Proven Scientific Results of Red Light Therapy
The primary key to red light therapy's effectiveness is its ability to reach deep into the skin without damaging it. Red light therapy machines use red and infrared light to penetrate 2 to 7 centimeters into inner skin layers, reaching muscles, nerves, and bones. After penetrating the skin, red and infrared light is absorbed by photoreceptors in the body's cells. This sparks a series of metabolic events and natural processes within the cells.
Cells become more energized: After absorbing red light, each cell’s mitochondria get an energy boost. Mitochondria, considered the powerhouse of the cell, is where energy is produced. By increasing the function of mitochondria, they’re able to make more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy-carrying molecule found in all cells of living things. This results in cells having more energy to function correctly
Cells regenerate and repair themselves faster: Because of the excess energy from red light therapy, many experts believe cells gain an enhanced ability to restore and repair themselves. This sparks healing in skin and muscle tissues. The faster cells can regenerate and repair, the more rapid injuries can heal.
Nitric oxide is released: Nitric oxide is a gas that’s essential to healthy arteries. Nitric oxide helps relax arteries, fights free radicals to reduce oxidative stress, prevents platelet clumping in vessels, and regulates blood pressure. As a result, the molecule enhances blood circulation to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues. This stimulates the regeneration and repair of injured tissues to reduce pain and inflammation.
Collagen production is increased: Collagen is a protein that provides structure to the skin. It’s also present in muscle and connective tissue. During the healing of injuries, separated tissues are stitched back together via a latticework primarily made up of collagen. When exposed to red and infrared light, collagen production increases, and collagen degradation decreases. More collagen production means the skin is better equipped to heal effectively.
Stem cells are activated: When exposed to red and infrared light, our body’s stem cells become activated. Stem cells are the body’s raw materials and are where specialized cells such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, or bone cells come from. When activated, stem cells travel through the bloodstream to the affected area. They then transform into the cell-type needed to aid in the healing process. One study showed that using red and infrared light therapy effectively activates stem cells in bone marrow to assist in the healing process.
Proven, Scientific Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy has proven to be versatile for treating many pain types, including foot, hand, joint, and neck pain. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support red light therapy use in weight loss, cancer, cellulite removal or mental health concerns like depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Promotes the healing and tissue repair: Research published in the medical journal Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia found that it effectively promoted healing by reducing the number of inflammatory cells present. Thus, stimulating new blood vessels (known as angiogenesis), increasing collagen production, and boosting fibroblast production.
Improves blood flow: A study was conducted and found red light therapy to improve blood flow for those with chronic heel pain. Red light therapy improves blood flow by increasing the energy cells have. Thus, giving them the needed energy to trigger physiological effects such as increased blood flow.
Improves joint health: One study on the effects of red light therapy lamps on elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee found it useful in reducing pain, improving the joint’s health, and increasing the period between retreatment.
Relieves pain and inflammation: Another study exposed seven patients with bilateral Achilles tendinitis to red light therapy. They found all 14 tendons to have reduced inflammation as well as pain after the exposure. The study concluded that red light therapy has potential in the management of conditions with inflammation.
Enhances recovery from exercise or injury: Red light therapy has gained significant traction as a recovery aid for athletes. The US track team was noticed bringing a $181,000 red light therapy bed to the Rio Olympics. Red light therapy and Harvard expert Micheal Hamblin is quoted saying, “red light therapy may help you recover from exercise, sleep better, heal wounds and injuries like tendonitis, reduce arthritis.” Another study conducted on 65 athletes with various sprains, strains, ligament damage, tendonitis, and contusions found red light therapy to give them an average return to play timeline of 9.6 days compared to the mean anticipated timeline of 19.23 days.
Safe for all skin types: Out of all the research done, there have been no reports on red light therapy being harmful to any specific skin type. It is generally a safe treatment method. However, one should note that too much of any kind of light can be harmful to the skin. Moderation is vital with red light therapy.
Serves as an alternative to prescription medications: Prescribed medications, depending on the type, pose risks to long-term health and can be addictive. By nature, red light therapy is non-addictive and can be used as an alternative or interchangeably with traditional drugs.
Improves bone repair and growth: A study conducted on rats with Osteoporosis found red light therapy to enhance bone repair and growth. This treatment was effective via stimulation of the newly formed bone, fibro vascularization, and angiogenesis.
Promotes a healthy and active lifestyle: Less pain and injury recovery time means you’re able to be more active. Chronic pain limits usage of injured areas, which can deter one’s ability to lead a healthy and active life. By reducing pain and enhancing the healing process via red light therapy, you’re able to minimize any limitations you may have from injuries.
Increased cellular metabolism: An effect red light therapy has on cells is increased energy. This increased energy in cells leads to better performance, reduced inflammation, and better regulated cellular reproduction. All of these effects lead to increased metabolism and improved functioning of the body’s organs.
Increased muscle mass: Red light therapy promotes the growth of muscle mass. A byproduct of having more muscle mass is it requires more energy, which means you burn more calories when resting. A study found that athletes exposed to red light therapy had improved muscle recovery and increased muscle mass.
Red Light Therapy Pros and Cons
Red light therapy, while complicated, does present itself as an excellent source of pain relief and overall better health. To make your decision easier, we've highlighted a few pros and cons of this treatment:
What are the pros and cons of red light therapy?
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Does red light therapy work for inflammation?
Natural light therapy & inflammation treatment
Red light therapy alleviates chronic inflammation by increasing blood flow to the damaged tissues. It’s been found in numerous clinical trials to increase the body’s antioxidant defenses.
Is infrared cancerous?
Visible and infrared light does not cause sunburns and they are not known to directly be a skin cancer risk.
What are the side effects of infrared?
Infrared light may cause thermal injury even if you do not feel pain for certain types of IR light exposure.
Hyperpigmentation, scaling, and telangiectasias (erythema ab igne) may occur from repeated IR exposures of elevated temperatures, even if the skin is not burned. Skin cancer is not expected from exposure to IR.
What does red light do to your brain?
The theory is that red light wavelengths stimulate the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps you sleep. Your brain releases more melatonin as darkness falls and tends to release less when you're exposed to light.