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Red Light Therapy vs Other Wellness Modalities

Posted on March 22, 2020

What are the differences between red light therapy and other treatments, like blue light, bright light, heat lamps, saunas, tanning, cryotherapy, and diets like paleo and keto.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers concentrated natural light to your skin and cells. Treatments are quick and easy: all you have to do is sit or stand in the light for 5 to 15 minutes, ideally every day.

A high-quality home device uses medical-grade LEDs to shine natural red and near infrared light on your body. Just like the wavelengths of light your body needs from natural sunlight, but without the heat or UV rays that cause sun damage, and without the need for sunny weather.

Backed by clinical research: Red light therapy is backed by thousands of peer-reviewed medical studies and clinical trials, which have shown overwhelmingly positive results, and an almost total lack of side effects or health risks.

Other names for red light therapy include RLT, photobiomodulation (PBM), phototherapy, LED therapy, LED light therapy, infrared therapy, low-level laser therapy or low level light therapy (LLLT).

How to Do a Red Light Therapy Treatment

Consistency and proper use is key for effective red light therapy.

For optimal results with a high-quality, LED-based device, follow these basics for general wellness benefits:

  • Position yourself about 6 inches from the device

  • Expose your skin for best results

  • Approximately 4-6 minute treatment times per coverage area

  • Daily use is ideal

  • Any time of day

Where Did Red/NIR Light Therapy Come From?

Red light therapy has become a popular natural health intervention in professional settings, and with home devices like WellFit Recovery Zone.

Light therapy technology has been used in medicine for decades, and NASA experimented with red light therapy use in space in the 1980s and 1990s. [1] In the last 10-20 years, red light therapy has become more widely used thanks to breakthroughs in LED lighting technology that made affordable home devices possible. Major advances in clinical light therapy research, and increased public interest in natural health technologies, have also contributed to the growing use and popularity of red light therapy.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Our cells need natural light to function, just like they need water and nutrients from food. Unfortunately, most people don’t get as much natural light as they need for optimal health (the average American spends over 90% of their time indoors). [2] Red light therapy allows you to supplement the light you get from your environment with concentrated wavelengths of red and near infrared light at home.

Red light therapy works by enhancing your energy production at a cellular level. Healthy, natural light stimulates the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, and enhances the cellular respiration process that makes ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy. Humans make ATP every day, and it fuels everything we do. The more energy our cells can make, the better our bodies look, heal, feel, and perform.

Red light therapy reduces oxidative stress and nitric oxide, for a more efficient cellular environment. Red light therapy has also been found to enhance blood circulation, reduce the body’s inflammation, and encourage antioxidant production. [3]

Red Light Therapy Versus Other Health Modalities

As a term, “red light therapy” refers to treatments from LEDs or cold lasers that deliver wavelengths of natural red and near infrared light. These are the same therapeutic wavelengths that come from natural sunlight, but without the UV rays or heat.

In the following sections, we compare and contrast red light therapy with other modalities like heat lamps and saunas.

What isn’t red light therapy? The term “red light therapy” does not include white light, blue light or blue LED masks, and it is not the same as full spectrum light. Red light therapy does not rely on heat, a major difference between natural light treatments and heat-based modalities like an infrared sauna, traditional sauna, or other type of heat therapy.

Red Light Therapy Versus Blue Light

Today, people are overloaded with bright, artificial blue light from our screens and overhead lighting. When we take in all that bright blue light from laptops, TVs, and phones—especially before we go to bed—our bodies get the signal that it's time to be awake, even if we're tired. That’s why excess blue light exposure can cause headaches and make it harder to get restful sleep. [4]

Red light therapy is natural light. It’s much less bright than blue light, with a lower color temperature than daytime sun, as the image above shows. [5]

Red light for sleep: Light plays a major role in your sleep cycle. The body’s circadian clock interprets light as a sign of when to sleep and when to be awake. [6] Artificial blue light from phones, computers, and other screens is extremely bright and can knock your circadian rhythm out of whack.

Red light has the opposite effect: it’s ideal for evenings because it has a low color temperature—far lower than blue light and much closer to the natural sunset. [5] And red light therapy is showing great clinical results for people with insomnia and sleep disorders.

Red light for skin: Red light therapy is a popular skincare technique with Hollywood celebrities and leading estheticians. This is not the same as blue LED light treatments for skin (like blue LED masks), which use bright, artificial blue light, and pose a number of health risks if not used correctly.

Red Light Therapy Versus Bright Light Treatments

Bright light treatments like “SAD lamps” or “happylight” are lamps that shine bright, artificial blue light to mimic the sun. Red light therapy treatments deliver natural light, the same red and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths you get from the real sun. But without the UV rays or heat that makes too much sunlight dangerous.

In short, bright light devices are really just lamps shining artificial light. Red light therapy is a more clinical intervention that delivers healthy, natural light. And now emerging clinical research is showing major potential for red light therapy as a natural depression treatment.

How does red light therapy work for mental health? For mental health treatment, NIR wavelengths may be most effective in treating depression, because they can reach deeper into body tissues than red light. [7] When NIR light from a clinical light therapy device is shined on a person’s head, those wavelengths are actually able to go beyond the surface of the skin, and reach the brain and affect brain cells directly. More natural light for your brain cells has been found to improve the metabolic capacity of your neurons, increase oxygen consumption, and boost cells’ ATP energy production. [8]

Red Light Therapy Versus Heat Lamps