Did you know that red light can play an essential role in boosting immunity, tissue repair, improving joints and anti-aging?

The red light therapy uses red low-level wavelengths of light to promote tissue recovery by increasing blood flow and collagen stimulation. Though red light therapy has grown in popularity in recent years, it has been around for more than 50 years (1).

Let us learn more about red light therapy and its benefits.

What is red light therapy?

The red light therapy uses low power red light wavelengths to treat various health conditions. Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), biostimulation (BIOS),  photonic stimulation, and light box therapy, this therapy has a positive effect on the human endocrine and immune system.

During this therapy, low powered red light wavelengths are emitted directly through the skin. When the red light is absorbed into the skin at a depth of eight to 10 millimeters, it has a positive effect on cellular energy and other nervous and metabolic processes in the body.

Red light produces a biochemical effect in the cells, and this strengthens the mitochondria. These mitochondria are considered to be the powerhouse of the cell as it is where the cell’s energy is created.

When the function of mitochondria is increased, a cell can make more adenosine triphosphate (2).

Red light therapy also helps in the stimulation of DNA and RNA synthesis (3). It helps boost immunity by activating the lymphatic system. Red light increases blood flow which helps bring more oxygen to the cells and tissues.

It helps in repairing the damaged soft connective tissue. It also helps decrease inflammation which aids the healing process.

History of red light therapy

The history of red light therapy or low-level laser therapy dates back to the 1990s when NASA scientists began developing infrared light technologies that could be used to grow plants in space.

The scientist discovered that the intense light from red light emitting diodes (LEDs) helped in the growth and photosynthesis of plants.

Over the years, different types of phototherapy light boxes have been used for the treatment of skin ailments, mood-related problems, chronic pain conditions, and sleep issues.

According to an article published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering in 2012, red light is used to reduce inflammation, edema and chronic joint disorders.

It also helps promote the healing of wounds, deeper tissues, and nerves. It is used to treat neurological disorders and pain (4).

Benefits of red light therapy

1. Wound healing and tissue repair

Red light penetrates deep into the skin and promotes tissue repair, wound healing, and skin rejuvenation.  Most laser therapies cause intentional damage to the epidermis or the dermis, which leads to inflammation, followed by healing.

Red light therapy does not cause any damage to the epidermis and stimulates skin rejuvenation through increased cell proliferation, migration, and adhesion. Several studies have also found red light therapy to be effective in healing sun damage.

In 2014, a group of scientist from Brazil conducted a scientific review of the effect of red light on wound healing.

The review, which included 68 studies, concluded that phototherapy by laser or LED is an effective therapeutic modality to promote healing of skin wounds (5).

2. Reduces the side effects of cancer treatment

According to research by NASA and the University of Alabama, red light therapy can help cancer patients by reducing the symptoms of cancer and side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

When far red/near-infrared light-emitting diode devices are used, it releases long wavelength energy in the form of photons, which stimulate cells and aid healing.

When NASA used High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate (HEALS) to treat mucositis in cancer patients, 96 percent of the patients experienced an improvement in pain.

This improvement shows that HEALS device can be a useful device for cancer patients (6).

HEALS technology is also used for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors, diabetic skin ulcers, burns, slow healing wounds, and infections.

3. Improves skin

Red and near-infrared light help stimulate the production of collagen, which is directly connected to the elasticity, firmness, and fullness of the skin.

According to a 2014 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, red light therapy is effective and safe for skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase when compared to controls (7).

The study found that the volunteers treated with red light experienced an improvement in their skin complexion, skin tone, reduced lines and wrinkles, and an increased collagen density.

Even patients of rosacea found an improvement in their symptoms after using this therapy.

Red light therapy also improves acne because it impacts the sebum production which is the primary cause of acne.

4. Improves hair growth

According to one study red light therapy helps increase hair follicle activity which improves hair thickness and density.

According to the researchers, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) appears to be quite useful and safe in promoting hair growth in men and women (8).

5. Optimizes metabolism

Red light therapy improves the body’s ability to metabolize fat (9). This therapy helps in dispersing adipocytes, which are cells that store fats.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Obesity Surgery, when participants were given light therapy at 635-680 nanometers for four weeks, the participant achieved a significant reduction in waist circumference.

6. Improves joint and musculoskeletal health

Thanks to its ability to stimulate the production of collagen and rebuilding cartilage, red light therapy is now being used to treat the symptoms of arthritis.

According to a Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, LLLT could be considered for short-term treatment for pain relief and morning stiffness for rheumatoid arthritis patients (10).

Red light therapy can even benefit people who show signs of tissue damage or degeneration due to aging.  According to a 2009 study, LLLT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of therapy in patients with chronic neck pain (11).

LLLT significantly improves functional outcomes in patients with musculoskeletal disorders even though there may not be any reduction in pain (12).

7. Reduce anxiety and depression

Red light therapy is also effective in alleviating depression and anxiety and elevating mood.

During a 2009 study, a group of researchers from Harvard University tested the effects of infrared light on ten subjects with depression.

When an infrared light was applied to the forehead of these patients for 16 minutes, the patients experienced a highly significant reduction in both depression and anxiety scores (13).

According to traditional Chinese medicine, red light is considered to be naturally energizing, and it helps improve mood by increasing self-confidence, social awareness, and social skills.

8. Enhances brain function

Red light helps improve brain function. When the researchers at the University of Texas, applied infrared light on the foreheads of healthy volunteers and measured its effects of cognitive parameters like memory, attention, and mood, they observed an improvement in reaction time, memory and positive emotional state.

Another controlled study compared the cognitive effects of transcranial laser stimulation and acute aerobic exercise on some cognitive tasks.

The results showed that transcranial laser stimulation and acute aerobic exercise were both effective for cognitive enhancement, suggesting that they similarly augmented prefrontal cognitive functions (14).

9. Increases testosterone

Testosterone levels begin to decline by the age of 30, which can lead to reduced sexual function, decreased muscle mass, and low energy levels. 

In 2013 Korean researchers studied the impact of testicular exposure to red and infrared light in rats. The results of the study showed that the group of rats that were exposed to red and infrared light had elevated testosterone levels (15).

This indicates that red light therapy can also be used to increase testosterone levels in the body.

How to use red light therapy?

Some spas, rheumatologists, and dermatologists offer red light therapy treatment. You can ask your doctor to give you a referral for a trained professional.

You can also get the benefits of red light therapy at home. There are many FDA approved home devices available online.

Side effects of red light therapy

Red light therapy is generally considered safe and painless. However, if you use an inappropriate device or an incorrect dosage, it can cause side effects.

Make sure that you work with a trained LLLT practitioner when you need treatment. You can develop burns and blisters if the dosage is not correct or if the red light therapy unit is not working correctly.

Always use proper eye protection while undergoing red light therapy to prevent damage to your eyes.

Other light based therapies

Red light wavelengths are not the only wavelengths that have been studied for medicinal purposes. There are many other light-based therapies available:

  • Blue light therapy
  • Green light therapy
  • Laser treatments
  • Sauna light therapy
  • Ultraviolet light B (UVB)
  • Psoralen and ultraviolet light A (PUVA)

Final thoughts

Red light therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), biostimulation (BIOS), uses low power red light wavelengths to improve wound healing, improve skin, optimize metabolism and reduce pain.

Though it is generally considered safe to use, improper use of red light therapy devices can lead to burns and blisters. However, it is best to check with a doctor before you start any new treatment.

The red light therapy uses low power red light wavelengths to treat various health conditions and has a positive effect on the immune system