NASA began experimenting with red light therapy and ultimately implemented it in the 1990s to stimulate plant growth in space. Many soon discovered that it can help with wound healing. Since then, red light therapy has shown promise in treating several skin conditions. Read on to learn if this emerging therapy can help your skin.
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy, uses a particular wavelength of light to stimulate cellular energy production.
Red light therapy has shown promise in initial studies, but larger, randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm and fully delineate all the benefits of it.
Red light therapy has shown promise in treating wounds, hair loss, wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
Professional red light therapy is generally safe with little to no side side effects.
At-home devices, in untrained hands, have an increased risk of complications.
What is red light therapy?
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level light therapy (LLLT), is a relatively new treatment option that uses a certain wavelength of light to stimulate cells to work better. Red light stimulates the mitochondria in cells, which produces energy. This increased energy production will help cells work better. Unlike some wavelengths of light, red light does not cause heat damage to the skin or remove layers of skin, but it does penetrate deeply to exert its beneficial effects.
The electromagnetic spectrum spans from short gamma rays on one end to long radio waves on the other. This spectrum, from shortest to longest waves, includes gamma rays, x-rays, UV rays, visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves. Visible light, including red light, as the name suggests, is visible to the naked eye. Red light therapy uses red light and near-infrared light to help the skin.
Is red light different from UV light?
While red light and UV light are both on the light spectrum, they behave differently. Red light does not cause the same damage that UV light does. UV light destroys collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. It also mutates DNA, which causes skin cancers. Red light, in fact, stimulates collagen and elastin production. Red light is also used with medications to treat certain skin cancers and precancerous lesions on the skin.
Benefits of red light therapy
Red light therapy is a new emerging technology that has shown great promise. However, there needs to be more research with large randomized controlled trials. The studies thus far that demonstrate positive results are small human trials and trials using nonhuman subjects.
Here are some possible benefits of red light therapy:
- Increase collagen and elastin. This may help with wound healing, scars, wrinkles, and stretch marks.
- Increase blood flow. This may also help with wound healing and hair growth.
- Decrease inflammation. This may help with hair growth, acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
- Activate photosensitizer. This may help treat precancers and skin cancers.
Risks and side effects of red light therapy
Red light therapy is generally considered safe, with little or no side effects, when performed properly by medical professionals. You may experience mild irritation or redness. However, there have not been any studies looking at long-term side effects, so that remains unknown.
If you are using an at-home device, you must follow the manufacturer's directions for use. Otherwise, you risk burning your skin. You should also wear eye protection. It is best to discuss red light therapy with your dermatologist before starting, as it may not be advisable for patients with certain skin conditions or on certain medications.
Patients should avoid red light therapy if they are:
- Pregnant or nursing
- Prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma
- Taking photosensitizing medications
- Suffering from photosensitive medical conditions
- Have a history of photosensitivity, migraines, or seizures
At-home red light therapy vs. professional
At-home red light therapy devices have the same mechanism of action and essentially work the same way as professional ones, but they are not as strong. Stronger professional devices in the hands of untrained people could lead to complications. However, at-home devices still may offer many benefits. The at-home treatments will not give identical results to professional ones, and it may take longer to see noticeable results.
Most people use at-home devices for their anti-aging, acne, and hair growth benefits, and many report positive results. There needs to be more studies on at-home treatments and how they compare to professional ones. At-home treatments may be a cost-effective way to help with anti-aging or as a supplement between professional treatments.
Are at-home devices safe?
There are some drawbacks to at-home treatments. It is possible you could use the device incorrectly and burn your skin, leading to permanent scars. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions on use. Using it longer or more frequently than instructed could damage your skin. You could damage your eyes if the proper eye protection is not used during the treatments. Also, you will not get the same results with at-home devices because they are not as strong as professional treatments.
Selecting an at-home red light therapy device
While at-home devices are more cost effective than professional treatments, you will not get the same level of improvement. But if you still seek to get the best possible results from using at-home red light therapy, here's what you should consider:
- Number of lights. Devices with more lights will give you better results in a shorter period of time.
- Testing. Look for a device that has been rigorously tested and is FDA-cleared.
- Customer satisfaction. Check for numerous good reviews online.
- User experience. You also want to select a device that is easy to use and has quick treatment times.
If you are overwhelmed with the many choices, ask your dermatologist for help and guidance.
Different types of at-home red light devices
There are different types of red light therapy devices for at-home use. They work the same way professional devices do; however, they are not as powerful. You should base your selection on personal preferences and targeted body location. There are devices for complete body treatment and targeted therapy.
- Red light beds can treat your entire body.
- Red light wands are better for use on the body but can be used on the face, arms and legs.
- are specifically designed for the face.
that are better suited to the chest, back, arms, and legs. With the right device, you can treat almost any area of the body. You may want to consider getting a device that contains different lights, not just red. For example, if you have acne, you may want to consider using red and blue lights.
Red light therapy has been increasing in popularity due to its many potential applications. While initial results are encouraging, more research is needed to conclusively prove its benefits. If you want to try red light therapy at home, talk to your dermatologist first. There are many considerations before starting, and you will need professional help and guidance to avoid complications.
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Visible light. Part I: Properties and cutaneous effects of visible light.
- Nitric Oxide. Light-induced nitric oxide release in the skin beyond UVA and blue light: Red & near-infrared wavelengths.
- Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring.