What Is Light Therapy?
With light therapy, you're aiming to improve your health or body through the use of light. This light is applied to the body and it requires particular wavelengths (colors) and sufficient power.
Many different types of light therapy exist. Spending time in the sun is one form of light therapy. Tanning beds is another example. Though lately, some types of light therapy have seen a surge in popularity.
Red light therapy and infrared sauna therapy are the two forms of light therapy that are becoming widely used due to their low cost, ease of use, scientific backing and effectiveness.
Red light therapy, also called "Low-Level Laser Therapy" (LLLT) or "photobiomodulation" in scientific circles, uses red and invisible infrared light to achieve a biological effect. Infrared saunas also use infrared light.
This red and infrared light is part of the "light spectrum". The light spectrum is made up of infrared light (which makes the sun feel hot on your skin), visible light (all colors of the rainbow that you can see with your naked eye including red), and ultraviolet light (which can lead to sunburn).
Many different methods exist to administer light therapy. Lasers, filaments in a bulb and more recently LED's. The technological advancements we have seen with LED's (and the resulting drop in prices) is the main driver pushing light therapy out of the scientific labs and into the home.
We've written a very extensive blog post about the red light therapy basics - which use LEDs and lasers - to influence your body's biology.
Light Therapy vs Red Light Therapy?
Light therapy refers to the use of various different wavelengths (or colors) from the light spectrum to achieve a biological effect. You can see that light spectrum below:
Red light therapy uses the red part of the visible light spectrum, and a tiny part of the infrared spectrum referred to as "near infrared" light (compared to infrared saunas which typically use far infared light).
Light therapy, on the other hand, might use blue light, green light, red, ultraviolet light, or even a combination of light. Think of red light therapy is a subcategory of light therapy. Or better yet: red light therapy is one type of light therapy.
Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas are another type of light therapy. Infrared saunas use most of the infrared light spectrum, which can be subdivided into the near, middle, and far infrared light. Sometimes, infrared saunas also emit a tiny portion of red light, creating a red glow inside the sauna.
Near, middle, and far infrared have different biological effects. Most of the near, and all of the middle and far infrared heat your body.
One way way this works is due to the fact that water inside your body absorbs infrared light. The body temperature rises as a result and you sweating, which has it's own health benefits.
Infrared saunas - as a form of light therapy - has unique health benefits. Other types of light therapy also have health benefits, which are covered below:
Who Is Light Therapy For?
If you're asking "who is light therapy for" then the answer is simple: everyone. Just like exercise at the right intensity is good for everyone, and a healthy diet is good for everyone, the same is true for light therapy.
All the different types of light therapy, such as red light therapy, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) lights, infrared saunas, and sunlight have their own unique benefits.
Red light therapy has 8,000+ studies backing it and has benefits for sports performance and recovery, sleep quality, countering inflammation, decreasing disease risk, and boosts well-being, skin health, wound healing, and brain health, just to name a few.
Hundreds of studies on saunas show benefits for lowering disease risk (heart disease, Alzheimer's, airway conditions), helping you lose weight, improving skin health, enhancing well-being, boosting sleep quality, and more.
Does Light Therapy Work?
Since the early 1900s, thousands of studies have been carried out on light therapy. At first, sunlight and ultraviolet light were deemed the most important and heavily researched.
In the 1960s, the first lasers were used for enhancing health. These lasers commonly used red and near-infrared light. Since the 2000s, LEDs have become much more affordable and have started to be used in consumer products.
As stated before, more than 8,000+ studies have been performed on mostly red and near-infrared light. Most of these studies have been included in a spreadsheet on light therapy that you can read online, from Vladimir Heiskanen. In that spreadsheet, 90%+ of studies show positive results.
Also, hundreds, if not thousands of studies have been published on sauna therapy, mostly finding very positive outcomes.
So, yes, there's overwhelming evidence that light therapy works. Anecdotal evidence supports this, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who had their lives changed after buying red light therapy panels or an infrared sauna.
Next up, let's explore how it all works:
How Light Therapy Works
Light therapy works through many different mechanisms. Different types of light of the light spectrum penetrate your body tissue at different distances.
Infrared light, for instance, can travel up to several inches into the body. Red light penetrates well but . And other types of light, such as blue or parts of the ultraviolet light spectrum, stay on the skin's surface.
Red and infrared light can travel into your cells. In the cell, the light affects the "mitochondria" - the energy-producing factories of your cells. One or multiple steps of that energy-creation process can be influenced by red and infrared light, thereby leading to higher energy production.
Blue light, on the other hand, has biological effects as well. For instance, blue light can inhibit bacteria formation in your skin. And, when the blue light enters your eyes, it signals to your brain that it's daytime. Your eyes are not just a camera to see the world but a portal to the clock in your brain that tracks time.
Ultraviolet light, also has various effects. Ultraviolet light can be divided into ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB). UVA makes you feel more relaxed when it hits the skin, improves circulation, and helps build brain-signalling compounds such as serotonin and dopamine when it hits your eye. UVB aids the creation of vitamin D in the skin.
What Are The Side Effects of Light Therapy?
Though the side-effects are rare and rather minimal, light therapy can have side-effects when used improperly. Anything in life has side effects when used incorrectly. Water can kill you if you drink too much of it, too much exercise can lead to over training, injuries and elevated stress levels.
Too much ultraviolet light from the summer sun leads to sunburn. Almost any type of light can be abused. Blue light with it's stimulating effect can keep you up at night. Red light can make you tired and lower your energy levels when you overdo it. Infrared light can make your skin look worse if you sit inside an infrared sauna for hours per day.
If you follow the guidelines that come with your light therapy device you should not have any issues. But if you have any serious health problems always check with your doctor before starting a new form of therapy.
How Do I Use Light Therapy?
How you use light therapy depends on the device you are using. For instance, you would use a red light therapy panel ideally four to five days per week, for 10-20 minutes a day. But all of that depends on how large your device is and also the power output.
Targeted devices - such as red light therapy laser devices - often put out high amounts of energy in a small area, so treatment times are a lot shorter.
Blue light treatment for acne is typically used for around 10-30 minutes a couple times a week.
Infrared Sauna sessions often run for 15-40minutes, 1-4 times a week.
Though again, there are a lot of variables you need to consider. The state of your health, the device you are using, your goals, time of day etc.
Broadly speaking, most light therapy devices have to be used several times per week. And, for the light therapy to work, your body will have to be exposed to the light.
What Light Therapy Device Should I Buy?
This question is like asking a hardware store sales rep what tool you should purchase?
The answer is simple - it depends.
It depends on what you're trying to achieve. Fortunately for us, there are many different light therapy 'tools' on the market. And even better, we have an excellent guide below that will help you find the best light therapy product for your needs.
Red Light Therapy Buyers Guide
When it comes to buying a Red Light Therapy Device, we highly recommend watching the excellent video below:
Otherwise read on to find out more.
Goals - What Are You Trying To Achieve?
The first thing to ask yourself is:
'What do you want from a red light therapy device'?
- Are you looking for something you can take with you to the gym? If so a small handheld device or a body wrap may be best.
- Are you looking for something to help treat a joint problem? Then a purpose built device may be best suited?
- Is anti-aging and skin rejuvenation your goal? Then a LED Mask should be considered.
- Or do you want full body benefits that you can use in your own home? Then a large Body Panel is the best pick.
Are you looking for help with hair loss? Or to treat a brain disorder?
What about travelling? Do you need something portable?
How tech savvy are you? Are you happy using apps and navigating menus? Or are large buttons with simple options better for you?
How much space do you have? Maybe a LED Mat is better than a large panel array if you're limited on this front.
Types of Red Light Therapy Products
When it comes to different Red Light Therapy Devices, you can break the key differences down into various groupings:
- Targeted vs Full Body
This is rather straight forward.
Is the device small and designed to treat one small 'targeted' area (such as a handheld torch, a helmet for the head, or a mask for the face),
Or is at a larger device designed to provide more light coverage (i.e. a wall panel, or a handheld LED array).
What you're trying to achieve will determine the best approach you take here.
For instance, a large wall panel can be used for full body systemic benefits, but also to treat that sprained ankle, or for facial treatments.
It's also important to note that the line between 'targeted' and 'full body' is rather blurred. For instance you could go with a Table Top panel - an array with 60-100 LEDs - and this would be perfect for facial treatments and that sore knee. But if you want to treat the entire body, then it's going to take a lot longer than a larger 600 LED Body Panel.
- Battery Powered vs Cabled
Next up you need to consider how you want to do perform your treatments?
Do you want to be able to move around the house or the gym when doing your treatment? Or are you happy standing in the same place for 10-20minutes.
If you want to move around while doing your treatment, then you will need to go with a battery powered device.
A battery powered device means you are limited to a much smaller and or lower powered device compared to a large mains powered panel array.
Let's say your goal is to help with recovery after a knee surgery, or to improve skin rejuvenation in your face. Then you could consider a battery powered product like the Kineon Move+ Pro for the joint recovery, or a JOVS 4D face mask for the beauty benefits.
- Panels vs Mat vs Beds
When it comes to the larger 'devices', there are 3 key types you can choose from:
- A LED Mat
- A Panel
- A 'Bed' or 'Booth'
These are ranked from smallest to largest, and also cheapest to most expensive.
Typically the larger devices put out more power as well, but that isn't always the case.
An LED Mat can be rolled up between use, but it does require laying directly on top of the mat. You're not going to get the same light coverage you would from say a panel or a bed. Plus the power output is typically quite low. These can be purchased for $500 - $2000+
A panel is the 'sweet spot' for many people as it offers great power, great coverage, it's simple to use, doesn't take up much space (most people hang them on the wall or the back of a door) and comes in at a great price point (around $500 - $5000 depending on size).
Finally the 'Beds' or walk in 'Booths' provide the best coverage and the most time efficient way to get a full body red light therapy treatment.
The downside is their large size (not great for those in small apartments) and the price (these start at $30,000 and go up to $120,000)
There are two things that matter when it comes to red light therapy, the first is the wavelength (and we'll discuss this in more detail below) the second is the irradiance, or power density.
Think of this as the amount of light being emitted from the source. The brighter, more powerful the light, the more light photons and energy entering the body.
Now finding the optimal therapeutic power output is still a complex, and some what controversial topic (you can read more about this here). But we do know that an underpowered light is not going to provide the penetration and energy to create a beneficial effect.
So no, those red LED's from the Christmas decoration shop are not going to cut it.
You need to ensure you're getting a device that is putting out a therapeutic amount of light. And if you're wanting to treat deeper into the body (i.e. a knee joint) then typically a higher powered light is going to work better.
In our reviews we use a device called a spectrometer to accurately measure the real world power irradiance figures from various red light therapy devices.
We also publish all of our results in our free product database. It's important to note that often our tested figures differ a lot from the companies claimed figures (it's not uncommon to see marketed figures 2-5x higher than what we test in our reviews).
Wavelengths: Red Light, Near Infrared Light, Blue Light....
Power output is one key metric to look at when buying a Red Light Therapy Device, the other is the wavelength or 'color' of light being emitted from the light source.
Different wavelengths of light create different effects on the body. X-Ray light for instance can be damaging. UV-B rays help the body synthesise Vitamin-D.
Scientists discovered that light in the red and invisible near-infrared spectrum are absorbed by our cells mitochondria, in turn creating more ATP. This is one of the reasons why red light therapy is so beneficial.
The optimal wavelengths for this benefit range from ~600nm (red light) through to ~1200nm (near-infrared light). But what is interesting is that specific wavelengths within this range have shown unique benefits.
805-810nm light for instance has shown a lot of benefit around recovery and sports performance.
1000-1100nm light is well documented to help with various brain disorders.
Red light around 620- 670nm appears to be the most efficient for cellular ATP increases.
Red Light On A Budget
Finally we have budget.
Sure a $120,000 medical grade NovoThor may have it all, but if it's out of your budget you need to look elsewhere.
With so many options in the red light therapy market, there is something to cater for all. If you look at the panels at one end you have premium full body products with advanced touch screen control panels, remote controls, motorised stands and great warranty periods.
On the other side we have budget options with smaller treatment areas, the two key wavelengths, basic control systems and no fancy bells and whistles.
At the end of the day though, if the device is putting out the correct wavelengths with a decent amount of power, then it will work.
Our Shopping Tool does a great job of helping you find the right product for your budget.
Otherwise check out our reviews or comparisons looking at options for those on a tight budget.
Finding The Right Red Light Therapy Device For You
Now that you know what to look for when buying a red light therapy device, where should you go to next? Here are a few resources that will help you on your way:
If you have decided on the product you want, be sure to check out our Deals Page to see if you can pick up a discount before buying. Light Therapy Insiders has managed to source discounts ranging from 5% to 10% or more on most red light therapy products.
Looking for a 'done for you' recommendation? Don't want to study the data and try and determine what is the best option for you? Then head to our Recommendations page where we outline the best product for various goals (and budgets!)
We review an extensive amount of Red Light Therapy products. And each week we're publishing new reviews (so be sure to subscribe to our email list). You can see all of our reviews on our Review page. You can also check out all our video reviews on our YouTube Channel.
This database is the ultimate tool to help you find your perfect red light device. If you know exactly what you want - what size, what wavelengths, maybe even where it's shipped from - head over to our product database, adjust the filters to suit and see what remains.
Still confused after reading all of this? Head over to our Facebook Group and leave a comment.
One of the LTI team members will respond within 24 hours!
- Keen To Learn More?
Not quite ready to buy, but keen to dive deeper into this amazing world of light therapy? Then here are a few articles and videos that we thought you may enjoy: