- 7 min read

Red Light Therapy For Sunburn: Prevention and Treatment

Defend against sun damage and aging effects with red light therapy. Explore how this treatment can prevent and alleviate the discomfort of sunburn.

Red Light Therapy For Sunburn: Prevention and Treatment
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So today, I'll talk about red light therapy for sunburn - both prevention and treatment. It turns out red light therapy can lengthen the time if takes for you to get a sunburn, and also resolve a sunburn quicker than if you did nothing.

But let's begin with the basics though:

How Red Light Therapy Improves Skin Health

So there's a ton of research on red light therapy and skin health. Check the article I wrote on beauty if you want a deeper dive on this topic, check out the article I wrote on beauty.

But let's go over some basics here first (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6):

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. Naturally, that skin is exposed to light - except in modern-day conditions where people spend most of their time indoors in clothing.

Nevertheless, when red and near infrared light hit your skin, they penetrate into your body. There, the mitochondria in your skin absorb that light and energy production turns up.

As a result, nitric oxide is released, which helps blood flow in turn. And, the levels of "reactive oxygen species" (ROS) - a potentially harmful byproduct of energy production - is regulated. Inflammation which is closely tied to ROS also goes down.

Also, many signalling pathways are activated, which may explain the systemic effects. And, stem cells can be put to use. While all of these mechanisms seem complicated, for you it entails improved skin rejuvenation.

Red light therapy can help make your skin be more beautiful, with higher collagen and elastin levels (for firmness and elasticity). Red light therapy also speeds up wound healing, counters wrinkle formation, helps deal with acne and other skin conditions, and, as per the topic of this article, prevents and reverses sunburn.

Red light therapy can also enhance fat loss. In turn, fat loss will make you appear better overall.

Red Light Therapy Effects On Sunburn

So next up, let's consider the red light therapy effects on sunburn (1; 7). Review studies - which analyze and integrate earlier evidence - posit two mechanisms of red light therapy here:

  • The prevention of sunburn - so increasing the time it generally takes for you to get a sunburn
  • The treatment of sunburn - so, decreasing the time a sunburn lasts and reducing its symptoms.

One review describes the preventive effect (1). While the review considers many in vitro studies - so "in the glass" laboratory studies - one human study is considered:

"In the first in vivo study [with humans], prior to exposure to [Ultraviolet B or "UVB"] test subjects were pre-treated with 660 nm light as compared to controls who were not [30]. The progression in the development of erythema [i.e. skin redness] following UVB exposure was used as a measure of the deleterious reaction to UVB. The results of the study showed a reduction in the UVB-induced erythema reaction in a significant number of the pre-treated subjects. Also a SPF-15-like sun protection factor effect and a reduction in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation were observed. Subsequent experiments (unpublished data) using multiple wavelengths showed superior reduction in erythema in favor of the NIR end of the spectrum."

See the results of this study below:

Figure 5, (1)

As you can see, the higher near-infrared wavelengths of 870nm and 970nm offer the best results right now, as there is the least reddening with these. Blue light seems to be almost useless at any dose, as there's (almost?) no difference with control.

The study cites some other examples of the photoprotective effect of red and near infrared light exposure as well (1).

The proposed mechanism for this effect is the equivalence of morning sunlight. Historically, before the Industrial Revolution, most people lived outside.

Morning and also evening sunlight then provided the healing red and near-infrared light that not only preconditioned the skin but also gave the restorative effect after the greater ultraviolet exposure during the midday.

Reviews do state that red light therapy can work as treatment for sunburns as well (7).

Arguably, many different mechanisms are affected in sunburn by red light therapy (8; 9; 10; 11). But first of all, sunburns are bad for your health and you should prevent them. The risk of the deadliest skin cancer, melanoma, goes up the more sunburns you have each.

Nevertheless, sunburns are closely intertwined with inflammation. And it's red light therapy that has a huge effect on inflammation in general. Sunburns are also related to quicker skin aging, and red light therapy has a broad effect on skin aging as well, through many different mechanisms.

Other mechanisms, such as improved blood flow and the activation of stem cells may improve sunburns as well - although this is merely speculative. More research is needed in this area.

Nevertheless, red light therapy for sunburn works for both prevention and treatment.

I do still recommend using many other strategies to prevent a sunburn, such as a proper diet and high-quality sleep. Although the topic is beyond the scope of what I'm trying to accomplish in this article, nutrients such as carotenes, DHA (mostly from seafood), collagen protein, lycopene (tomatoes), can all counter sunburns.

So I never recommend relying on red light therapy alone in this area! And, simply wear a hat and long-sleeve clothes if you want to prevent a sunburn. Or get some zinc oxide sunscreen that is non-toxic.

Does It Really Help? Before And After Images

So I don't have any personal red light therapy for sunburn before and after images. But I can tell you from experience this therapy works. Also, my good friend Alex Fergus has tried out this method and has it consistently working over time. Here's his explanation:

Alex not only states that red light therapy for sunburn is effective, but he swears by it - those are his own words in the video. So if you're out in the sun and get a mild sunburn, use some red light therapy, the next day most if not not all of the sympoms are gone.

Alex even talks about how a bad sunburn is gone after one or several red light therapy sessions. I don't have much experience with bad sunburns in the last 15-20 years or so because I always cover up or get out of the sunlight before that happens.

I did have some very mild sunburns and they definitely get much better with red light therapy or with morning or evening sunlight, which is very high in different types of near infrared light as well as some red light.

In the video on the red light therapy benefits I've also posted above, Alex even shows some pictures of his peeling skin. Also, Alex states that he's got several experiences with the sunburn and that the red light therapy has worked very consistently for him.

What's even more important is that Alex tested whether his theory is true. So, with one sunburn, he didn't use any red light therapy and the sunburn lasted for days. With another "really bad burn" (his wording in the video), two red light therapy sessions and that pain when you lay down on your back is gone.

Since using red light therapy for sunburn, Alex hasn't had a problem with sunburns that lasted longer than 12 hours. He's had these results for years, so it's not a purely anecdotal experience.

Without red light therapy, 2 or 3 days later there's still soreness because of the sunburn. So there's a huge difference in time to recovery. If you want to know what setup Alex uses, check this video:

Conclusion: Red Light Therapy For Sunburn Is Not A Fad!

It turns out that the answer to the question "is red light therapy good for sunburn" is yes. Don't get overconfident though, as sunburns are still very bad for your health!

So instead of thinking you can get a sunburn and then use red light therapy for healing purposes, it's better to prevent it in the first place. So, wear long-sleeved clothes and a hat to avoid a sunburn - a strategy already in use for thousands of years!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Lastly, I'll consider a few frequently asked questions on this topic:

Can You Do Red Light Therapy With A Sunburn?

Absolutely, and, given the evidence, it's highly recommended to do red light therapy with a sunburn. You'll likely massively decrease the healing time of the sunburn.

Can Red Light Therapy Burn Your Skin?

No, technically, red light therapy cannot burn your skin - because no ultraviolet light is involved.

What is extremely rare is that we've got some anecdotal reports about red light therapy causing some redness in the skin that people describe as a "sunburn" because of overdoing red light therapy. Some people are in poor health and aggravate their skin somehow - although this is an extremely low percentage of less than 1% of users.

In that case, simply lower your red light therapy dose.

Does Red Light Therapy Heal Sunburn?

Yes, although more research is needed here, it looks that red light therapy can heal a sunburn and dramatically speed up the healing rate. Also, if you ask "does red light therapy help sunburn", yes, generally, its more of an aid and won't immediately heal the sunburn.

Can You Do Red Light Therapy With A Sunburn?

Once again, the answer here is yes! But ensure you're using a low dose for skin treatment! If you want more info, check my red light therapy distance from skin article, as well as the dosing article listed above.

This is a post by Bart Wolbers of Lighttherapyinsiders. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), has had training in functional medicine, and is currently chief science writer.

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