers, rather it addresses the underlying causes.

For instance, it can be used to relieve pain caused by muscle spasm, poor circulation or stiff joints but not one caused by an accident. Though it may be used to help the skin heal faster, it won’t take the pain away.


Wrapping Up

Unlike the laser or sunbed therapy which often harms the skin, it is quite harmless and produces amazing effects on acne, joints stiffness, pa, n and muscle spasms.

Plus, red light is quite effective in stimulating better circulation of nutrients in the body for maximum cell performance and can slow down aging by helping the body produce more collagen and elastin.

Oh, and it’s quite easy and cheap to set up your own red light therapy “studio” at home.

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Passionate about everything that shines, settled down on UV(ultraviolet) lights. I'm motivated and with a mission to help people live a better life!

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