Red light therapy (RLT) is not a new treatment. Nevertheless, it seems to have come out of nowhere. Suddenly, it’s everywhere.

In the September, 2020, issue of Glamour magazine, author Hannah Chenoweth published an article suggesting that red light therapy might be the fountain of youth we’ve all been searching for.

Scam or Salvation?

On the face of it, RLT sounds like one of those miraculous health treatments that pop up from time to time. These treatments are usually endowed with the uncanny ability to heal everything from back pain to hair loss.

However, a bit of quick research is enough to confirm that there may be more than a smidgen of truth in all those remarkable claims.

Certainly, an ever-increasing body of evidence strongly suggests it. A review of the literature to date reveals a variety of studies suggesting that RLT might actually heal everything after all.

What Is RLT?

Red light therapy (RLT) is a rapidly growing treatment modality used in physical therapy and sports medicine. More recently, it’s been making its way into mainstream medicine.

You can’t see infrared light, but you can feel the heat it generates. Red light is similar to infrared light, but you can see red light.

When red light penetrates the cells, the rays appear to promote wound healing and tissue regeneration. RLT can help to prevent tissue death and mitigate degeneration in patients with neurological conditions. Red light also reduces pain and inflammation that can inhibit healing.

Cells consist of mitochondria, and mitochondria power your cells. Experts believe that mitochondria in skin cells absorb low-level red or near-infrared light.

The light energizes the mitochondria, and the mitochondria energize the cells. This energy can hasten the body’s healing process and help the cells to repair themselves. Many researchers believe that this process is the key to RLT’s healing and rejuvenating effects.

What’s Involved in RLT Treatment?

RLT treatment is easy. You don’t have to do anything. The treatment is applied with the flick of a switch. All you have to do is show up.

You’ll receive a dose of red light, and that’s it. Treatment involves no downtime, no side-effects and no discomfort.

How Does RLT Work?

RLT has been used for over 50 years beginning with the invention of the laser. Researchers believe it helps your body to heal itself.

Low levels of red or infrared light have been used to relieve pain, edema and inflammation. The treatment promotes healing of wounds, nerves and deep tissues while helping to prevent tissue damage.

RLT delivers safe and concentrated doses of red light to your skin. Red lights penetrate deeply, so the cells can absorb and use the rays.

Red light encourages collagen, elastin and fibroblast production. That, in turn, enhances the performance of a natural bodily substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, ATP is present in all living cells. It energizes many metabolic processes and helps to make RNA.

Laboratory-produced ATP is presently being studied in people with advanced solid tumors to reverse weight loss and build strength.

What Does RLT Do?

Connecticut board-certified dermatologist Rhonda Klein believes that red light therapy increases circulation. Enhanced circulation distributes more oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues throughout the body.

Red light wavelengths trigger a medley of body-wide regenerative effects ranging from diminished scaring to faster muscle recovery. A growing body of evidence supports these claims.

A boost in collagen production improves skin elasticity; fibroblast production boosts collagen. Cells are protected from damage while enhanced mRNA levels improve cell productivity.

Facial texture is smoother, fine lines are diminished and wrinkles become less severe. Skin is rejuvenated, the complexion improves and skin feels soft and smooth to the touch. Age spots can fade and disappear over time.

Where Can I Get Red Light Treatments?

Many dermatologists offer this service. Treatments are also available at upscale spas like Costa Mesa Wellness as well as at fancy gyms.

Red light full-body panels deliver head-to-toe treatment while you relax. Handheld devices are used to treat smaller areas.

You can invest in a handheld red light, a red light facial mask or even a red light treatment bed should you prefer to apply RLT at home.

Where Are Red Lights Sold?

It’s best to consult a skin care professional before purchasing a DIY red light. Dr. Klein suggests that patients avoid tanning salons where the UV lights are replaced with red light bulbs, and the treatments are misrepresented as RLT.

Red lights are widely available online. A good DIY device will clearly specify its wavelength output.

Dr. Michael Hamblin, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, recommends red lights with wavelengths of either 660 nanometers or 850 nanometers to get an optimal biological response.

Wavelengths of 660 nanometers are quickly absorbed by the skin where they have cosmetic effects and reduce symptoms of aging. Wavelengths of 850 nanometers penetrate deeply into the body where they relieve joint pain, aid in muscle recovery and enhance allover health.

Researchers are exploring which wavelengths yield the best results. The current consensus is that optimal frequencies will fall within a range of values.

What Are the Benefits of RLT?

According to studies performed so far, red light therapy shows promise as a safe and effective treatment for practically everything:

Muscle recovery and repair

A 2014 study revealed that RLT both before and after workouts relieved muscle pain, reduced muscle strength loss and prevented range-of-motion impairments for up to four days after a workout. A 2018 study found that pre- and post-workout RLT also reduced knee muscle fatigue.

Pain relief

The FDA has approved RLT as a treatment for pain and arthritis. Pain and inflammation often go hand in hand, and RLT decreases both.

One study revealed that red and infrared light reduced pain caused by osteoarthritis by over 51 percent.

Other studies have reported decreased pain and inflammation related to meniscus tears, osteoarthritic knee pain, general knee pain, rheumatoid arthritis and back pain after RLT treatments.

Anti-inflammatory effects

Many diseases are rooted in inflammation, and many of those conditions can be treated with RLT.

Scientists are not yet sure why red light therapy has strong anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body. The effects appear locally where the light is applied and in other organs and tissues.

Researchers believe that the anti-inflammatory properties of RLT make it suitable for treating a wide variety of conditions where inflammation is a causative agent:

  • Autoimmune thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
  • Obesity
  • Alopecia areata
  • Psoriasis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis (inflamed tendons)

Studies are in the preliminary stages. Nevertheless, the strong anti-inflammatory properties of RLT are highly promising.

Wound healing

A 2014 study on wound healing found that RLT has a medicinal effect on wrinkles, acne scars, burns and wounds. It assists with tissue repair and the repair of hypertrophic scars.

Treats mild and severe acne

According to Angela Lamb, professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, RLT is often used to treat mild acne. Research shows that it can also treat moderate to severe acne caused by bacteria and inflammation.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, RLT reduces cellular oil production and bacteria levels without drying out the skin. It works deep within the cells to soothe and repair damaged tissue. It’s been used as an alternative treatment for acne for over 20 years.

Anti-aging properties

Multiple studies reveal that RLT can reduce age spots and keep your skin looking good regardless of age. A 2014 study found that patients who received RLT had increased collagen levels and a younger-looking complexion.

With aging skin, red light therapy protects existing collagen while boosting new collagen production. Additionally, it improves skin tone and skin texture while reducing pore size and wrinkles.

RLT enhances blood flow in both the dermis and the epidermis. As a stand-alone anti-aging treatment, RLT is an excellent choice for patients who prefer to avoid surgery and other invasive anti-aging procedures.

Relieves dementia symptoms

A small study found that people with dementia who were treated with 12 weeks of near-infrared light on the head and through the nose slept better, didn’t feel so angry and experienced improvements in memory.

May help with liposuction procedures

RLT may help the body get rid of stubborn fat on the waist and upper arms. However, there is little evidence to support that claim. More promising is the use of RLT as an adjunct to lipoplasty and liposuction treatments.

May facilitate facial bone defect recovery

A recent study evaluated the potential for treating facial bone defects with RLT. The researchers concluded that RLT may promote facial bone defect healing while reducing inflammation and pain.

Stimulates hair growth

Increased hair growth was observed during EndreMester’s original 1967 rat study on laser safety. More recently, RLT was evaluated on patients with alopecia.

Experimental subjects presented with thicker hair compared to controls. The authors reported that wavelengths of both 665 and 808 nanometers were effective.

Multiple studies confirm that RLT boosts hair thickness, growth, health and strength. Researchers believe that RLT stimulates the dermal papilla cells that regulate hair cycling and growth.

A 2017 study revealed that women treated with RLT increased hair thickness by 51 percent.

Boosts vision, mental health and brain functioning

Low-level light therapy (LLLT) has applications in neurology, ophthalmology and psychiatry. It can potentially treat retinal disease, neurotrauma, stroke, memory, mood disorders and neurodegeneration.

Mitochondrial dysfunction plays a crucial role in neurodegeneration. Stimulation of the mitochondria may protect against brain and retinal damage.

Transcranial delivery in vivo of LLLT stimulates beneficial brain metabolic and antioxidant effects like increased cerebral blood flow and cognition. No adverse effects were detected.

Low-level laser therapy shows promise for treating brain injuries like traumatic brain injury (TBI). Beneficial effects of LLLT on TBI include stimulation of neurogenesis, decreased inflammation and neuroprotection.

In cases of ischemic stroke, numerous studies report that transcranial LLLT effectively increases learning, memory and overall neurological performance.

Side Effects

Low levels of red light have proven to be safe. They do not burn or hurt the skin. Red light bears no similarity to tanning booth light, and it doesn’t subject your skin to damaging UV-A and UV-B rays. Nevertheless, too much can damage the skin, while too little can undermine the treatment.

Researchers don’t yet know how or why RLT works, and an optimal dose has yet to be established. However, the response to RLT appears to be dose-dependent. Red light produces a biphasic dose response wherein low light levels deliver a superior effect compared to higher levels.

DIY devices

Burns and blisters can occur with defective DIY devices or with products that deliver unusually high doses of light. The laser industry is highly unregulated.

Companies are marketing high-intensity full-body panels and competing with each other to see who can develop products with the highest intensities first.

Increasing the intensity of the treatment to make the results come faster is one reason for side effects. Companies that push high-intensity panels are putting profits ahead of ethics.

The side effects caused by these products can include heat rash, redness, erythema and symptoms of sunburn.

Is red light safe?

If you can spend 20 minutes in the sun without any discomfort, you will probably tolerate RLT very well. Forty-two percent of natural sunlight is red light and near-infrared light after all. Protective eye wear is recommended if you are sensitive to bright light.

In 1967 when the first near-infrared laser was invented, Hungarian physician EndreMester learned that they were safe when tested on rats. There was no evidence that lasers caused cancer. The most startling effect was that lasers improved hair growth.

Researchers have learned that people with dark skin, excessive body hair or tattoos absorb red light faster. These folks should start with an extremely low dose to prevent discomfort and pain. Reducing the dosage may eliminate the problem.

Side effects are virtually zero in RLT clinical studies. When they do occur, they are mild and disappear in a day or two.

Are you wondering if low light therapy can help you? Let us know in the comments section below. You have nothing to lose by asking. You can also contact Costa Mesa Red Light Therapy or Costa Mesa Sauna to learn more.