Since the first beam of light erupted from the Big Bang, light has been essential for life. Although you may believe that light is only for growing food and not bumping into the coffee table, light has many healing and nutritional properties that make it foundational for good health. Certain types of light can produce amazing health benefits including skin rejuvenation, hair growth, stronger bones, and faster wound healing. Modern medicine has discovered that red light (light with wavelengths from 630 to 880 nanometers) produces unique health benefits. These discoveries have fueled emerging medical technologies like Red Light Therapy, also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy (LLLT). The power of Red Light Therapy lies in its ability to penetrate from 8 to 10 millimeters beneath the skin and energize the cells of blood vessels, nerves, epidermis, lymph tissue and hair follicles.1
How Light Heals
Light may seem like a relatively inconsequential phenomenon—after all, any child can flip on a light. However, at its most basic level, light is pure energy, and that is extremely powerful. Made up of packets of energy called photons, light from sources like the sun power almost all biological processes on our planet. Without light, plants wouldn’t grow, animals couldn’t feed, and humanity would bid the world “goodbye” very quickly.
More than powering the food chain, light is also instrumental in keeping us at peak health. Ultraviolet or UV light has long been recognized as essential for vitamin D production in our skin which helps keep our bones strong. Similarly, infrared light in the 630-670 (visible red light) and 810-880 nm (invisible infrared light) has been shown to penetrate the skin and soft tissue to supercharge important cellular processes like mitochondrial function and ATP production. In other words, Infrared Light Therapy feeds your cells energy to help optimize their performance.
Early Applications of Light Therapy
Ancient civilizations realized many centuries ago that specific kinds of light promoted good health. The earliest Egyptians built colored glass solariums to treat various afflictions. The ancient Chinese believed that the right colors could improve health and fortune. Ancient Greece, the birthplace of science and medicine, was the first culture to use color and light to treat various health conditions.2
At the beginning of the scientific age, great thinkers like Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explored the relationship between light, color and physiology. In the late 1800s, Dr. Seth Pancoast and Edwin D. Babbit conducted some of the first empirical studies of light therapy and health benefits.3
However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century when physician Niels Finsen used short wavelength light to treat the skin ailment lupus vulgaris that modern light therapy was invented. In 1895, Finsen established the Finsen Institute for Phototherapy in Copenhagen. At his institute, Finsen exposed patients with lupus vulgaris to ultraviolet light for up to two hours a day in the hopes that the light would kill the bacteria that caused the condition. Among the more than 800 patients who sought treatment at the Finsen Institute for Phototherapy, more than half were cured.4
Dr. Finsen, who is hailed as the father of modern photobiomodulation, received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Finsen’s discoveries ushered in an era of widespread adoption of light therapy in Europe that lasted through much of the first half of the 20th century.
Modern Light Therapy
Due to the amazing results produced by Dr. Finsen and other medical professionals, light therapy quickly became a popular form of treatment for many conditions including chronic pain, tuberculosis and arthritis. However, by the 1960s, new lighting technology sparked interest in new light therapies. The advent of LED lighting with its ability to produce many wavelengths of light helped develop new treatments for more soft tissue and skin conditions.5 Among the conditions that LED light therapy and blue light therapy were used to treat include
- Immune system stimulation
- Bacterial infection
- Actinic keratosis
- Seasonal Affect Disorder
- Inflammatory conditions of muscles and joints
In the 1980s, great advances in Red Light Therapy brought this particular therapy to the forefront of the field. Unlike UV light and blue light therapies that cannot penetrate deep into the skin or underlying tissue, red and infrared light therapy can penetrate as far as two inches into the human body. That is why Red Light Therapy is efficacious in treating superficial health conditions like acne and poor skin tone, as well as more deeply embedded issues like joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis as well as pain-related conditions like inflammation.
In the 1990s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration conducted a series of studies into various kinds of light therapy in a zero-gee environment. Initially, the studies focused on how light promoted growth in plants outside of a gravity well, but later studies involved therapies on human subjects.
NASA was interested in treating astronauts for common health conditions while in space including bone loss, muscle atrophy and slowed wound healing. NASA scientists discovered that infrared light therapy helped stimulate cellular growth by a rate of 150 to 200 percent. It appears that infrared light expedites certain energy production processes in cells that involve ATP and nitric oxide.6Currently this speedy healing technology is used by NASA and elite organizations like Navy SEALs. One study performed by the Navy SEALs found that LED Red Light Therapy increased recovery rates by 41 percent.7 Major research institutions like John Hopkins University, Stanford University and the Mayo Clinic are currently studying the healing effects of low-level light therapy on various health conditions.
Current State of Red Light Therapy
At the heart of Red Light Therapy is the ability of light of wavelengths 630-670 nm and 810-880 nm to strengthen cellular mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells and where adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is created. ATP is the key energy component of all cellular processes.
The ability to supercharge energy production in human cells has intrigued medical researchers. An increasing amount of research supports the idea that Red Light Therapy may produce the following health benefits:
- Promotes tissue repair and wound healing
- Offers short-term improvement of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Boosts hair growth among those with androgenic alopecia
- Reduces psoriasis lesions
- Relieves pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis patients
- Limits some cancer treatment side effects including oral mucositis
- Builds collagen in skin for wrinkle repair
- Aids in repair of sun damage to skin
- Helps prevent cold sores caused by herpes simplex virus infections
- Helps remove scar tissue8
Red Light Therapy has gained acceptance in the medical community as well as the wider public despite lacking FDA approval. The popularity of Red Light Therapy has surged so greatly that many spas and fitness centers now offer sessions for cosmetic or recuperative purposes. Most Red Light Therapy work found in day spas or other commercial establishments can be quite pricey due to the expensive nature of the equipment used. However, new innovative companies like Lux Therapy are bringing to market personal Red Light Therapy devices that promise the same miraculous health benefits in the comfort of your home and at a reasonable price. You may find Lux Therapy devices for purchase on major retail vendors like Amazon as well as on the Lux Therapy website.
- Ari Whitten. “The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy.” 2018.
- F. Ellinger. Medical Radiation Biology. Springfield, 1957.
- Edwin D. Babbitt. Principles of Light and Color. 1878.
- “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1903”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB. 2016-11-01.
- Won-Serk Kim and R Glen Calderhead. “Is light-emitting diode phototherapy (LED-LLLT) really effective?” Laser Ther. 2011; 20(3): 205–215.
- Pok Kee Min, MD PhD and Boncheol Leo Goo. “830 nm light-emitting diode low level light therapy (LED-LLLT) enhances wound healing: a preliminary study.” Laser Ther. 2013; 22(1): 43–49.
- Harry Whelan, et al. “Effect of NASA Light-Emitting Diode Irradiation on Wound Healing.” Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine & Surgery 19(6):305-14 · January 2002.
- Jacquelyn Cafasso. “Red Light Therapy Benefits.” Healthline. May 11, 2018.