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What is Red Light Therapy?

Written by
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Carlee Hayes
RDN, CD
Woman using a red light therapy device

Radiant, youthful-looking skin, no wrinkles, acne, scars, or signs of aging: these are things that everyone wants. But to what extent are we willing to go to achieve this?

There are countless treatments available, from acupuncture to cryotherapy and Ayurvedic therapies to drugstore picks. While you can find a solution to suit your needs at every drug store, spa, or even on the internet, it can be challenging to determine which ones are worth all the hype.

Take a recent wellness trend—red light therapy or RLT—as an example. It’s an alternative therapy becoming an increasingly popular treatment for skincare issues from wrinkles to aging. You may have read about the treatment or about all the celebrities raving about the LED masks that use it. Although scientists and dermatologists are still researching the efficacy, it’s getting more and more attention off-late.

So, what exactly is red light therapy? Read on to find out what we know so far.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Woman using a red light therapy device

Red light therapy is known by many other names—it's been called photobiomodulation therapy or low-level laser therapy, low-level light therapy, and soft laser therapy. It's essentially a type of phototherapy. It’s been a subject of interest ever since people started to investigate sun rays' benefits and possible side effects.

We know that sun exposure is an excellent way to boost vitamin D levels in the body, but ultraviolet radiation from sun rays can also age your skin prematurely and cause sun damage, leading to redness, inflammation, wrinkles, or even skin cancer. To treat these issues, scientists began to research whether different types of light (red, white, and blue light) could benefit your skin and reduce these skin issues.

Red light therapy, specifically, has been used since 1990, when scientists discovered that it might help plants grow faster and promote photosynthesis.

Due to the low-level wavelengths, this technique is often seen as an effective treatment to relieve pain and inflammation and help various skin issues such as acne, acne scars, redness, and even wrinkles.

Red light photons work by increasing cellular production, migration, and adhesion, reducing the activity of sebaceous glands, aiding in blood circulation, stimulating collagen production, killing bacteria, and reducing inflammation.

Red light therapy is said to treat cosmetic issues such as stretch marks, acne scars, and wrinkles, but medical offices or dermatology clinics may also use it to treat wounds or other issues like psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis.

How Does it Work?

Woman using LightStim red light therapy

After scientists discovered it in the ‘60s, red light therapy became a popular skin treatment. It’s not surprising, given the claims that it did not damage your skin surface and had many benefits that promoted skin health.

But how does it work? Simply put, it penetrates the skin at different levels of depth until it reaches the mitochondria of the targeted cells. The mitochondria is the part of the cell where nutrients get converted into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is an energy-carrying molecule.

The rays of red light therapy produce a biochemical effect in cells that are believed to enhance enzyme activity,  promote or increase ATP production, and increase reactive oxygen species. This promotes cellular proliferation, which may help treat acne, improve skin texture, firmness, and resilience, increase lymphatic system activity, and reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and superficial hyperpigmentation.

Light therapies like RLT work by causing a controlled impact on your skin to promote tissue repair, rejuvenate your cells, and stimulate regeneration. Because this sort of light therapy doesn’t penetrate the skin more than five millimeters, it’s believed not to cause any long-term damage.

LLT targets the fibroblast cells and enzymes, which stimulates the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein involved in the recovery of damaged skin caused by acne, scarring, or photo-aging. Red light therapy also activates stem cells that work on tissue repair and healing wounds such as burns or deep scars.

Some Potential Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Man getting full body red light therapy
  • Now that we understand how red light therapy works let’s learn more about its potential health and wellness benefits. While there isn’t enough evidence to prove its effect on your health, there’s a lot of buzz about its aging, skin damage, and hair loss prevention properties. Here are some:
  • It may help promote wound healing by repairing damaged tissue by promoting collagen production, in this manner reducing psoriasis and acne lesions.
  • Wounds can also cause inflammation, and red light therapy may be able to reduce this sort of inflammation.
  • Because it stimulates energy production in the cells, red light therapy is also believed to support skin regeneration through the collagen production mentioned above, boosting skin elasticity and preventing wrinkles.
  • It may also be used to reduce cellulite and help with weight loss, but there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that it works. wondering if this is necessary
  • Red light therapy may improve hair growth, especially for people who suffer from alopecia, which causes hair fall.
  • Some studies mention that it can improve symptoms of depression, but unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to show that red light therapy doesn’t have any side effects or is entirely safe to use, so this treatment is not covered by insurance. wondering if this is necessary

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

Light therapies are usually thought to be safe, especially if they are short-term treatments. As it only penetrates the skin for five millimeters, the risk of burning is very low. However, they may cause vision issues if you don’t properly protect your eyes.

Long exposure can cause cell and tissue damage but is safer when done by a specialist.

You can also purchase an FDA-approved red light home device, but practice caution here. Pick a reputable brand, and consult with a healthcare provider before you start using one since the laser light can damage your skin and eyes.

Five Popular Red Light Therapy Devices

Five popular red light devices: Dennis Gross, Light Stim, SolaWave, Hooga, Trophy

Professional red light therapy services are often the best way to get this treatment, but there are also at-home devices.

Although red light therapy is an FDA-approved treatment, it’s best to get a recommendation from your healthcare provider if you’re considering using an at-home red light therapy device. Still, it’s nice to know what’s out there!

Here are some popular options for different skin types—remember to consult with your doctor or dermatologist to check whether they’re the right option for you before investing in them.

1) Dennis Gross Skincare Spectralite Faceware Pro

This FDA-cleared mask is ideal for all skin types and especially good for acne-prone skin. It also claims to help with redness and wrinkles.

2) LightStim for Wrinkles

This small handheld red light therapy device has a built-in timer and automatic shut-off, and it comes with a cute beauty bag! It promises to smooth fine lines, reduce wrinkles and plump up your skin.

3) SolaWave 4-in-1 Facial Wand

This face-and-neck red light therapy device claims to help with fine lines, dark circles, collagen production, and overall skin health.

4) Hooga Red Light Therapy Device

This is a portable device that claims to be suitable for beginners. It emits red and near-infrared light and also has an in-built cooling fan.

5) Trophy Skin

Called the RejuvaliteMD High-Power Ageless LED Treatment, this device looks like a lamp but functions as a red light therapy device. It also has yellow, amber, and infrared light and claims to target sun damage, fine lines, and other skin conditions.

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