This article includes a large compilation of information about Red Light Therapy and associated light treatments. It provides an in depth look at the treatment possibilities of light therapy. And details the mechanism of how each works and why. The aim is to demystify light therapy, and leave the reader with confidence to make an informed decision on whether it is a suitable treatment for them.
This is an in depth article, so we have provided a convenient table of contents to enable the reader to navigate easily, and skip to the section that they are most interested in.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Red Light Therapy?
- 2 How Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?
- 3 Where Does Red Light Work?
- 4 What makes Red Light Therapy Special ?
- 5 Light Therapy Treatments
- 6 Recommended Home Treatment Devices
- 6.1 Hand Held Devices.
- 6.2 Mask Devices
- 6.3 Panel Devices
- 6.4 Helmet and Hand Held Hair Growth Devices
- 7 Red Light Wavelengths and Power
- 8 What’s the difference between Lasers and LEDs
- 9 A Little Light History
- 10 How safe is Red Light Therapy?
- 11 FAQs
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy provides a non-invasive, drug free technique to treats various medical and cosmetic conditions.
By using a specific set of scientifically researched light wavelengths it produces a natural response from the body’s own resources.
In some treatments it activates the body’s natural defence systems. And in others it reactivates complex nutrient systems, to start a rejuvenating or healing process.
We know that shining a red light on the skin for therapeutic reasons may sound a little implausible to some. But this is no ordinary light, and no ordinary treatment. For the doubters that think pointing a red light at the skin to start a metabolic response is ridiculous, please read on.
We are going to look at the science behind it, and how it works.
How Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?
Depending on the colour of visible light it can penetrate the skin to different depths.
You may have played with a simple torch when you were a child. Placing it with a red bulb installed on your palm, you could see it shining through on the other side, and sometimes you could even see your bones, Yikes!!! But do the same with a blue light and nothing, no light penetrates. Pretty boring actually!! That’s because the two different colours have distinct properties. The colours can penetrate the skin to different depths.
This really is one of the fundamentals of light therapy.Now we have established that light can penetrate our body to different depths.
The question is what can it do when it does. The simple answer is a lot.
We all know the effects of sunlight on our skin. That’s UV light, and it can cause significant changes. We can’t see the light, but we can see the changes it makes. A sun tan, which is nice. Freckles, which can be cute. But sun burn, we’ve all had that, and it’s not nice and not cute. All this and just from light.
Red light is safe, no burning at this wavelength. It penetrates the skin deeper than the sun’s UV light, but it still produces significant changes to the deeper skin tissues. Fortunately they are all positive changes.
Red light can effectively penetrate the skin to a depth of between 6 -10mm. When it is allowed to shine on the skin for a period of time is when the magic happens.
Where Does Red Light Work?
There is a lot going on just a few milli-meters below our skin. It’s a very busy place, and that’s where the red light is going to go to work.
The dermis is the home of a lot of different cells and structures. It houses blood vessels, hair follicles and sebaceous glands for skin lubrication. The cells producing collagen and elastin are found there too. These are the all important ones for anti-ageing treatment.
Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy, and our body’s react in a kind of similar way when red light is applied. The light energy in our case is converted to cellular energy.
This cellular energy can make significant rejuvenating changes to dormant or ageing cells. This increase in cellular energy also has positive effects on multiple metabolic and nervous system processes. Blood circulation is increased, not by heat but by triggering the release of nitric oxide. This is a short-lived, but naturally produced gas, that widens and relaxes our blood vessels.
What makes Red Light Therapy Special ?
Once red light therapy treatment is started, the effects can sometime be dramatic and fast, It all depends on what it is being used to treat. Some treatments like anti-ageing requires patience, time and consistency. But for pain management the results can often be rapid, and sometimes long lasting.
But that’s not all
For cosmetic reasons, the therapy works on several levels. With a home use device, it is a one purchase investment. Unlike creams, serums and other topical treatments that require repeat, and often expensive purchases. A red light device provides a convenient tool in the beauty regime. Its power and results do not diminish over time either.
For medical treatments, when drug treatments have failed to produce the required results. Or ever increasing doses are needed to maintain the same result. Then people start to search for an alternative. Unfortunately many people just end up at the light therapy door, after main stream medicines have left them disappointed.
Red light therapy marshal’s the body’s own natural resources,without the need for chemical intervention, or topical creams. It works at the source level from the inside to the out.
Light Therapy Treatments
Many dermatologists consider light therapy as a major breakthrough in skin care. Blue light is the primary wavelength for treating acne, it deals effectively with the bacteria that causes acne. Red light is generally considered as a necessary complimentary colour to reduce the inflammation that often accompanies the outbreak. It also helps to reduce pore size and smooth the skin. Many of the better home treatment devices conveniently include both light frequencies in the device. Very many successful scientific studies have been carried out using this dual approach to treatment.
Acne treatment using light therapy.
Read our full article.
Between the ages of twenty and twenty-five our collagen levels start to decrease at around one percent per year. By the age of forty the collagen protein has stopped being produced completely. Elastin, a protein that does what it sounds like it does, it provides elasticity in the connective tissues. Without elastin our skin would not resume its original shape after stretching. Yikes !! Sounds important then. Well they both are, collagen and elastin. Combined they keep the connective tissues firm and plumped. Young in other words.
Red light therapy stimulates the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) This is the magic molecule that carries chemical energy to the collagen and elastin cells, and rejuvenates them. It restarts the processes that age has stopped. This is why the various signs of ageing like fine lines, crows feet and wrinkles are smoothed, and the face has a fuller, healthier look. It does not bring back the full bloom of youth, but it can make a significant difference.
Anti-Ageing treatment using light therapy.
Read our full article.
Maybe surprisingly light therapy has been used to treat arthritis for very many years now. Because arthritis is such a common complaint, many clinical studies have been carried out. The therapeutic wavelengths best suited to arthritic pain management have been pretty well established. Nowadays a combination of red and infrared is often prescribed as a dualistic approach to reduce inflammation and the associated pain. The choice of the dual wavelength approach has many benefits. Infrared will go deeper and produce a warming effect on the tissues. Red light will reduce the inflammation and combined with the infrared increase circulation to the joints. By relieving the inflammation the pain subsides. Many users actually get very rapid relief.
Arthritis treatment using light therapy.
Read our full article.
For doctors, sports coaches and physiotherapists, red light therapy on its own or combined with infrared, is one of their most rewarding treatments. The effects are often fast and visible. So the quality of the patients life can be improved in a natural and sustainable way. Red light effects are very similar to anti-inflammatory drugs, but without unpleasant side effects. By increasing the blood supply, and the release of endorphin pain will temporarily subside.
Pain Management using light therapy.
Read our full article.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the most common light therapy for psoriasis sufferers. It is a natural component of sunlight and has been shown to be an effective treatment in some psoriasis cases. Broad and narrow band UVB treatments are available. Narrow band seems to be more efficient, needing less treatments and giving a longer remission time.
A study using red and near infrared frequencies, showed some promising results too. But not enough research has been done yet to confirm the successful findings due to the size of the control group.
Unfortunately due to the lack of solid scientific studies into red light therapy treatment of Psoriasis, we are unable to recommend sufferers a suitable home treatment device.
Read our full article.
Although it affects more than 16 million Americans, the causes of rosacea are still not fully understood. Red light is thought to be the most beneficial in easing the uncomfortable symptoms of rosacea. The red itchy, dry and burning symptoms can sometimes be be eased by a combination of light frequencies. Green light can help the flushing symptom, and blue with its anti bacterial properties is helpful too.
Rosacea treatment using light therapy.
Read our full article.
Two out of three males, and one in five females will start showing signs of hair loss and balding by the time they reach their fifties. Not many people do bald brilliantly, so people are using all kinds of home remedies, and OTC drugs for solution.
Red light therapy offers another way of tackling the problem. Oxygen deficiency and cellular energy has an important part to play in some forms of hair loss. When the microcirculation around the hair follicle is starved of oxygen, hair will grow only sparsely or not at all. By reactivating cellular energy, the ATP production encourages more oxygen, and the mitochondria start a regrowth pattern. It is rather more complicated than that. We have written about it extensively about the science behind it elsewhere on the website.
Hair loss treatment using light therapy.
Read our full article.
Recommended Home Treatment Devices
The buyer has a wide range of home use red light therapy devices to choose from. It can be a kind of baffling minefield, full of unfamiliar jargon and manufactures claims and promises.
We have grouped below the main categories that they fall into, with an explanation of what to look for in each.
Hand Held Devices.
These are the most popular of all devices. There is a huge selection available on the market these days. Although they are all portable, some are more convenient to use than others .
The cordless models, that house rechargeable batteries, allow the most flexibility of use. A corded device effectively tethers the user to a power socket. Not the end of the world, but worth considering. It depends on how you see the device fitting into your lifestyle and schedule. As seamlessly as possible would be the best choice of course.
Hand held devices cover the whole range of different red light therapy treatments. From pain management, anti-ageing and hair loss, you will find a hand held device is available for home use.
Hand held offers targeted treatment, the user can effectively prioritise a treatment zone. With desktop panel devices, this isn’t possible. The draw back with hand held the treatment head is often quite small, so it user has to invest much more time if a large area is being worked on.
There are just a few hand held devices that offer more than one colour option. They are available with interchangeable heads that house the different LED colour arrays. These allow different treatments, so can be shared between the whole family. Typically anti- ageing red light for Mom, and pimple and acne blue light for teenage children.
Mostly they are mono treatment devices with a single colour and aimed at a specific treatment.
Flexibility in where you use them
Best to prioritise treatment area
Limited treatment area
Extended treatment time
Rejuven Light Therapy Device
Cost when written
LED density is an important factor in deciding to purchase. We think that the 48 that is on offer here is much higher than other devices. The Rejuven has simple to operate functions built into the handle .
It ships with a comprehensive users manual with explanations of the various colour treatment options and safety goggles-
Norlanya RedLight Therapy Device
Cost when written
You can choose from continuous or pulse mode depending on the treatment you require. A built in timer turns off the device when treatment time is over. The head is a large 2.95in (7.5cm) wide by 1.95in (5cm), and it packs 40 LED lights. This should help to give a short treatment time. Light weight too, tipping the scales at a measly 5 ounces. The device can be charged from a normal power source or via a usb. As a built in safety feature the device will not turn on while being charged.
These were popularised when the Hollywood set were pictured using them.
The mask frankly looks a little spooky. Constructed to look like a plastic face from a bad dream, they house an array LED lights embedded in the inside matrix. They mostly come with various colour treatment options to choose from. When the lights get turned on, best get the kids out of the room, you’ll frighten them sick.
They can be very effective though, and as they give a full face coverage, they can also be very time efficient. Some users have reported feeling rather claustrophobic, and uncomfortable when using them. Maybe not surprisingly!
Obviously just for the face, no other choice or flexibility for the user. As an anti-ageing device they are an effective, but strange looking option.
Reasonable price on some models
Reduced treatment time.
Prioritised treatment area
Need to lay down to use effectively
Can be uncomfortable.
Scares the kids !!!
Now we are getting to the more professional end of the light therapy market. These are really grown up machines. These are normally top of the range devices. Not at eye watering prices, but they do have a premium tag.
Panel devices generally follow a tryptic design pattern. The three panels offer complete facial coverage, and a very large LED density. The Norlanya Photon Therapy device for example has 420 LEDs spread evenly over red, blue and yellow colour wavelengths. What you are getting with this type of device is not far off what you would find in a dermatologists clinic. But with the convenience of using it in your own home. These are reasonably bulky things, but can usually be folded down for storage.
Multi colour options
Desk top so hands free
High build quality
Premium price tag
RejuvaliteMD Red Light Therapy device
Price $249.99 at time of writing
The light panel sits on top of a bendable arm which allows you to position the device conveniently at the area being treated. It holds 120 LED lights split evenly between the four light wavelengths. It is worth mentioning here that three of the rows in the panel emit infrared wave length light which is invisible to the eye. They appear not to be working. Don’t worry they are! The FDA has cleared this device for use on all skin tones and types.
This is a best selling product from a trusted supplier devices. You will find it has everything you need for all you facial treatment therapies. Its bendable arm is great to position it exactly at the area you want treatment to take place. It has a clean, modern and non-clinical design. You will also find the controls very easy to understand and use.
Norlanya Photon Therapy device
Price $265.00 at time of writing
A total of 420 LEDs spread equally over the three colour wavelengths. This coupled with a high power output makes for for very short treatment times indeed. An easy to understand control panel, and a built in timer assures you of precise treatment time measuring too. It also has an additional two seasonal program modes. Built to an exacting standard Norlanya, The Photon Therapy device has a professional high quality finish and design. A great light therapy lamp, produced and marketed by Norlanya, a world leader in home and professional cosmetic treatment devices
Helmet and Hand Held Hair Growth Devices
This are for hair loss treatment. The helmet has lasers and LED lights fitted into the inside of the helmet, allowing users a fast, full head treatment session. The hand held comb houses the LEDs in the comb head, it is better suited to prioritise treatment to particular areas of the scalp.
Both systems are widely used, but the particular device choice depends on the baldness profile being treated. We have written an extensive explanation of hair loss treatments here
Short treatment times
iRestore Laser Hair Growth System
The 21 medical grade lasers and 30 LEDs are bedded into the matrix of the cap to give complete scalp coverage.
The mix and ratio of light wavelengths give a great chance of a positive treatment outcome.Of the helmet devices we have researched and reviewed the iRestore is the best device from a price/LED laser ratio.
Hairmax Ultima 12
All Hairmax comb products come with a special hair parting system to allow the red laser light to reach the scalp. It has the twelve therapy red light lasers built into the matrix of the body of the comb. The comb teeth can easily be detached for cleaning when required.
Easy to operate, an LED screen built into the comb body shows the elapsed treatment time. The manufacturer recommends just 8 minutes treatment time, three times a week. The Hairmax system has been used in many scientific studies to treat hair loss
Red Light Wavelengths and Power
We find our red light therapy wavelength between 620 and 700 nm on the light scale spectrum. As the red light travels up the scale it changes, from an orange red into a deep red at around 700 nm. The most common values used in red light therapy treatments are 630 and 660 nm. with slight variations either side. The intensity of the red light affects the duration of the treatment. It’s the intensity of the light that governs the manufacturers recommendations for treatment times. You can think about pretty much as “dosage”.
The intensity of the red light affects the duration of the treatment. It’s the intensity of the light that governs the manufacturers recommendations for treatment times. You can think about pretty much as “dosage”.
The lower the intensity of light, the longer it takes to get the therapeutic dosage for efficient treatment. We have written a full explanation of light intensity article here >>
Really high intensity devices are generally used in clinics and university hospitals for medical research. Home use devices are never more than warm to the touch, but as the power increases so does the heat, High power devices are for professional users, after the correct training.
What’s the difference between Lasers and LEDs
Originating for commercial use in the 1950s, lasers and LEDs have now found there way into most modern households. So in the red light therapy world we often see lasers and LEDs talked about as light sources in the various products on the market. So what’s the difference? Well the laser is coherent, and the LED is incoherent !!! Doesn’t make too much sense yet. But it’s pretty simple, let’s explain.
So in the red light therapy world we often see lasers and LEDs talked about as light sources in the various products on the market. So what’s the difference?
Well the laser is coherent, and the LED is incoherent !!!
Doesn’t make too much sense yet. But it’s pretty simple, let’s explain.
A coherent light source like a laser sends out light waves that are all working in unison The waves like all waves have crests and troughs. With coherent light they rise and fall together, lined up and always maintaining the same formation.
The dictionary defines coherence as “ logically or aesthetically ordered “ , and that’s just how the laser emits its light. Because of this orderly characteristic extremely accurate measurements can be taken. As used by our old friend the CD player.
Most other light sources produce incoherent light and that includes LEDs. Incoherent light is as you can imagine is pretty much the opposite. Light is still produced in waves, but in a more random patten. They are “out of phase “. Instead of all peaking and troughing at he same time, it happens in a random fashion. Again the dictionary says it best. Incoherence in physics means “ having no definite or stable phase relationship “. We can’t better that definition.
A Little Light History
Although there is some dispute about the invention of the laser, the first working laser was patented by the Hughes Research Laboratories in 1960.
But our red light therapy story doesn’t really begin until 1965 when Endre Mester, a research professor at a Hungarian university, made a startling discovery. During the course his pioneering work, Endre Mester noticed that a control group of mice, subjected to laser treatment, grew hair quicker than ones that weren’t treated. Doesn’t sound much but it started a huge research effort into the general healing properties of laser light.
The professor’s research, and further research carried out in the former Soviet Union, and USA eventually prompted the NASA space program to contract Quantum Devices to investigate, and develop the LED (light emitting diode). We still use them in a modified form in our devices to this day.
How safe is Red Light Therapy?
Light Therapy has been well researched and is considered safe. It has no known unpleasant side effects. But it is always good practice to test your new device on a none sensitive area of your body just to check your skins reaction.
Build up your treatment time slowly. Be careful not to stare into the light. We always recommend the use of goggles. Most manufacturers supply a set with their devices. Perhaps surprisingly blue light is more likely to cause problems with your eyes than red light. The LED lights in home devices might get warm, but never hot.
If you take any medications that increase your sensitivity to light, check with your medical professional before starting any red light therapy.
Is Red Light Therapy comparable to suntanning?
No. Red Light Therapy uses light between 620nm and 680nm. This is a way different part of the light spectrum than sunlight. So no harmful UV light is present.
What distinguishes Red Light Therapy from other types of treatment?
It is non invasive. Unlike some other skin treatments it works at low temperature. It does not damage the cells or tissues. On the contrary, it enhances and rejuvenates them. It is a simple natural resource that requires no regeneration time. The effects of light therapy do not diminish over time.
Are there side effects with Red Light Therapy?
Not really. It is important to build treatment times slowly. As well as stimulation of tissues, the body may start a detoxifying process. Very mild flu like symptoms have been occasionally reported if detoxification takes place too quickly. Some acne sufferers have found that their acne flared up after beginning light therapy. But after continuing the treatment the flare up normalised. Light therapy will then accelerate the healing process.
Which parts of the body can I use Light Therapy on?
Anywhere. Except the eyes. Always avoid looking at the light. Wear googles.
On sensitive parts of the body, use the light only for a couple of minutes for the first session. Then wait for 24 hours to see if there has been any adverse reaction. If not then follow the manufacturers guidelines.
Do I need to prepare my skin before a red light therapy session?
When using the therapy for facial treatments you should thoroughly clean your skin before treatment. Most devices don’t need any other preparation. Remember to read manufacturers instructions.
Do I need to wear protective goggles?
Facial treatment really always requires the use of protective googles. However for your comfort some people may prefer to keep your eyes closed. Avoid looking into the device directly.
How long does it take for Red Light Therapy to work?
Well it depends on what it is treating. It is important to remember that it does not provide a miracle cure or transformation. Many facial patients however have noticed some immediate improvements even after a single session. Injury healing is all depends on the injury of course but some chronic sufferers of Plantar Fasciitis how found almost instant relief.
A tip for facial treatment is to take weekly photos to monitor your progress. Just looking in the mirror is not the best way to see the subtle changes to your skin texture.
How long are the sessions?
A difficult one to answer, it depend on the device, and the treatment. For cosmetic sessions it can range between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the size of the treatment head.
I have tattoos can I use Red Light Therapy?
Light therapy effects on ink is not yet fully researched, so covering tattoos is recommended.
Can I over do it?
During the initial treatment period sessions are usually once a day. Then maintenance therapy could be a couple of sessions weekly. Stick to the manufacturers guidelines. Like many things in life more does not necessarily mean better.
For pain management most manufacturers advise to use as required.
What is the difference between continuous and pulsed wave devices?
Pretty simple really. As it sounds, the continuos wave device keeps a constant output of light, at a constant level. There should be no fluctuation. Pulsed wave does sound a little mis-leading. It just means the light source is stopped and started at a pre-programmed time interval. It is rapid, so rapid in fact that the human eye cannot detect it. Some manufacturers claim that by pulsing the light may reach deeper into the tissues.
Can I use colour combinations of light therapy?
Yes for many conditions such as acne respond better to both red and blue therapy. Many devices do actually house various LED combinations of different colours to increase the treatment value. They have chosen the best combination of lights for a particular application. For example the LightStim for pain uses four separate wavelengths in the red and infrared spectrum to maximise the effect of the treatment.
Can Red Light Therapy burn me?
The bulbs used in treatment should remain cool. No UV is present so sunburn is not a danger. In fact red light therapy is helpful in treating sunburned skin.
How can I maintain the results?
Normally one or two sessions a week are sufficient to maintain results, after the initial treatment. In the case of injury treatment of course this does not apply. Once you are better you are ready to go!!!
Can I wear cosmetics during the session?
No. Thoroughly clean the skin before starting red light therapy treatment.
Do certain medications affect the results?
They can if you are taking medication your should consult your medical provider before starting any red light therapy treatment.
Is red light therapy worth the cost?
Well certainly yes We all want great skin. if you want to have younger-looking skin without spending lots of money on cosmetic treatments. A home use device will certainly work out cheaper over the long run. Expensive skin creams and serums and and perhaps visits to the beauty salon don’t really make for financial sense. They are great for a bit of TLC and pampering though.
For pain relief, well really; it’s hard to put a value on that. If the treatment is effective, it’s worth a lot. Not only to the patient, but also their family.