Red Light Therapy is a process of emitting light wavelengths through the skin to stimulate your bodies natural healing and regeneration processes.
Red light therapy (RLT) is a controversial therapeutic technique that uses red low-level wavelengths of light to treat skin issues, such as wrinkles, scars, and persistent wounds, among other conditions.
In the early 1990s, RLT was used by scientists to help grow plants in space. The scientists found that the intense light from red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) helped promote growth and photosynthesis of plant cells.
Red light was then studied for its potential application in medicine, more specifically to find out if RLT could increase energy inside human cells. The researchers hoped that RLT could be an effective way to treat the muscle atrophy, slow wound healing, and bone density issues caused by weightlessness during space travel.
You may have heard of red light therapy (RLT) by its other names, which include:
When RLT is used with photosensitizing medications, it’s referred to as photodynamic therapy. In this type of therapy, the light only serves as an activating agent for the medication.
There are many different types of red light therapy. Red light beds found at salons are said to help reduce cosmetic skin issues, like stretch marks and wrinkles. Red light therapy used in an medical office setting may be used to treat more serious conditions, like psoriasis, slow-healing wounds, and even the side effects of chemotherapy.
While there’s a fair amount of evidence to show that RLT may be a promising treatment for certain conditions, there’s still a lot to learn about how it works, too.
Red light is thought to work by producing a biochemical effect in cells that strengthens the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell — it’s where the cell’s energy is created. The energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
By increasing the function of the mitochondria using RLT, a cell can make more ATP. With more energy, cells can function more efficiently, rejuvenate themselves, and repair damage.
RLT is different from laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapies because it doesn’t cause damage to the skin surface. Laser and pulsed light therapies work by causing controlled damage to the outer layer of the skin, which then induces tissue repair. RLT bypasses this harsh step by directly stimulating regeneration of the skin. The light emitted by RLT penetrates roughly 5 millimeters below the skin’s surface.
Ever since the initial experiments in space, there have been hundreds of clinical studies and thousands of laboratory studies conducted to determine if RLT has medical benefits.
Many studies have had promising results, but the benefits of red light therapy are still a source of controversy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for example, has determined that there isn’t enough evidence to show that these devices are better than currently existing treatments for treating wounds, ulcers, and pain.
Additional clinical research is needed to prove that RLT is effective. At the moment, however, there’s some evidence to suggest that RLT may have the following benefits:
Currently, RLT isn’t endorsed or covered by insurance companies for these conditions due to lack of sufficient evidence. Although, a few insurance companies now cover the use of RLT to prevent oral mucositis during cancer treatment.
While the internet is often abuzz with news about miracle treatments for just about every health condition, red light therapy certainly isn’t a cure-all for everything. RLT is considered experimental for most conditions.
There’s limited-to-no evidence showing that red light therapy does the following:
It’s important to note that when RLT is used with cancer treatments, the light is only used to activate another medication. Other light therapies have been used to help with some of the conditions above. For instance, studies have found that white light therapy is more effective at treating symptoms of depression than red light. Blue light therapy is more commonly used for acne, with limited effectiveness.
Red light therapy is considered safe and painless. However, there have been reports of burns and blistering from using RLT units. A few people developed burns after falling asleep with the unit in place, while others experienced burns due to broken wires or device corrosion.
There’s also a potential risk of damage to the eyes. Although safer on the eyes than traditional lasers, proper eye protection may be necessary while undergoing red light therapy.