Numerous trials and studies have demonstrated red light therapy to be a simple and effective means of healing, relaxing, and recovering from injury. It’s no surprise, then, that red light therapy is a staple in sports medicine. What many people don’t know, however, is how many dermatologists and aestheticians use red light on their clients. This is the result of research that has shown red light and its neighbor on the electromagnetic spectrum, near infrared energy, offer potential benefits to skin appearance and texture. These include improvement in wrinkles, scar tissue, acne, and other conditions.
What this post will cover:
- What is red light therapy and how does it work?
- What are the health benefits of red light therapy?
- How does NIR/Red light therapy help skin?
- Where to get red light therapy
What is Red Light Therapy and How Does it Work?
Red light therapy is a non-invasive therapeutic treatment that uses specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light to affect the body. These wavelengths of light are delivered through specially-designed NIR and infrared bulbs, LED panels, or high-powered lasers. The simple, painless procedure provides a host of positive benefits both to the outside and inside of the body.
The mechanism of action for red light therapy involves the natural way bioreactive light interacts with our bodies on a cellular level.
There are several types of bioreactive light, each with different effects. Studies have shown red light, in particular, to deliver health benefits because of its unique effects on cellular metabolism.
If you want to learn more about bioreactive light and the science behind red light therapy, check out our post about the ways infrared light therapy works on the body.
The Many Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Is red light therapy safe and effective? Many studies concluded “yes” to both. Red light was quickly recognized for its potential, and thus has been tested for treating the a number of injuries, sources of discomfort, and skin problems. The benefits that were discovered include:
Enhanced Cellular Metabolism
Red light therapy has been shown to create systemic boosts in cellular function that can promote healing, combat pain, and contribute to full-body wellness. The primary mechanism behind this is a noted increase in ATP energy production, a key part of cellular function.
Red light therapy improves circulation and cellular function in targeted areas, helping to fight chronic and acute inflammation. Red light therapy can be applied in the same situations where heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle would be used, such as recovery from a sprain.
Red light therapy has been reported to help many users deal with chronic pain. This is believed to be the result of its mechanism for reducing inflammation, which makes red light a popular treatment for arthritis and other joint pain.
Skin Care and Rejuvenation
Last in the list, but most important for this article, is red light’s ability to aid in skin care. Red light and near infrared (NIR) energy are naturally occurring wavelengths that we have evolved to absorb from sunlight. Supplemental exposure to red light and near infrared energy has been shown to help with healing, maintaining, and beautifying skin, especially among those who spend a lot of time indoors.
Next, let’s take a detailed look at how red light is being used on the human body’s largest organ, the skin.
Red Light Therapy for Skin Care and Beautification
Skin care experts have certainly taken notice of the numerous benefits of using red light therapy. Many leading practitioners have experienced the benefits of red light therapy themselves and now incorporate it as part of their skincare recommendations.
Red light therapy has deep roots in science. It was previously tested and used by NASA to promote faster wound healing through its cellular mechanisms. Red light wound therapy can not only speed healing, but also has been shown to reduce scar tissue. This is because red light stimulates the production of collagen. Because collagen is responsible for skin’s firmness and elasticity, exposure to red light has become popular with those interested in anti-aging.
The benefits are more than – pardon the pun—skin deep. Red light therapy can help support overall skin health. The skin is a massive conglomeration of billions of individual cells and red light helps the mitochondria in those skin cells produce more energy (ATP), stimulating the synthesis of pro-collagen and collagen, as well as basic fibroblast growth factors (bFGF). Because red and near infrared light therapy also increase circulation, the skin is able to mend and maintain itself more efficiently, possibly leading to healthier, more glowing skin that looks and feels its best.
Red light therapy devices have also been used to treat specific skin disorders. A few of the most common applications include:
Dry Skin and Psoriasis
It is believed that, when red light penetrates the affected skin, it energizes the skin cells and increases blood flow to the surface. This means more nutrients are delivered to that area and more toxins and dead cells flushed away. These effects have been shown to improve hydration of skin in the treatment area.
Red light therapy is used by some as a non-invasive, drug-free means of treating rosacea. As with overall skin tone and texture, the improvements in blood flow resulting from red light and near infrared energy allow more oxygen to reach areas that need repair, while the bioreactive qualities of red light stimulate ATP production.
Because red light can penetrate the skin, it is used by some to help to heal rosacea-related acne and reduce surface inflammation.
Scars and Stretch Marks
Collagen depletes as we age, lowering skin elasticity resulting in loose, saggy skin. Stretch marks tend to arise either from rapid weight loss or in the natural course of aging. Because red light therapy can help stimulate collagen production, it may help prevent further development of stretch marks. It has been shown to also help lighten skin and diminish the appearance of scars, especially when used during a wound’s healing process.
Some light, in particular, ultraviolet light, can be very damaging to the skin. Conversely, red light can actually help repair damage. (Near infrared and red light bulbs should not emit ultraviolet light. This can be verified by asking the manufacturer for the bulb’s wavelength output.) The red light wavelength enhances cellular activity, which is thought to help reverse sun damage and lighten age spots.
Because of loss of collagen and the associated changes to the skin’s elasticity, wrinkles often appear as we age. Red light therapy helps boost collagen and fibroblasts production, which can help minimize and counteract wrinkles. For this reason, spas often use red light therapy on forehead wrinkles, laugh lines, marionette lines, and other areas of the skin that show signs of aging.Where to Get Red Light/NIR Therapy
In the past, red light skin treatments were only available in high-end salons and dermatologist offices. Now, however, near infrared and red light bulbs suitable for home use are available from a variety of manufacturers, at costs similar to the price of a single spa visit.
Those looking to explore the benefits of red light and near infrared energy at home can purchase incandescent and LED bulbs from manufacturers such as TheraBulb.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
In more than 50 years of research into the use of red light therapy, there were no reported risks or contraindication to its use.
Prior to using any red light or near infrared product on your body, you should consult with a medical professional. They can discuss your goals for use of the product, verify that it is safe for you, and offer specific recommendations for distance from the bulb, duration per session, frequency of use, etc.
Medical professionals who have specific expertise in the use of red light and near infrared energy will often indicate a specialization in photobiomodulation and/or integrative medicine.
For your own safety, always wear eye protection, such as NIR filtering glasses and avoid looking directly into the bulbs when they are lit. Despite having a coating designed to dampen some of the visible light, the incandescent bulbs get quite bright, which can cause discomfort. Additionally, the incandescent bulbs can get quite hot, so you should never leave them unattended while in use and keep them at least 12 inches from your body and any surface that could ignite or be damaged by heat.