Red light therapy, also called Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation,(PBM) is a safe and non-invasive therapy technique that works by delivering concentrated wavelengths of natural red and near-infrared light into the skin all the way to the cells of the body.
Most commonly used to treat skin conditions and cosmetic issues, such as wrinkles, sun damage, scars, persistent wounds, acne - even weight issues and hair loss - and to promote an overall healthier, more youthful appearance, red light therapy is increasingly being shown to affect the body on a deeper level as well.
Mounting evidence is proving red light therapy to be extremely effective in treating pain and inflammation in joints and muscles, insomnia and other sleep disorders, cognitive deficiencies, immune health issues, among others. It is also used by many professional athletes to improve fitness and performance, as well as to reduce recovery time.
The best part? Well, it’s twofold. First, there are few to no side effects to red light therapy treatments. In fact, it is currently being explored as a safe alternative to opioid use in the treatment and management of pain, with the goal of curbing the public health crisis that has crippled many communities.
Second, while red light therapy machines used to cost thousands of dollars, relegating them to upscale spas and pricey specialty clinics, who could charge upwards of $100 for a single treatment, you now have the option to experience the innumerable benefits of red light therapy from the comfort of your own home, for a small fraction of the price.
Just minutes a day spent at home or the office relaxing in front of your personal red light therapy device can drastically improve your health, appearance, and quality of life.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
If there’s one thing we’ve all retained from high school biology, it’s that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. But how exactly does that affect the body? The latest research indicates that the mitochondria is responsible for fueling the functioning of our organs, essentially from head to toe. This means that when the functioning of the mitochondria is suboptimal, so is the functioning of the body at a macro level. This translates to negative effects that we can see and feel: poor skin, aches and pains, immune deficiencies, and numerous other afflictions.
Just like with food, light provides various nutrients to the body. We’re all familiar with how UV light produces vitamin D in the body, and how blue light affects your circadian rhythm and sleep health. Both UV light and blue light are part of the spectrum of what we call the five “bioactive” types of light, along with far-infrared light, red light, and near-infrared light. These lights, all different wavelengths, penetrate the body at varying depths, thus affecting the body at varying levels.
Let’s come back to our friend the mitochondria. Red light and NIR light produce a biochemical reaction within the mitochondria that ultimately helps it use oxygen more efficiently to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the vehicle that transports energy throughout the body, much like a tram transporting coal to be used for fuel.
Another way that red light therapy works is by exerting temporary stress on the cells, much in the same way as exercising stresses out your muscles. This stress provokes an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response within the cells which, simply put, makes them stronger.
What Are the Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy?
The list of health benefits of red light therapy is long, and it’s growing every day, with thousands of peer-reviewed clinical studies showing the vast range of ways red and near-infrared light positively affects the body, with virtually no known side effects.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Pain and Inflammation
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 million americans are living with chronic pain - that’s a whopping 20% of the population. With few options for pain relief at their disposal, pain sufferers must often rely on opioids, which are known to be dangerous and highly addictive. The rampant overprescription of opioids has led to a serious public health crisis across the country, with more than 2 million Americans suffering from an opioid disorder.
Pain medication works by blocking your pain receptors from sending messages to your brain. Unfortunately, even non-addictive options for pain like CBD vapes, oils and creams have the same problem: when the effects of the medication wear off, the pain returns. It is simply masking the symptoms rather than addressing the root of the problem.
Red light therapy, in contrast, acts on pain and inflammation at the cellular level. Rouge Red Light Therapy uses light-emitting diode (LED) devices that allow both red light and near-infrared light to penetrate deep into the body’s tissues to optimize the functioning of the cells, which in turn leads to reduced pain and inflammation in the body.
Rouge’s wide range of devices are registered with the FDA and are reported to aid in the relief of a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including muscle spasms, minor muscle and joint aches, as well as pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Treat knee osteoarthritis, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis pain with red light therapy
Studies have shown red light therapy to be effective in the treatment of morning stiffness and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Positive findings have also been reported regarding the treatment of osteoarthritis (or arthritis), and joint pain. A 2019 study found that red light therapy significantly reduced pain and disability caused in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
Manage neck pain with red light therapy
Red light therapy has been shown to improve pain and functioning in cervical osteoarthritis and acute neck pain, and research suggests it can be beneficial in treating chronic myofascial neck pain as well.
Treat lower back pain with red light therapy
In a 2015 study, participants suffering from nonspecific chronic low back pain demonstrated significant improvement in pain levels compared with the placebo group, with effects lasting up to five years. A 2015 meta-analysis of random controlled trials supported previous findings of a clinically important benefit in red light therapy for short-term relief of low back pain.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Fitness, Muscle Recovery, and Performance
Red light therapy is not just good for what ails you. It can also be used to enhance your body’s fitness capabilities and to promote speedier muscle recovery. In fact, a growing number of pro athletes are incorporating red light therapy into their training schedule and daily life.
We briefly touched upon how red light works by improving functioning at the mitochondrial level and subsequently enhancing the functioning of your organs through the production of ATP (which transports energy throughout the body). Muscle cells have more mitochondria than most other types of cells, since even the smallest muscle movement requires energy. This is why muscle tissue is particularly responsive to red light therapy.
Increase muscle mass, performance, and endurance with red light therapy
Numerous studies have shown that red light therapy applied both before and after exercise is effective in increasing muscle mass, decreasing muscle fatigue, and improving muscle performance.
Mounting evidence suggests that red light therapy can result in higher oxygen intake, increased average sprint time, and reduced perceived fatigue. It is also shown to increase muscle power and peak torque (the maximum amount of force used in a muscular contraction).
Red and near-infrared light has also proven to be effective in increasing muscle mass and muscular strength gain during weight training, as has been shown to decrease skeletal muscle fatigue during exercise, allowing for more repetitions and more sustained muscle use.
In fact, the use of red light therapy for athletic performance has such extraordinary benefits and gives users such a competitive edge that there is talk amongst high-level sports organizations of regulating the treatment as a performance enhancer. Now there’s a shining endorsement if we’ve ever heard one.
Improve muscle recovery with red light therapy
Muscle recovery is also a key factor in improving athletic performance. Quicker recovery means less rest time between workouts, and less time feeling sore.
Red and near-infrared light helps with muscle recovery by increasing circulation and oxygenation, as well as cellular regeneration, all of which have long been proven to help with post-exercise muscle soreness, fatigue, and stiffness, among other issues.
Research also suggests that red light therapy can result in a decrease in muscle damage and oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants within the cells, limiting the body’s ability to detoxify), both important barriers to muscle recovery.
Other studies have shown that red light therapy alone is more beneficial to muscle recovery than both cryotherapy alone and a combination of cryotherapy and red light therapy, and it has been found to be more effective than cold water immersion therapy for improving short-term post-exercise recovery. And not only is red light therapy more effective, it also carries significantly fewer health risks, if any at all.
Red light therapy is not just useful for run-of-the-mill post-workout soreness. It has also been shown to significantly decrease return to play (RTP) time after a sports-related injury, with no adverse effects.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Skin
The desire to stop the clock on aging has long been part of the human condition, and it’s particularly true today, with the popularization and increased accessibility of cosmetic procedures, paired with a rise in the use of filters and photoshop on social media to create an illusion of perfection.
Unfortunately, most cosmetic interventions are risky and invasive, and often involve injecting a foreign substance into the skin, or using harsh chemicals to provoke an anti-inflammatory reaction in the cells to generate collagen.
It’s only recently that people have started to turn to red light therapy for its incredible benefits with virtually no risk. Until now, it has mainly only been available at spas or specialized clinics, and the cost was too exorbitant to fully reap the benefits of continued, daily use. Rouge’s red light therapy devices offer an affordable solution for those looking to erase some of the signs of aging, to reverse sun damage, and to see significant improvement in a host of unwanted skin issues.
Improve appearance of wrinkles with red light therapy
Collagen and elastin are the proteins responsible for giving your skin the structure and elasticity found in younger skin. The body produces less collagen and elastin with age, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and papery skin. By increasing the functioning of the mitochondria to optimize ATP production and cellular energy, red light therapy allows skin cells to protect existing collagen and elastin, and to increase collagen production, thereby reversing the effects of aging.
Reverse sun damage with red light therapy
While the sun has important benefits, too much exposure can lead to a host of issues, many of them cosmetic, such as premature aging, patchy sun spots, melasma, and actinic keratosis (which can become cancerous).
Many of these issues are treated with chemical peels and topical creams, with the purpose of regenerating cells and producing collagen, but these treatments can be painful, can increase light sensitivity, and can cause skin sensitivity and redness. Red light, on the other hand, is naturally produced by the sun and has a warming effect, much like UV light, but without any of the harmful effects. It penetrates deep into the skin to enhance your body’s natural ability to regenerate cells and produce collagen.
Treat acne with red light therapy
Acne is a cruel reality for the majority of teenagers, one that can persist well into adulthood. No shortage of soaps, creams, and even prescription medicines have been tried and tried anew in the quest for clear skin. Unfortunately, many of these remedies are extremely harsh on the skin, and have significant side effects.
Red light therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on acne - with no serious side effects and no risk of overuse - especially when combined with blue light. The red light stimulates collagen production and cell regeneration, and produces an anti-inflammatory response, while the blue light eliminates acne-causing bacteria.
Heal wounds and diminish scars with red light therapy
Evidence suggests that the anti-inflammatory and collagen-producing properties of red light therapy can help speed up the wound healing process. Numerous clinical studies also point to the effectiveness of red light in both healing and reducing the appearance of scars.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Sleep
It is estimated that roughly 30-40% of the population experience bouts of insomnia, with 10-15% suffering from chronic insomnia. Those who suffer from insomnia are more likely to develop chronic illnesses and mental health issues, to be injured or involved in an accident, to underperform at work, to report a lower quality of life, and to utilize the health care system. In other words, it’s an important public health issue.
The constant presence of screens in our lives is partially to blame. Screens emit blue light, which is responsible for regulating our circadian rhythm by inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy.
Red light, on the other hand, is ideal for nighttime and winding down before bed. Think of it as sunrise versus sunset. The bright blue sky of morning indicates that it’s time to get up and at ‘em, while the soothing tones of the sunset prepare us for rest.
Not only is red light therapy calming and relaxing, there is evidence that it can boost serum melatonin levels, as well. It also has the added benefit of increasing your energy throughout the day by optimizing ATP production, which can counteract many of the effects of lack of sleep, such as drowsiness and lack of focus.
Emerging Areas of Research On the Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Who knew that one of the benefits of red light therapy could stimulate stem cell growth and help regenerate tissue included growing new blood vessels - why is this significant?
Angiogenesis is the term for the formation of new blood vessels. This process is critical in areas in which that the body needs to make repairs. This is incredibly exciting because it supports the findings of studies documenting all the benefits listed below. Anywhere that tissue is damaged or in need of oxygen or blood, the branching out of new capillaries is a natural process that the body initiates in order to repair and rebuild tissue as explained in the following article entitled Angiogenesis in wound healing
All of these areas of health with a therapy that is minimally invasive and enjoys a historically high safety profile is encouraging step forward for human health applications.
Red light therapy is a relatively new field of study, and researchers are only just beginning to scratch the surface of its far-reaching - and life-changing - benefits. It’s an exciting field of study, especially given that there are so few risks and side effects associated with red and near-infrared light exposure. This allows researchers to conduct human clinical trials easily and safely. Let’s take a look at some of the emerging research that is currently shedding light on the growing list of benefits of red light therapy.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Hormone Health
There is a wealth of emerging research supporting red light therapy as an effective treatment for a number of hormone disorders or imbalances.
Treat hypothyroidism with red light therapy
There is mounting evidence of its effectiveness on Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. It appears to improve thyroid function and significantly lower thyroid antibody levels. Consistent, continued use of red light therapy may even allow patients to dramatically reduce their thyroid medication dose, and in some cases, eliminate it altogether.
Improve sex drive with red light therapy
Although the research is limited, red light therapy is showing some promise in animal clinical studies as a potential treatment for low testosterone. A recent small human trial appeared to confirm the results. One theory as to how it works is that red and near-infrared light stimulates photoreceptive proteins in the testicles, which in turn stimulates testosterone production. Another is that red light therapy may inhibit the pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, an inhibitor of testosterone production.
Alleviate menopause symptoms with red light therapy
Many menopausal people suffer from genitourinary syndrome (GSM), caused by a decrease in estrogen in the vaginal tissue. GSM causes a host of unpleasant symptoms, from vaginal dryness, burning, and irritation, to lack of lubrication and pain during sex, to various urinary symptoms.
Recent research shows promise in red light therapy’s effectiveness in treating GSM by promoting collagen and elastin production, which reduces the effects of vaginal thinning, including loss of natural lubrication, and also helps strengthen the urethra and the urethrovaginal sphincter.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Brain Health and Cognitive Function
Emerging data is showing red light therapy, when applied to the head, can have a positive effect on cognitive functioning, including improvements in attention and memory in healthy adults.
Some evidence suggests that it could also significantly improve cerebral blood flow and cognitive functioning in those who’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury, even several years after the injury, and is currently being explored as a treatment for veterans with brain damage due to exposure to explosions and neurotoxins.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Although it’s a relatively recent area of study, the growing body research on the benefits of red and near-infrared light on Alzheimer's and dementia shows extreme promise.
A recent meta-analysis of clinical trials of photobiomodulation as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia showed that continued use of red light therapy could help improve cognitive function, memory, and sleep while reducing angry outbursts, anxiety, wandering, and olfactory dysfunction. Improved quality of life has also been observed, as well as reduced caregiver stress.
As continued use appears to be an important factor in the health benefits of red light therapy, affordable at-home devices could be a life-changing, low-cost solution for those suffering from progressive brain disorders, and their caregivers.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Mental Health and Depression
There is mounting evidence that red light therapy has the potential to significantly reduce depressive symptoms in people suffering from major depressive disorder, when administered directly through the skull into the prefrontal cortex.
Similar potential is being reported for treating generalized anxiety disorder with red and near-infrared light, with recent preliminary research showing a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms as well as improvements in sleep, with no significant adverse effects.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has historically been treated with bright light therapy, designed to mimic the sun. However, bright light can negatively affect your circadian rhythm, especially when used at the wrong time of day. Red light therapy, on the other hand, appears to have a positive effect on SAD symptoms, but without the blue light wavelengths that could negatively impact sleep, and making it safe to use even before bed.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Healthy Hair and Hair Loss
An estimated 50 million men and 30 million women suffer from some degree of hair loss, with some beginning to show signs of thinning hair as early as their teens.
Current treatments typically involve medication, which often come with an exhaustive array of side effects, or transplant surgery, which can be both painful and expensive.
Continued use of red light therapy has been shown to significantly increase hair count, as well as the thickness of the hair shaft, in both men and women. Remarkably, there is also an absence of serious side effects across all studies, and patient satisfaction is found to be high as well.
By penetrating the scalp all the way to the base of the hair follicle, red and near-infrared light is able to stimulate the cells to increase production of ATP, which increases the activity within the cell, which in turn promotes the regeneration of hair follicles.
It also increases collagen, which protects the hair against damaging free radicals, and increases blood flow to the scalp as well, allowing for more oxygen and nutrients to reach the follicles.
Red Light Therapy Benefits for Weight Loss and Cellulite
Body fat can be difficult to eliminate. Even with exercise and a proper diet, “problem areas” can persist, causing frustration and discouragement amongst even the most steadfast dieters.
Desperate for results, people will often turn to invasive surgical treatments for fat reduction, potentially harmful teas and supplements, or costly topical scrubs and lotions that at best minimally and temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite.
A growing body of evidence suggests that red light therapy can effectively and significantly help you lose fat, reduce the circumference of targeted areas, such as the waist, hips, and thighs, and can also significantly reduce the appearance of cellulite.
While more research is needed to assess the long-term benefits of red light therapy with regards to weight management, it certainly shows a lot of promise, with the important benefit of having virtually no serious side effects.
Risks and Side Effects of Red Light Therapy
The one common thread across the thousands of peer-reviewed clinical studies researching the effectiveness and usefulness of red light therapy is that it is safe, non-invasive, and well-tolerated.
The few small side effects that have been observed include temporary redness and tightness of the skin (contrary to a sunburn, this has no adverse health effects, as there are no harmful UV lights present), or slight but harmless eye strain (as one might have under lights of any kind).
The overwhelming consensus is that red light therapy is a perfectly safe, natural treatment that can have a significant effect on a variety of ailments and health issues, and can drastically improve quality of life, virtually risk free. Shine a light on better health today!