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For the past few months, I’ve been standing in front of a red light therapy lamp for about 5 minutes a day. We ordered the red light therapy system when my husband was recovering from surgery since it helps speed wound healing. Now, I’m loving it for its collagen boosting (*wrinkle reducing*), stretch mark reducing, and hair growth benefits.
If you’ve read about how I manipulate blue light for health, you already understand that light affects many aspects of our biology. Certain wavelengths of red light increase mitochondria function in the body. More on that below, but red light therapy is uniquely beneficial for this reason.
What Is Red Therapy Light?
Red light therapy is also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), low level light therapy (LLLT), biostimulation, photonic stimulation or light box therapy.
This therapy uses specific wavelengths of light to treat the skin to accomplish various outcomes. Studies have shown that different wavelengths affect the body in different ways. The most effective wavelengths of red light seem to be in the ranges of 630-670 and 810-880 (more on this below).
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
These specific wavelengths of red light create a biochemical affect in our cells that serves to increase mitochondrial function. This improves ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production in the body.
Why is this important?
ATP is the source of energy for every cell in the body. Without it, we don’t function at all. Without enough of it, we don’t function well.
It’s wavelengths range between 630-880nm and are used to treat the skin’s surface. Red therapy light penetrates about 8-10 millimeters into the skin. Depending on which area of the body the red light is used, this can easily affect all skin layers, reaching into blood vessels, lymph pathways, nerves, and hair follicles.
Red Therapy Light vs. Sauna Therapy
Many people wonder if RLT is similar to sauna therapy or the benefits of sunlight.
All of these therapies are beneficial, but they are different and provide different results. I’ve been a big fan of sauna use for years, but I’ve also added red light therapy to my daily practice for different reasons.
The purpose of a sauna is to raise the temperature of the body. This can be accomplished through simple heat exposure by raising the temperature of the air, as is popular in Finland and other parts of Europe. It can also be accomplished through infrared exposure. This heats the body from the inside out in a sense and is said to provide more beneficial effects in less time and at lower heat.
Both sauna methods increase heart rate, perspiration, heat shock proteins and improve the body in other ways. Unlike red light therapy, infrared light from a sauna is invisible, and penetrates much deeper into the body with wavelengths at 700-1200 nanometers.
Red therapy light or photobiomodulation is not designed to increase perspiration or improve cardiovascular function. It impacts cells on the cellular level and increases mitochondrial function and ATP production. It essentially “feeds” your cells to increase energy.
Both have their uses, depending on the desired results.
The History of Red Therapy Light Use
Red light therapy has been around the block. In 1903 physician Niels Ryberg Finsen won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his successful treatment of smallpox and lupus with red light. Russia uses low level laser therapy in their standard medical care (and they have since the 1970s). The Russians also published hundreds of studies over the decades on the benefits of red therapy light. Unfortunately, very few of these studies have been translated into English.
Red light therapy has largely been ignored by the US and western Europe until recently. However it’s been used in a clinical setting since the 1980s in Japan, China, Canada, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
The Benefits of Red Therapy Light
Even though the western world is behind the times with red therapy light, strong evidence supports its health benefits. It is FDA approved for chronic joint pain, slow to heal wounds, wrinkles, hair loss and acne. Many others have used it successfully for other issues, like psoriasis, improved circulation and better immune function.
Here’s a partial list of the evidence-based uses of red therapy light:
- It helps rejuvenate facial skin and smooths skin tone.
- Red light builds collagen in the skin to reduce wrinkles.
- It helps to repair sun damage.
- Red light activates the lymphatic system for potentially improved detoxification.
- Decreases inflammation in the skin.
- Helps fade scars and stretch marks.
- Improves hair growth to reverse balding.
- Stimulates slow healing wounds.
- Can prevent recurring cold sores, or herpes simplex.
- Helpful in the short term for carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Beneficial for skin to reduce eczema, rosacea, and acne.
1. Better Circulation and Collagen Production
When the light penetrates through the epidermal and dermal skin layers, it increases circulation to help form new capillaries. It also increases collagen production and fibroblasts. While topically applied collagen is useless, I frequently consume it for the health of my nails, skin, hair, and joints. Red therapy light improves collagen levels naturally by triggering the body to produce more of its own. Since collagen comprises about 70% of the protein in our skin, it’s a big deal!
Increased collagen doesn’t just give the skin a wrinkle-free glow, but its ability to improve joint health makes it great for arthritis sufferers. It can be helpful for those with a variety of painful musculoskeletal issues. The increased circulation and anti-inflammatory effects that red therapy light provides also help reduce pain and heal the body.
2. Wound Healing with Red Light Therapy
Fibroblasts in our skin synthesize collagen, maintain connective tissue and are integral to wound healing. Red therapy light stimulates fibroblasts to do their job, and increases circulation for faster wound repair time. People have also used this therapy for burns, amputation injuries, skin grafts and infected wounds. It’s been successfully used for skin damage caused by cancer treatments, including those in the mouth and mucus membranes.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that red light therapy significantly improved colitis symptoms in mice. The light therapy aided in their mucosal healing. Dentists have also successfully used red therapy lights to heal sores and abrasions in the mucus membranes of the mouth. It’s also been found to prevent recurring cold sores that occur along the mouth.
3. A Remedy for Hair Loss
I have plenty of natural remedies on my site for how to improve hair growth, but red light therapy may be another way to reverse balding. A 24-week study demonstrated that red therapy light significantly improved hair density and hair thickness without any serious reactions. Participants wore a helmet that emitted red therapy light to achieve this effect, though I’ve found that bigger devices (like this one) are easier to use and benefit the rest of the body as well.
4. Recover Faster from Injury and Illness
Red light therapy increases circulation and ATP production throughout the body which may help speed healing during times of illness. It also stimulates lymph system activity and phagocytosis, the process of cells cleaning house.
Although red therapy light helps to modulate the immune system, a 2006 study with mice found that over treatment actually resulted in immune suppression. Since not a lot of research has been done in this area, it’s unclear just how beneficial it is for the immune system.
5. Help for the Thyroid
One of the big reasons I started looking into red light therapy is because of the potential for improved thyroid function. There are several compelling studies that look at the benefits of red light and near infrared therapy for thyroid health. As someone who has struggled with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I was interested in trying this kind of therapy.
One randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study from 2013 looked at the benefits of light therapy on chronic autoimmune thyroiditis. This study showed an overall improvement in thyroid health from near infrared and light therapy. Many participants were able to reduce or eliminate their thyroid medication. In fact, a startling 47 percent of the participants no longer needed medication during the entire nine-month follow-up after the light therapy treatment. This is shocking as most people are told that they will need thyroid medication for the rest of their lives.
When looking at Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroid problems) specifically, the study found a reduction in thyroid peroxidase (TPOAb) antibodies. These antibodies indicate the presence of an autoimmune thyroid condition.
Other studies have shown:
- a 2010 study from Russia found that red light therapy helped 38% of participants reduce thyroid medication dosage (17% stopped medication completely)
- A 2003 study on postsurgical thyroid patients found that red light therapy reduced the need for medication by up to 75%
I personally started researching this benefit after seeing doctors use this therapy for thyroid disease while visiting a natural medicine clinic in Switzerland. While I was there, they had me wear a red light therapy device on my neck to benefit my thyroid. I’ve been continuing this therapy at home with my red light.
6. A Promising Therapy for Psoriasis
A small scale study published in the journal of Photomedicine and Laser Surgery found benefits for psoriasis sufferers. Skin plaques improved by 60-100% when treated with both red therapy light and infrared light, like that used in a sauna. The infrared light helped to calm inflammation, while the shorter red wavelengths helped heal the skin’s surface.
Though I don’t have psoriasis, I’ve personally noticed skin benefits from using a combination light (I have the Joovv combo unit linked below) that combines near-infrared spectrums (810-880) and visible red spectrums (630-670).
7. Help for Acne, Rosacea, and Eczema
The collagen and ATP stimulating benefits of red light therapy make it a promising solution for skin problems like acne, rosacea, and eczema. Personally, the first benefits I noticed were in reducing stretch marks and wrinkles. Over time, I’ve also noticed new hair growth on my hairline.
How to Use a Red Therapy Light
Some spas, rheumatologists, and dermatologists offer red light therapy treatments. A doctor may also be able to give a referral to a trained professional. Since there are only a few FDA approved uses for red therapy light, treatment may not be covered by insurance in some cases.
There are also salons and spas that offer red light therapy. These options often range from $50-100 a session.
I’ve found that it is more convenient (and likely much cheaper) to get the benefits of red light therapy at home.
My Experience With Red Light Therapy
We originally purchased a Joovv when my husband had hernia surgery. Much of the research showed faster recovery and wound healing. He used the device twice a day during his recovery and healed faster than expected.
With 5 minutes a day in front of the light, I’ve noticed that my skin is firmer. I seem to have fewer wrinkles and I love that my c-section scar and stretch marks are fading. It also seemed to really help reduce hair loss post-baby after I had my daughter.
Most exciting for me is that it has also been helping my thyroid and I’m working to reduce my thyroid medication dosage over time.
Where to Buy a Red Light Therapy Device
There are plenty of at-home devices for sale from a variety of manufacturers. I wanted to find a device that used a combination of wavelengths for maximum benefit. This way, I would get the benefit of the deeper penetration of the higher wavelength and the cellular “charging” of the lower visible spectrum.
I researched companies and devices and found four that are the best out there: on Joovv, Red Therapy Company, GembaRed and Mito Red Light. They meet all of my specifications and are designed for home use.
You can also listen to my experience with red light therapy in this podcast episode.
Cautions & Considerations
As with any device, this isn’t the best fit for everyone. Some light therapy devices pulse or flash the light during treatment, which may be an issue for those with a history of seizures. I see no benefit to the pulsing and would avoid these devices. There are red therapy light devices that don’t pulsate.
Studies indicate that red light therapy is safe during pregnancy. I still recommend checking with a doctor or midwife to ensure that it is safe for you.
While red light is considered safe for the eyes, some people find it too bright. Simple tanning glasses make red light therapy more comfortable.
Red Light Therapy FAQs
A few other questions I had when I started researching red light therapy:
Is it safe?
Yes. Red light therapy is an FDA approved therapy and considered safe. In fact, the original research for modern red light therapy came from NASA. Red light devices were used to limit bone and muscle loss in space. They also discovered that certain spectrums of red light allowed plant growth (for food) in space.
Does it get hot? Can you tan with it?
No and no. It gets pleasantly warm but not hot. Red light is a different wavelength than UV light. It does not produce any tanning effect.
How long do the bulbs last?
Both the Joovv Combo light and Red Light Therapy Co. bulbs (see links above) have a lifespan of 50,000 hours. I doubt I will ever need to change or replace the bulbs during my lifetime.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Alec Weir, M.D., who is a primary care physician who is board-certified in emergency medicine. He is also certified by the Institute for Functional Medicine. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Have you ever used red therapy light, or are you interested in trying it?
Discussion (157 Comments)
What are your thoughts on building your own? I would love the Joovv but it’s not quite in my budget yet 🙂
I bought a Mito Red Light since they use 5watt bulbs for higher irradiance. Most other manufacturers use 2 and 3w. They are also more affordable.
Can you please share the name of the natural medicine clinic in Switzerland that uses the red light therapy for the thyroid?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Wow, I used to live 5 min away from this clinic (I’m still living in Switzerland, but a little further, Canton Ticino) and I didn’t know what they did. Incredibile that I’ve got to read this Wellness Mama blog to discover it!
Can I just buy a bulb, and put it into a light-socket in my home?
Perhaps a lamp or bathroom light fitting, to use when I bagh or relax kn a couch.
I’d be interested to know if you think there’s any truth to using oils as a combo with RLT enhancing its benefits? I saw an article about that, but not sure if the research really supports that idea.
Don’t red lights (LEDs) emit EMFs?
I’ve been through the drill before buying my device. They make such a big deal about the EMFs on red light therapy devices.
But it isn’t anything to worry about. Electric radiation under 2 volts per meter is safe and magnetic radiation under 50 volts per meter is safe.
Almost all devices available in the market don’t even come close to those levels.
While the best EMF absorption level is zero, biologists and other scientists have determined that certain levels of EMF exposure pose little to no threat of harmful health effects.
In our homes we are surrounded by more EMF than that with normal light bulbs, our phones and what not. Don’t worry about it, but I would still check that the manufacturer has the EMF levels clearly mentioned. Go for 0 EMF if possible, but anything under 20 is medically safe.
I love your articles.
I am wondering if infrared sauna would be more beneficial for the things you mentioned than the red light you are recommending since near infrared penetrates more deeply .
Thank you in advance for your answer!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
It depends in what you’re trying to accomplish. Near infrared penetrates more deeply but doesn’t increase collagen as effectively, which is why I use both…
Great article – now I want one of these lights! It made me think of a crazy diet plan I followed back in the early 1990’s – you had to lay down under a lamp with a red light bulb in it for 30 minutes, morning & night, while listening to stimulating music (like classical music). There were some pretty strict food rules, but I don’t remember them, but I do recall that I did not lose any weight after several months of faithfully doing all of this!
It would be useful to provide insight on devices available outside the US. Not all readers are Americans.
Thanks for the info!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I agree, but it would be too time consuming for me to research what products are available in every country, and since I’m in the US and the majority of Wellness Mama readers are too, I focus on that…
There’s no need to do such an in-depth research for each country, but it would be helpful if you could give your Europe- or Asia-based readers a short list with devices that you approve and are available in those regions. Overseas transactions are not always possible. Anyway, thanks again for the information in your post and for your prompt answer.
Just do a search for Low Level Laser or Cold Lasers.
You can also search for similar units in the US and look for their sister units in your country.
I do not use the hanging unit written about here. My unit has more capacity than this one but it also costs a lot more. You need to think about what kind of conditions you are working with. For example I know of some chiros that only want the less expensive unit that does structural work, but it wont help on organs, or chakra balance.
I’m from the Philippines wherein natural remedies, alternative medicines and healthy ways are not a norm. But I am able to get most of my health and wellness stuff from Amazon and other online US shops that accept non-US credit card.
I have recently purchased a NIR (near infrared) lamp from Therabulb but I’m yet to receive it as shipping takes a very long time. I purchased the item driect from their site but it’s available at Amazon too
Someone was saying that I should put a red light in my son’s room because it’s suppose to help with sleep. Is this what they were referring to? He’s 9 and can’t fall asleep without melatonin.
Every time there is a medicinal reaction of the body, the body was exposed to an irritant and the so called medicinal effect is actually a cellular defense reaction.
Sometimes the altered cellular activity creates a benefit to an ailing body so we call it medicinal effect but whenever you are forcing the cells to defend themselves which is why they increase the production of heat protein (stress protein) and increase the production of collagen, you are preventing them from achieving the cellular hydration, cleansing and cellular reparation. They are in stress mode or fight and flight mode as Dr. Lipton calls it.
As I have mentioned, it is symptomatic medical effect but it has toxic effect on the rest of the body so it should not be done if not necessary.
Skin acne, irritation and inflammation are processes of detoxification so if they are stopped while the toxin is still in the body, this is not a good course of action. Medicinal remedies do this so we think that they are healing us when in fact it is the opposite.
There is a new understanding to the way the body functions and if we start supporting the body instead of poisoning it, we not only heal, we rejuvenate and grow younger. Love an light.
If I understand you correctly, I must say you are not understanding LLL. What it does is stimulate the ATP production in cells. It does not add anything to the body. Further, it only works on cells that are out of balance and have no effect on other cells. If you use it and there is no effect the light frequencies simply exit the body with no harm.
Tanya, everything we know is wrong. We are like a babies awakening to the truth and it is difficult because our brains are already loaded with wrong concepts.
If you do something that alter the cellular activity, you are stimulating the cells. If the cells are forced to produce the heat proteins (stress proteins), the stimulation is on the genetic level and the genes are forcing this cellular reaction. The cellular stress proteins are produced as a defense mechanism so it is not really a benefiting the cellular structure but sometimes, when we have a health problem, this type of reaction helps on the symptomatic level. This is what we cal medicinal action.
It is not wise to do medicinal stimulation when not necessary. Love and light.
I agree. I just started using red light therapy to renew my sagging skin after weight loss. After researching, I am convinced the red light actual damages the cells and the body has to come in and create new ones. This leads to a new and firmer layer of skin. I want that benefit, but know the light does create stress on the body. So I will use it only until I have my desired look. Also, I am eating organic Whole Foods, green juicing, and drinking 2 liters of clean water daily. I am hoping for a great result.
Darko, would this be the same concept with Saunas?
I have used red light therapy for more than a year with a quite elaborate set up of 660 and 840 nm lights facing the head, feet and body. I am a 72 year old male, organic only vegan (utilizing no cooking oils). I utilize quite a few health modalities, (1) One-meal a day (no snacks or foods between meals; only water); (2) 15-minutes (each side) of tanning lights each morning (followed by 20-minutes of red light therapy–each side); followed by one hour of hyperbaric oxygen therapy; and all day long I drink half a glass of water every hour (1 glass of water every hour on hot days), with 1/4th teaspoon mountain mineral salt mixed in every fourth glass of water; and once a week I do a hot sauna (150 degrees) for 20 minutes. These various therapies (modalities of healthful living) do a tremendous job of detoxification of the body, as well as providing new stem cells for maximizing brain cell restoration and body regeneration, new growth hormones, mitochondria stimulation, hydration and oxygenation.
Regarding damage to cells or mitochondria, all the cells of the body grow old, become enfeebled, and die out; that is the normal process. Exercise regularly destroys and the body regularly replaces such cells. So there is NO WAY to stop cell destruction. The objective of my various therapies is to replace old bad cells with new cells of higher quality, and to eliminate as much toxic waste in my body as possible. One meal a day, organic vegan, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, red light therapy, sauna, hourly water hydration, etc., provide me excellent ways to maximize health. And they WORK WELL!
Hi Katie. Thanks for your excellent articles. I would like to clarify that if I read this right, both the joov and Red Light Therapy Co. devices that you have havev used, have both the red and infrared light included. Do you feel that you are getting the full benefit of both frequencies when they are combined? I would like to know if you noticed any liver spots disappearing with the use of both red and infrared? I am interested in the light therapy and would like to address both deep tissue/ connective tissue issues. But I am also interested in addressing the more superficial skin issues such as thickness, lines, mild scars, and age spots. Thanks!
I’ve seen improvements in scars, fine lines and sun spots from both.
So glad to see this article on Low Level Laser. I have been using it for over 10 yrs now, altho not the unit you use. When introduced to the idea of it I tried to research online and only found, as you describe, numerous articles but all in Russian and eastern European languages. This told me that there was at least a 30-40 yr history of its use and research. Began to use LLL from my dentist over 10 yrs ago and it has helped rebuild the soft tissues in my knee so I can walk. Have many terrific stories of healing with LLL including seizures in pets.
Thank you for doing this detailed article on a terrific effective and safe healing protocol
The very first source I checked is from a predatory journal with no credibility as is normal for such woo
Hi Katie, according to the Joovy website, this light used LED lighting. There was an in-depth article on Mercola’s website talking about the dangers of LED lighting to our mitochondria. But he also endorsed the Joovy light. Please clarify. I also posted a comment asking the same thing on his website.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Hi Lori- I replied to your other comment too, but I sent out some emails to experts asking this question and will update the post as I get information. From the recent info I’ve seen, it appears that some types of LED are much safer than others but I”m looking for sources to verify or discredit that.
I was going to ask the same. I have also heard about the flicker caused by LED lights – again a stressor. Another brand that comes highly recommended has shredded some of Joovs claims on their page.
Would you mind telling me the brand of light you were reading about? I’m trying to research. Thank you!
Hi Katie- just wondering if you would still stand by both Joovv and red therapy co being comparable to each other or is one much better than the other?
They are both solid options…
From what I read about the dangers of LED it has to do with the exposure to the light in the evening and night hours. This messes with the melatonin production and disturbs sleep patterns.