Red light therapy can fight aging, reduce inflammation, and even enhance athletic performance. All you need to do is sit or stand for a few moments to soak up those good rays!
There’s a new therapy in town that has researchers seeing the light.
We’ve all heard of various light therapies in the health sphere, but red light therapy stands apart from the rest. Here’s how you can use this safe, simple, and non-invasive method to benefit your entire body.
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What Is Red Light Therapy?
You receive red light therapy (RLT) by sitting or standing next to a device that delivers therapeutic wavelengths of red light to your skin and cells. This painless therapy can help heal wounds, boost collagen production, relieve pain, and reduce inflammation in just a few minutes per day.
Red light therapy was discovered as a healing tool in the 1990s by NASA researchers attempting to grow plants in space. When exposing the plants to red wavelengths, they found it increased cell growth and photosynthesis.
Scientists decided to apply RLT to astronauts, and found that it helped reduce the muscle and bone atrophy from long-term space travel. (1) After that, research exploded over its clinical potential and led to light therapy treatment options popping up around the world.
Other common names for red light therapy are low level light therapy, soft laser therapy, and photobiomodulation. Ultimately, it all means the same thing.
How Red Light Therapy Works
Red light therapy works by strengthening and stimulating our mitochondria – the energy centers of our cells. These centers absorb oxygen, light, and the food we eat and turn it into usable energy in the form of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. This energy powers our day-to-day activities, our digestion, and even helps to fight aging and heal wounds. RLT also activates our lymphatic system to build immunity, carrying waste and toxins out of our bodies. (2, 3)
It’s important to know that RLT is different from other light therapies. This is not one of those SAD lamps that shines bright artificial light. Nor is it a form of laser light therapy that actually damages the surface layers of skin intentionally in order to stimulate new growth.
Red light therapy is different, and only penetrates about 5 millimeters below your skin’s surface, where it directly stimulates cellular regeneration, without causing damage.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy
There’s an impressive amount of research and promise surrounding RLT and its ability to heal the body. Let’s shine a light on everything we know it can do so far.
Red Light Therapy and Inflammation
Studies show that RLT reduces inflammation markers in activated inflammatory cells, helping to soothe achy swelling in joints, wounds, your brain and spinal cord, and even in abdominal fat! (4)
Researchers theorize that RLT reduces inflammation by increasing your natural antioxidant production, which rids the body of free radicals. It also stimulates your lymphatic system, which helps flush out toxins and reduces the cytokines that fuel inflammation. (5, 6)
When you quell inflammation, it helps reduce pain – especially the kind stemming from inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Several studies show that RLT can help reduce knee pain in osteoarthritis patients, while also helping to regenerate cartilage in the area. (7, 8)
Red Light Therapy and Anti-Aging
RLT also shows promise when it comes to shaving off a few years with a fresher complexion. Research finds that it can significantly boost collagen synthesis, a major factor in maintaining supple, wrinkle-free, and youthful skin.
Collagen, the most abundant protein in our bodies, is responsible for giving skin its elasticity and keeping connective tissue strong. As we age, collagen is broken down and becomes weaker, causing sagging and wrinkling.
One study found that RLT can smooth wrinkles, reduce roughness, enhance skin tone, and regenerate skin. Since it also helps reduce inflammation, RLT can aid in inflammatory skin disorders like acne. (9)
Another study found women aged 30–55 who received daily RLT treatments significantly reduced wrinkles and boosted the moisture in their faces. (10)
Red Light Therapy and Sleep
Light is an extremely important factor in the quality of our nightly zzz’s. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythms, while blue light from electronic devices can interrupt melatonin production to keep us awake at night. (11) This is one of the reasons it’s commonly recommended to put away your phone and other devices an hour before bed.
Unlike blue light, red light can actually promote a restful night’s sleep. One study found that RLT helped improve sleep in patients with sleep problems, while another discovered that it significantly improved quality of sleep and melatonin levels in just 14 days. (12, 13)
Additional Benefits of Red Light Therapy
New benefits are emerging as scientists continue to study RLT. Here are a few more promising results.
1. Aids in Muscle Recovery
If you tucker out quickly during a workout, you might want to try RLT. Studies show that it can help increase athletic performance, as well as reduce soreness following a workout. (14) Rugby players in particular experienced accelerated recovery times when using RLT. (15)
2. Boosts Cognition
3. Improves Thyroid Health
Research shows that RLT can significantly improve thyroid function – even to the point of decreasing patients’ need for a common thyroid medication! (18) This can in turn help keep your hormones happy.
How to Choose a Right Light Therapy Device
If you Google search red light therapy, you’ll probably find that there are quite a few options to consider. You can go to a salon and get a full-body RLT session, visit a spa or a dermatologists’ office for a targeted session, or even purchase a device to use in your home.
A few questions to ask yourself before deciding on a treatment option:
1. What’s my budget?
You’ll need to engage in multiple sessions before you start to see results. Most people start out with weekly sessions at a local spa or gym. Determine your budget to decide if you can afford multiple sessions per week, or if doing a one-time investment into your own device would be a better option.
2. What area am I looking to treat?
Are you looking to treat just your face as an anti-aging tool, or are you looking for more full-body benefits to decrease pain and inflammation? This will determine whether you should go for your own handheld device or invest in daily/weekly RLT full-body sessions.
3. How much time do I have?
Sessions can run anywhere from five to 30 minutes each, depending on the device. For convenience, you may want to consider choosing your own device to use at home. That way, you can do red light treatments consistently, which typically delivers the best results.
If you choose to save costs and time by investing in your own device, we recommend that you find a high-quality brand like Joovv.
Unlike other products, Joovv uses clinical-grade power that’s been independently tested and gives you a more effective treatment in less time. They’re available in many different sizes, and our favorite is their stackable modular device that allows you to build your own custom full-body RLT system at home.
Joovv also delivers – by far – the most total energy among consumer light therapy products. This is important because most device companies simply give what is called an “irradiance” reading, which is a basic measurement of light delivered by the device. This doesn’t take into account how much surface area that power covers, or how much energy is actually reaching you.
Any product can deliver a certain amount of light, but not all can cover a big enough surface area, or more importantly, deliver clinically-relevant power to your entire body. Joovv’s independent, third-party testing and FDA registration ensures that you’re getting that all-important energy delivered right to your cells.
The Bottom Line
Red light therapy shows a lot of promise for conditions like inflammation, pain, skin disorders, thyroid issues, and even mood problems. It’s safe, backed by research, and showing positive results, so we recommend you give it a try.