The Benefits of Red Light Therapy
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.
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.
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.