What are the benefits of red light therapy?
In the early 1990s, red light 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 red light could increase energy inside human cells. The researchers found that it was indeed an effective way to treat the muscle atrophy, slow wound healing, and bone density issues caused by weightlessness during space travel.
There are many different types of red light therapy. Red light therapy devices help reduce cosmetic skin issues, like stretch marks and wrinkles. They are also used to treat more serious conditions, like joint and muscle pain, psoriasis, slow-healing wounds, and even the side effects of chemotherapy.
Red light produces 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 red light therapy, a cell can make more ATP. With more energy, cells can function more efficiently, rejuvenate themselves, and repair damage.
Ever since the initial experiments in space, there have been hundreds of clinical studies and thousands of laboratory studies conducted to determine what other medical benefits could come from red light therapy.
At the moment, there’s quite a lot of evidence to suggest that red light therapy:
- may promote wound healing and tissue repair
- may improve hair growth in people with androgenic alopecia
- may help for the short-term treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
- may stimulate healing of slow-healing wounds, like diabetic foot ulcers
- may aid with short-term relief of pain and morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis
- may improve skin complexion and
build collagento diminish wrinkles
- may help to mend sun damage
- may prevent recurring cold sores from herpes simplex virus infections
- may improve the health of joints in people with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee
- may help diminish scars, including acne scars
- may relieve
pain and inflammationin people with pain in the Achilles tendons and tennis elbow
Red light therapy has been shown to be effective for a variety of health and well-being issues with scientific research on hundreds of topics have been conducted over the past 50 years.
Below are some of the main scientifically demonstrated beneficial applications of red light therapy, along with links to scientific publications. We purposely chose to provide links to recent meta-analysis and systematic reviews of what has been published on each specific topic (when they were available), in order to provide the most balanced view possible.
Red Light and Skin Rejuvenation
"Smooth, wrinkle-free skin is associated with attractiveness, youthfulness, and health, while wrinkles and lines have a negative impact on one’s perceived appearance, image, and self-esteem. Noninvasive esthetic procedures such as laser or light therapy have been used to achieve and attain a more youthful appearance. Currently, there is a wide range of lasers and devices available for the regeneration and healing of skin. Lasers and light sources for skin rejuvenation involve the removal of aged skin tissue via thermal heat from high-powered lasers, stimulating the surrounding tissues to recover through natural wound-healing processes. In contrast, photobiomodulation, which makes use of low energy lasers or light emitting diodes, uses no heat and has shown positive effects in the reduction of wrinkles and improving skin laxity."
Read the details oh the NIH website: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31345324
Red Light Therapy and Skin Complexion
"The treated subjects experienced significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling, profilometrically assessed skin roughness, and ultrasonographically measured collagen density. The blinded clinical evaluation of photographs confirmed significant improvement in the intervention groups compared with the control."
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24286286
Red light alone has been shown to help teenagers with acne, but its effect is stronger when combined with blue light. Red / blue light therapy was significantly more effective than topical 5% benzoyl peroxide cream in the short term.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19239470
Controlled clinical trials demonstrated that Red Light Therapy stimulated hair growth in both men and women. Among various mechanisms, the main mechanism is hypothesized to be stimulation of epidermal stem cells in the hair follicle bulge and shifting the follicles into anagen phase.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3944668/
Red light therapy resulted in enhanced healing as measured by wound contraction. The untreated wounds in subjects treated with red light therapy contracted more than the wounds in the sham group, so red light therapy may produce an indirect healing effect on surrounding tissues. These data indicate that red light therapy is an effective modality to facilitate wound contraction of partial-thickness wounds.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC522143/
Simplex Herpes (cold sores)
In 2018, a review of 6 major studies shows that all of them found red light therapy is effective in managing and preventing recurring cold sores (herpes labialis) and is a safe treatment with no side-effects.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29802585
Lower Back Pain
A review of 221 studies shows LLLT is indeed an effective method for relieving pain in lower back pain patients.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4704537/
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and ultrasound are among the most common methods of physical modalities for treating CTS; The experiments on nerve regeneration and neurotransmission, which are affected by LLLT and ultrasound stimulatory effect, suggest that these treatments may facilitate the recovery process in the compressed nerve. The anti-inflammatory mechanisms, improvement of the vascular supply, and production of myelin in the median nerve, which may lead to nerve reconstruction, reflect the possible effects of LLLT on CTS treatment
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6983862/
A meta-analysis with 1063 patients shows that NIR light therapy reduces pain and disability in Knee Osteoarthritis at 4–8 J with 785–860 nm wavelength.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6830679/
LLLT is safe and effective and acts in a dose-dependent manner by biological mechanisms which modulate both tendon inflammation and tendon repair processes. With the recent discovery that long-term prognosis is significantly worse for corticosteroid injections than placebo in lateral elbow tendinopathy, LLLT irradiation aimed at the tendon insertion at the lateral elbow is emerging as a safe and effective alternative to corticosteroid injections. LLLT also seems to work well when added to exercise and stretching regimens.
Read the details here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7034252/ and here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2442599/
Plantar Fascitis (heel pain)
LLLT in patients with PF significantly relieves the heel pain and the excellent efficacy lasts for 3 months after treatment.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6370152/ and here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6221608/
Nerve injuries / nerve regeneration
PBMT has beneficial effects on the recovery of nerve lesions, especially when related to a faster regeneration and functional improvement
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6027218/
Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) - pain in the jaw
This systematic review suggests that LLLT effectively relieves pain and improves functional outcomes in patients with TMD.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5971344/
Orthodontic treatment Pain
The selected studies reported promising results for LLLT; elevated acceleration of tooth movement and lower pain scores, than controls.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4948087/
Canker sores (ulcers)
Systematic review of published literature on the treatment of canker sores conclude that in light of the highly significant results found in those studies, LLLT can be suggested to be a positive alternative for the treatment of canker sores.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4386290/
LLLT leads to significant improvements in pain relief in the short and intermediate terms, with some evidence that LLLT reduces short-term disability
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3802126/
Diabetic foot ulcers (wound healing)
LLLT is an effective modality to facilitate wound contraction in patients suffering from diabetes and can be used as an adjunct to conventional mode of treatment (dressings and debridement) for healing of diabetic wounds.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477409/
Stimulate, Heal and Regenerate Muscle Tissue:
Both red, NIR, and red/NIR mixtures can increase muscle mass gained after training, and decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in muscle biopsies. Researchers are starting to ask whether Red Light Therapy should be permitted in athletic competition by international regulatory authorities.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5167494/
Neurological and Psychological health:
Brain PBM therapy enhances the metabolic capacity of neurons and stimulates anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic, and antioxidant responses, as well as neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. Its therapeutic role in disorders such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, as well as to treat stroke, brain trauma, and depression has gained increasing interest.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041198/
Breast cancer related lymphedema (side effect of cancer therapy)
Breast cancer related lymphedema (BCRL) is a prevalent complication secondary to cancer treatments which significantly impacts the physical and psychological health of breast cancer survivors. LLLT (PBM) in the management of BCRL is more effective for limb edema reduction than sham and no treatment at a short-term follow-up
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5719569/
Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis PainRed light therapy should be considered for short term relief of pain and morning stiffness in Arthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis, particularly since it has few side effects.
Read the details here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10955339