What Is Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy (RLT) is a technique that uses low-level wavelengths of light to treat loss of integrity in the skin. Red light is a natural occurrence emitted from the sun, but is mixed with all sorts of other light of varied wavelengths.
Originally, RLT was used in space in the early 1990’s as a method to help plants grow. Scientists then made the link that if RLT can help regenerate plant cells, then why not human cells as well.
RLT is not to be confused with ultra-violet light, which is also emitted naturally by the sun. Unlike ultra-violet light which causes damage to the skin in high doses, low-level red light is isolated in order to heal and repair.
How Does It Work
RLT is thought of as a natural, non-invasive treatment that emits red light through a modular device including those referred to as Joovvs.
Through a Joovv, the red light causes a chemical reaction in the mitochondria of the cells.
The mitochondria are responsible for energy and cell regeneration. RLT assists with increasing ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, an essential molecule that gives all living things usable energy.
Put more plainly, RLT helps with skin and bodily wound repair.
Red Therapy Benefits
RLT helps with collagen and cellular energy production, which means the body benefits in several ways:
- Treatment of joint pain and inflammation
- Wrinkle reduction
- Anti-aging treatment
- Muscle tissue repair
- Stimulates hair growth, specifically for people with hair loss disorders (i.e. androgenic alopecia)
- Improvements in skin complexion
- Heals sun-damaged skin
- Assists with healing difficult wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers
- Short-term treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Short-term treatment of side effects from cancer-related treatments.
- Weight loss
Avci et al. (2013) found that RLT can increase skin pigmentation in those with skin coloring type disorders as well as treat inflammatory diseases such as acne and psoriasis.
Rashoud et al. (2013) conducted a randomized controlled trial including 49 patients with osteoarthritis of the knees.
The test group received RLT in laser form directed on acupuncture pressure points, and the results showed significant decrease in knee pain.
Mitchell & Mack (2013) tested 15 healthy people using low-level red laser therapy to see if red light could generate nitrous oxide at the treated area of the body.
Increasing nitrous oxide supposedly promotes peripheral blood flow, which is very important for overall circulation of the body as well as wound healing.
The study showed that red light therapy does in fact generate nitrous oxide 5 minutes into treatment for healthy participants.
There are thousands more research papers similar to these mentioned studies that are finding out just how effective RLT can be.
Red Light Therapy For Pain
Pain is obviously a subjective medical phenomenon because everyone perceives it differently.
Pain can result from injury, neurological disorders, psychosomatic disorders, and age-related breakdown of tissue and bone.
Some individuals have a common cause including disorders and inflammation of the joints which have all been researched in connection to RLT.
Aside from the study conducted by Rashoud et al. (2013), two more research studies have come out since then in 2018 regarding the treatment of osteoarthritis in the knees and RLT.
Researchers found that RLT combined with stretching and exercise of the knees produced significantly less pain in participants than stretching and exercises alone (Gnomes, 2018 & Paolilo et al. 2018).
Joint pain & inflammation
When we talk about joint pain and inflammation, causes can range from debilitating arthritis to common morning stiffness.
Brosseau L, Welch V, et al. (2000) found that RLT helped reduce morning stiffness significantly in participants in duration by almost 28 minutes.
Knee pain is not always caused by arthritis. In some cases, the pain is unexplainable but still hurts all the same.
Bjordal JM, Couppe C, et al. (2013) reviewed 11 studies regarding RLT and general knee pain.
The concluding literature review suggests that RLT is very effective in treatment of general knee pain as well as improving knee joint function.
In cases where knee pain is caused by injury to tissue, RLT still has its place in treatment. Two independent research groups studied the significant changes in participants with meniscal tears and cartilage damage.
Both groups found that RLT did in fact significantly reduce pain and side effects that come with both types of knee injuries (S. G.N. et al., 2017 and Malliaropoulos N, et al., 2013).
Hand & wrist pain
Research has also found RLT to be tremendously effective for persons with osteoarthritis of the hands.
And also with more complex conditions such as Bouchard & Heberden’s nodes of the hand which are bony outgrowths that cause swelling, pain, and reduced range of the hand.
Baltzer, Ostapczuk, and Stosch (2016) found that RLT reduced the swelling of the hands, decreased overall pain caused by the outgrowths, and increased overall range of the joints of the hands.
Red Light Therapy For Face & Skin
The most exciting and consistent benefits of RLT is skin rejuvenation and repair.
None of us are immune from the physical changes that comes with aging, especially those changes concerning the skin. This includes treating acne, wrinkles, scar tissue, and sun-damaged skin.
Some researchers state that RLT holds promise for anti-aging and maintaining that youthful glow.
For Wrinkles & Collagen Production
As we mentioned previously, RLT assists in collagen production which gives the skin strength and elasticity.
So in a way, excessive collagen production through red light application is a method of anti-aging because it minimizes wrinkles and other skin damage that simply comes with growing older.
Acne plagues many teenagers as well as some adults. Dermatologists have been using photo-therapy (blue and red light therapy) for years in treating mild to moderate acne.
How it works is that phototherapy is used to kill off bacteria in the skin that is causing acne outbreak.
Generally, a person needs to participate in several phototherapy sessions to see results.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that involves a high speed turnover of skin cells.
As a result, the individual with psoriasis has observable silver flaking of the skin as well as painful skin irritation.
This disorder can be annoying, painful, and embarrassing. Patients with psoriasis have been known to undergo both RLT and Ultra-violet (UV) therapy for treatment and have seen successful results.
Hair loss can inevitably come with age, but some people have hormonal or hereditary conditions that cause rapid hair loss as well as the inability to grow hair back.
RLT used across the scalp is said to irradiate photons in the scalp which means these photons are absorbed by weaker cells to stimulate hair growth.
The idea is to increase circulation in order to stimulate hair follicles to grow hair.
Red Light Therapy Devices For Home
Believe it or not, you can use red light therapy in your own home without going to a hospital or an outpatient clinic.
Since RLT is non-invasive and safer than other medical alternatives, products have been made for safe home use. All you have to do is conduct a little research of your own to determine which device is right for you.
Choosing a device
In order to choose the right RLT device for home use, you need to familiarize yourself with some strange terminology:
Wavelength is important to consider because this determines the intensity of the red light.
The typical range of red light is somewhere between 600 and 900 nm. 600 is practically orange whereas 900 is infrared levels which is not commonly found in available RLT devices anyway.
The most common range for in-home devices lies between 630 to 700 nm.
Cells can only absorb so much energy at one time, so it’s important to research devices that have energy output that matches your needs.
Persons who are treatment basic skin conditions only need 3-4 Joules/cm². Other individuals who are looking to treat moderate to severe joint inflammation may need a device that has an energy output up to 120 Joules/cm².
Determining the transfer time, or how long it takes for energy to reach the cells, requires a little bit more math on your part rather than looking up the measurements on the device instructions.
If the device reads energy output in Joules/minute rather than Joules/cm², then it’s a whole lot easier figure out how much time you need to spend under the red light.
Naturally, people exploring a new treatment will have some reservations. Let’s take a look at a few questions that commonly surface when new users open their RLT devices for the first time:
How long does it take for red light therapy to work?
This greatly depends on the person, the condition in which they are treating, and their dedication to their treatment schedule.
For some skin and joint inflammation, users have reported observing results within a matter of days or weeks. For larger or full-body benefits, recovery results might not become noticeable until after about 2-3 months.
Is red light therapy safe?
Reputable RTL device companies, such as Joovv, only use red or near-infrared light in their products which is clinically proven to be safe for users.
However despite the numerous studies that have been conducted, not all research can account for every health condition combined with RLT.
Please consult with your primary physician if you have concerns about using RLT because of other medical conditions you may already be diagnosed with.
What are the side effects?
After years of rigorous research, this non-invasive treatment has not been known to directly cause side effects. However, if you think that you are possibly experiencing side effects after using RLT, consult with your doctor immediately.
Does it help lose weight?
Yes, RLT has been researched and shown to assist with weight loss. Red light targets cells for energy production and additionally adipocytes or cells that are responsible for storing fat. Red light is shown to disperse fat lipids or “wash away” fat.
Not only does red light disperse fat, it also has been found to target hormones responsible for hunger. By reducing the leptin and ghrelin, RLT has the potential to curb hunger to prevent over-eating.
Red Light Therapy Beds
Red light therapy beds are a “you mean business” type of RLT device. Red light therapy beds are relatively new to the market, so long-term benefits have not been intensely studied yet.
However, short-term benefits include improvements in the skin, hair, and overall body have been noted by researchers and clinicians.
How they work?
The structure of an RLT bed is very similar to a tanning bad.
Instead of lying on a glass bed with a lid that produces UV rays for tanning skin, you lie on a bed that produces low-level red light for skin repair.
Are they dangerous?
Side effects are very limited, but have been known to happen due to prolonged or misuse.
Examples include headaches and eye strain from the light glare, nausea, dizziness, and skin sun-sensitivity.
Going over the number of recommended sessions may actually inhibit skin repair.
How much do they usually cost?
Therapy bed sessions are a bit more expensive than other treatment devices, ranging from $150 to $350 per session.
There is no insurance coverage available for RLT on a general practice level. However, some private insurance companies recognize the health benefits of RLT and may cover at least the device or other dermatologic applications.
In short, red light therapy is a fairly new but intensely studied non-invasive treatment for skin, hair, and joint disorders.
Researchers continue to learn more and more about the benefits of natural red light contained in a ready-to-use device.
Start your research and talk to an expert soon if you think red light therapy may be the right treatment avenue for you.
Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M et al. “Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring.” Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 March ; 32(1): 41–52.
Al Rashoud AS, Abboud RJ, Wang W, Wigderowitz C. “Efficacy of low-level laser therapy applied at acupuncture points in knee osteoarthritis: a randomised double-blind comparative trial.” Physiotherapy. 2014 Sep;100(3):242-8.
Mitchell UH, Mack GL. “Low-level laser treatment with near-infrared light increases venous nitric oxide levels acutely: a single-blind, randomized clinical trial of efficacy.” Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 Feb;92(2):151-6.
Paula Gomes CAF, et al. Incorporation of photobiomodulation therapy into a therapeutic exercise program for knee osteoarthritis: A placebo-controlled, randomized, clinical trial. 2018 Oct;50(8):819-828.
Paolillo FR, et al. Ultrasound plus low-level laser therapy for knee osteoarthritis rehabilitation: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Rheumatology International. 2018 May;38(5):785-793.
Bjordal JM, Couppe C, et al. A systematic review of low level laser therapy with location-specific doses for pain from chronic joint disorders. The Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. 2003; 49(2): 107-16.
Brosseau L, Welch V, et al. Low level laser therapy for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Rheumatology. Aug 2000; 27(8): 1961-9.
S GN, et al. Radiological and biochemical effects (CTX-II, MMP-3, 8, and 13) of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic osteoarthritis in Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia. Lasers in Medical Science. 2017 Feb;32(2):297-303.
 Malliaropoulos N, et al. Low-level laser therapy in meniscal pathology: a double-blinded placebo-controlled trial. Lasers in Medical Science. 2013 Jul;28(4):1183-8.