Red Light Therapy: Benefits, Side Effects, and Safety

Red Light Therapy Featured Image

Red light therapy treatment is making waves today. Some use it for boosting their appearance while others for treating certain health issues. It seems to have great potential, which brings us to the following questions:

  • How does it work? 
  • What are the benefits
  • Are there unfavorable effects that you should be aware of? 

This article covers everything you need to know about red light light therapy. Keep reading. 

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy or RLT uses specific wavelengths of light (via LED bulbs) to heal and rejuvenate various areas of the body such as the skin, muscles, scalp, joints, and even the brain. 

While this regimen is being used by professional athletes, celebrities, and health enthusiasts, it was originally part of NASA’s plant growth experiments in space during the 1990s. NASA realized that this space technology had actual benefits on humans. 

Here are other names for red light therapy:

  • Low-level laser therapy (LLLT)
  • Photobiomodulation (PBM)
  • Biostimulation
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Soft laser therapy

You can experience red light therapy in dermatology and laser clinics, wellness centers, health clubs, and other medical office settings.  

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

To use red light therapy, a person sits or stands in front of an RLT device that emits light with wavelengths ranging from 620 to 700 nm.

Varying wavelengths penetrate through your skin at varying depths. 

Red light (620 to 700 nm) reaches the dermis layer of your skin where fibroblasts are located. Dermal fibroblasts are involved in processes that promote wound healing [1, 2]. 

Once exposed to RLT, the mitochondria of the cells in the exposed area will absorb red light energy and increase its energy production. Thus, mitochondria produce more ATP (the energy-carrying molecule), and with more ATP, tissue restoration is enhanced. 

RLT is non-invasive, painless, and gives off almost no heat at all. 

Red Light Therapy Uses & Benefits

The benefits of red light therapy are plenty. While more evidence is needed to prove its effectiveness, here’s what current research studies tell us:

1. Improves acne 

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of Americans. Conventional antibiotic treatments may have side effects, but light-based therapies are associated with zero to minimal complications [3]. 

A study showed that red light, when combined with blue light, effectively reduces inflammatory acne lesions than blue light alone. Wavelengths of red light can stimulate cell and collagen production which helps improve acne [4]. 

2. Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

One of the well-known red light therapy benefits is its ability to increase collagen. As we get older, collagen production in our body decreases. This is why RLT is being used as an anti-aging regimen. 

There are many studies that support its anti-aging benefits. For instance, a 2014 study on female volunteers who received RLT treatments experienced improvements in their wrinkles and skin complexion [5]. 

3. Wound healing

Does red light therapy work for wounds and injuries? 

There’s evidence showing that RLT can help with the healing process of wounds such as surgical incisions. Diabetic foot ulcers and burns may also benefit from red light exposure. A study suggested that a wavelength of 633 nm accelerated wound healing and should be given three times a week [6]. 

Red light also heals sunburns and scars, and reduces pain. 

4. Hair growth

Red light therapy serves as a promising treatment for androgenetic alopecia or male-pattern baldness. 

A double-blind randomized controlled trial was done on male patients whose scalps were exposed to a wavelength of 655 nm. Results suggested a 35% increase in hair growth [7]. The researchers did the study on females this time, using the same wavelength. Results showed a 37% increase in hair growth in the active treatment group [8]. 

5. Healing for bone injuries

Some studies suggest that RLT can help with bone fractures. 

In one study, open osteotomies were conducted on 30 rabbits, and results showed that RLT works by promoting callus formation [9]. 

In another study, a rat fracture model received 660 nm wavelength, which showed to increase the ATP production of fibroblasts [10]. 

A systematic review also found that patients who undergo surgery for maxillofacial bone defects can experience healing and pain relief from RLT [11]. 

6. Helps with arthritis 

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints characterized by joint stiffness, pain, decreased motion, and redness in the affected area. 

It affects millions of people worldwide. The CDC predicts that by 2040, 78 million adults ages 18-24 years old will be diagnosed with arthritis [12].  

Currently, treatments for arthritis include analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and COX2 inhibitors which have adverse side effects [13]. 

In a fully randomized trial, it was demonstrated that red light therapy effectively reduces pain and improves function in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis [14]. 

7. Reduces inflammation 

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to injury and infection. Examples of issues that involve inflammation include swollen pimples, psoriasis, back pain, and muscle soreness. 

Red light therapy works for reducing inflammation and promoting healing by increasing blood flow to the affected area of your body [15]. 

8. May aid in weight loss

It’s no secret that exercise is a proven way to lose weight.

But in the past couple of years, researchers have started to see red light as a non-surgical intervention to reduce fat. For instance, a 2018 study hypothesized how 650 nm LED red light can induce lipolysis similar to a laser device [16].  

A popular theory is that red light works by damaging the membranes of fat cells [17]. 

9. Mood improvement

Natural light is essential to our well-being. It’s known to reduce symptoms of depression and increase energy. As a natural form of therapy, red light may offer the same benefits without the risk of UV exposure.

Light therapy has a positive impact on mood. A research that was done on patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) showed that a single light therapy session improved SAD depression symptoms [18]. 

Another study found that the time of the day didn’t matter for getting light therapy. Either morning or evening light therapy worked for patients [19]. 

Red Light Therapy Side Effects & How to Minimize Them

RLT is painless and non-invasive, and is unlikely to cause side effects. However, individuals should practice safety measures when using the device to avoid the following: 

Burns and blisters

One cause of burns and blisters is improper handling of a device. Make sure to read the user guide that comes with your RLT device. Safety measures include touching the device only with dry hands and not using it if the cord has been damaged. 

In some cases, patients fall asleep with the device on which can lead to serious burns. The key to avoiding this is to choose a device that turns off automatically after the set treatment time. 

Possible eye strain

Staring at LED bulbs for too long can cause eyestrain. Goggles or sunglasses are not required for RLT. However, you can use them if you find the lights to be very bright. Another option would be to close your eyes during your light therapy session. 

Red Light Therapy Risks & Contraindications

We already know that it has the potential for skin healing, hair growth, bone health, weight loss, and mood improvement. But does it carry any risks? Is it contraindicated in certain situations?

Since we’re dealing with light therapy, it’s important to check for photosensitivity. Begin by exposing only a small area of your forearm to the light. Watch out for signs and symptoms of sensitivity such as redness, irritation, and discomfort.  

There are also certain medications that increase your risk of photosensitivity. The FDA lists the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals
  • Diuretics
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Retinoids

For the full list of medications and generic names, check out the FDA

Pregnant women and those with epilepsy should consult their doctor first. 

Red Light Therapy Cost

One session of red light therapy can cost $9 to $25 depending on the exposure time and service provider. 

If you want to do RLT from the comfort of your home, why not get your own device? 

At nuYOU LED, our treatment devices come in all sizes for every need — handheld to portable to full-body (front and back). They also combine red light with near infrared light for greater advantages. 

Feel free to check out our devices and see which one meets your health goals. 

Summary

Red light therapy devices emit wavelengths with potential therapeutic effects for the whole body. It penetrates the skin and reaches the cell, allowing it to produce more energy for healing and restoration. It’s drug-free, painless, and less likely to cause negative side effects. 

We’re already surrounded by scientific studies that support red light. We also look forward to future research that will deepen our understanding of its mechanisms. 

Last but not least, you won’t need a medical prescription for RLT if you’re thinking of getting it today! But make sure to speak with your doctor if you have doubts about it.


References: 

  1. Sorbellini E, Rucco M, Rinaldi F. Photodynamic and photobiological effects of light-emitting diode (LED) therapy in dermatological disease: an update. 2018 July 14 – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10103-018-2584-8
  2. Stunova A, Vistejnova L. Dermal fibroblasts—A heterogeneous population with regulatory function in wound healing. 2018 February 1 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1359610118300029
  3. Pei S et al. Light-based therapies in acne treatment. 2015 May – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439741/
  4. Lee SY, You CE, Park MY. Blue and Red Light Combination LED Phototherapy for
    Acne Vulgaris in Patients with Skin Phototype IV. 2007 – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/lsm.20412
  5. Wunsch A, Matuschka K. A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase. 2014 February 1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  6. Houreld NN. Shedding Light on a New Treatment for Diabetic Wound Healing: A Review on Phototherapy. 2014 January 6 – https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2014/398412/
  7. Lanzafame RJ et al. The growth of human scalp hair mediated by visible red light laser and LED sources in males. 2013 October – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24078483/
  8. Lanzafame RJ et al. The growth of human scalp hair in females using visible red light laser and LED sources. 2014 August 13 – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lsm.22277
  9. Shakouri SK et al. Effect of low-level laser therapy on the fracture healing process. 2009 April 28 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19399356/
  10. Quirk BJ et al. Effect of near-infrared light on in vitro cellular ATP production of osteoblasts and fibroblasts and on fracture healing with intramedullary fixation. 2016 March 10 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5106470/
  11. Santinoni CDS et al. Influence of low-level laser therapy on the healing of human bone maxillofacial defects: A systematic review. 2017 March 7 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28292696/
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis-Related Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm
  13. Hamblin MR. Can osteoarthritis be treated with light? 2013 October 29 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978432/
  14. Stelian J et al. Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow-band light therapy. 1992 January – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1727843/
  15. Keszler A et al. Ascorbate attenuates red light mediated vasodilation: Potential role of S-nitrosothiols. 2018 September 10 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213231718307092
  16. NIH. Effects of Red Light LED Therapy on Body Contouring. 2018 March 19 – https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03470272
  17. Croghan IT et al. Low-level laser therapy for weight reduction: a randomized pilot study. 2019 August 31 – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10103-019-02867-5
  18. Reeves GM et al. Improvement in Depression Scores After 1 Hour of Light Therapy Treatment in Patients With Seasonal Affective Disorder. 2012 January – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5336550/
  19. Parry BL. Light treatment of mood disorders. 2003 December – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181775/

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