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Red Light Therapy

According to current research, red light therapy may be beneficial in improving skin, wound healing, and pain management.

Red light therapy primarily utilizes the therapeutic application of light energy to help heal skin and muscle conditions, such as scars and tendonitis. By exposing the body to low-wavelength red light (620 to 750 nanometers), red light therapy stimulates cells to produce more energy, which may lead to countless health benefits.

While there are some promising studies showing the efficacy of red light therapy, more research is needed to fully determine its potential benefits. In fact, it has been used successfully in many different clinical settings.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

When it comes to discovering the potential benefits of red light therapy, this first came from outer space voyages.

Back in October 1995, red light sources—part of the visible light spectrum—got their first taste of space shuttle action during the second U.S. Microgravity Laboratory Spacelab mission (STS-73, Columbia). They were part of experiments investigating plant growth.

“It was during these experiments that astronauts managing the plant growth chambers noticed something intriguing—little scratches on their hands began to heal,” says red light therapy researcher Dr. Janis T. Eells, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “In space, nothing heals easily, so NASA poured years of research into these lights for human trials.”

These investigations ultimately led to the revelation that red light therapy could be intentionally employed as a form of photomedicine—using light for health and healing purposes. Visible light can penetrate biological tissues like cells, muscle tissues, and nerve tissues, with red and near-infrared (NIR) light penetrating deeper than green, blue, or violet light.

“With red light therapy, you expose a part of your body to a specific wavelength of red light emitted by a device that can range from handheld to whole-body,” explains Dr. Casey Kelley, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. “In essence, the red light kick-starts your cells into working at an elevated level.”


How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy works by activating your mitochondria, or the power of your cells. With this boost to your cells’ energy centers, cells can do their jobs, like healing and growth, more efficiently. Think of it like your morning coffee – red light therapy helps your cells get revved up and get the job done efficiently! Red light therapy and other low-intensity light therapies utilize a phenomenon called photobiomodulation, which is how different components of our cells are activated or respond to different wavelengths of light. To further explain their effectiveness, it can be helpful to compare the effects of red light therapy with traditional skin devices such as lasers and intense pulsed light to obtain results. Lasers cause controlled damage to the skin to trigger an inflammatory reaction to promote wrinkle reduction and reduced redness. Conversely, red light therapies don’t cause trauma to the skin, meaning positive effects are seen without the discomfort, healing time and possible reactive swelling of traditional lasers. In other words, while red light therapy can penetrate up to 6 millimeters below the surface of the skin, it does not have to cause damage in order to promote cellular activity.

How to Use Red Light Therapy

In fact, the intensity and quality of LED red light varies so much that it is difficult to give blanket recommendations on frequency and duration of use. In general, each device provides safety guidelines based on the dose and power of LED red light.

Those looking to get the most benefit from red light therapy should first consider experiencing red light therapy in a clinical setting. Most studies are based on in-office medical-grade devices that have calculable energy outputs and treatment durations.

However, trying red light therapy at home – possibly in the form of a mask, lamp or wand – may also be safe and effective.

While red light therapy is not dramatic, it is safe and convenient to use at home, and it can gradually improve skin texture, which many people find more convenient than a trip to the dermatologist’s office. As long as the manufacturer’s instructions are followed carefully, it’s fine to do red light therapy at home three to five times a week. However, it is important to use goggles (such as LED shields) to avoid eye damage.

In addition, people need to be realistic about the benefits that personal devices can provide.

Always read the instructions carefully before use, don’t become overly reliant on home devices and don’t make the mistake of thinking that using them for longer than recommended will give better results.” The bottom line is that home red light devices are a no-brainer, but be realistic – a device that sells for $200 on Amazon isn’t likely to deliver the same amazing results as a $180,000 laser device.


Who to Speak to About Red Light Therapy

It has now been discovered that light can and should be prescribed like any medicine – we call it ‘phototherapy’. There are different prescribed treatments for each condition, designed to achieve specific results.

Therefore, who you need to consult for red light therapy depends on the condition you want to treat. However, a good place to start is with a dermatologist or integrative/functional medicine physician who has experience with red light therapy.



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