Red light therapy (RLT) is a debatable therapeutic technique that involves the use of low-level red wavelengths of light to treat skin complications, such as scars, wrinkles, and stubborn wounds, among other issues.
In the early 90s, red light therapy was applied by scientists to help with plant growth in space. It was discovered that intense light emitted from the red light improved plant growth and photosynthesis of cells.
Red light was then reviewed for its potential medical applications, more particularly, to find out if red light therapy could be used to increase energy in human cells.
Researchers had hoped that red light therapy could be used to effectively slow wound healing, treat muscle atrophy, and tackle bone density complications caused by weightlessness during space trips.
Other names associated with RLT include;
- Soft laser therapy
- Cold laser therapy
- Photobiomodulation (PBM)
- Photonic stimulation
- Low-level light therapy
- Low-power laser therapy
When red light therapy is used with photosensitizing treatment, it is known as photodynamic therapy. In this case, the light serves as a stimulating agent for the medication. There are several types of red light therapy.
Some salons have red light beds that they use in reducing cosmetic skin complications, such as wrinkles and stretch marks.
RLT used in medical care may be used to manage more severe complications, like slow-healing wounds, psoriasis, and some side effects of chemotherapy.
Where there is little evidence to support the positive impact of red light therapy in the treatment of some conditions, we still have a lot to learn about how it works.
How does RLT work?
Red light works by generating a biochemical effect in the cells that energize the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of cells in the body.
By using red light therapy to maximize the function of the mitochondria, the strengthened cells can produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
ATP is the energy-transporting molecule found in the cells all living things. Cells can then function more effectively with more energy boost. It also becomes easier to repair damage and rejuvenate themselves.
Red light therapy is different from intense or laser pulsed light therapies. This is because RLT poses no threat to the skin surface. Laser or pulsed light therapy operates by causing inducing controlled damage to the outer layer of the skin, and then it induces tissue repair.
Red light therapy skips that intense step by directly triggering regeneration of the skin. Red light therapy uses light that penetrates about 5 millimeters below the surface of the skin.
How is RLT used?
Since the earlier experiments in deep space, there have been countless clinical studies and lab studies conducted to help determine the medical benefits of RLT. Many of these studies have shown promising results, but the advantages of red light therapy are still up for debate.
For instance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has insisted that there isn’t enough proof to show that RLT devices are better than currently available treatments for treating ulcers, wounds, and pain.
Further clinical studies are needed to prove that red light therapy is indeed effective adequately. However, there is evidence to show that red light therapy may have the following benefits;
- Help the short-term treatment of CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Help to improve tissue repair and wound healing
- Increase hair growth in individuals with androgenic alopecia
- Minimizes psoriasis lesions
- Stimulates the healing of slow-healing injuries, such as diabetic ulcers
- Promote the health of joints in people with degenerative osteoarthritis affecting the knee
- Helps to prevent recurring cold sores caused by herpes simplex virus infections
- Helps to remove scars
- Helps to mend the damage caused by the sun
- Helps with short-term relief of pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis
- Minimizes some side effects of chemotherapy
- Helps in relieving inflammation and pain in people with discomfort in the Achilles’ tendons
- Improves the complexion of the skin and rejuvenate collagen to erase wrinkles
Presently, RLT isn’t covered or endorsed by insurance companies for the above conditions because of a lack of sufficient evidence. Notwithstanding, a few insurance companies now include the use of red light therapy in preventing oral mucositis caused during cancer treatment.
Does RLT really work?
While we are often excited about the news of miracle treatments for many health complications, RLT isn’t a cure for everything. In fact, it is considered experimental for many conditions.
There’s little to no evidence to support that red light therapy does the following:
- Reduces cellulite
- Helps with weight loss
- Stimulates the lymphatic system to detoxify the body
- Boost the body’s immune
- Treat neck and back pain
- Treat cancer
- Cures acne
- Treating depression, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder
- Fight dental infections and periodontitis
It is vital to note that when red light therapy is used with cancer treatments, the light helps to stimulate another medication.
Furthermore, other light therapies have been used to aid with some of the above conditions. For example, studies have shown that white light therapy is more efficient with treating symptoms of depression than RLT, while blue light therapy is generally used for acne.
Similar treatment options
Red light wavelengths aren’t the only wavelengths that require studying for medical purposes. Greenlight, blue light, and a combination of different wavelengths have been used in various studies.
There are presently other types of light-based therapies you can talk to your doctor about, and some of them include;
- Natural sunlight
- Laser treatments
- Sauna light therapy
- Green or blue light therapy
- Psoralen and ultraviolet light A
- Ultraviolet light B (UVB)
Selecting a provider
Several tanning salons, local day spas, and gyms offer red light therapy for cosmetic applications. You can also purchase FDA-approved devices online for home use.
These devices can be used to combat signs of aging, like wrinkles, spots, and fine lines. Ensure to read the instructions before use carefully.
Several treatments may be needed before any difference is noticed, but first, consult with your dermatologist. You should fix an appointment with your doctor to talk about your options in the treatment of severe medical complications, such as arthritis, cancer, and psoriasis.
Side effects of Red Light Therapy
RLT is considered painless and safe. Notwithstanding, there have been reports of blisters and burns from using RLT units.
There have been cases where people develop burns after sleeping with the unit still in place. Other experience burns due to device corrosion or broken wires.
Adequate eye protection may be required while undergoing red light therapy, as there is also the risk of RLT affecting the eyes.
Red light therapy has shown encouraging results in the treatment of some skin complications. However, there is still debate about the benefits of using red light as treatment within the scientific community.
Based on on-going research, people may find red light therapy is a fantastic tool to include in your skincare regimen. Make sure to discuss with your dermatologist or doctor before trying anything new.
Red light devices can be bought online, but it’s best to get your healthcare provider’s opinion on any symptoms you are experiencing before attempting to self-treat.
Also, remember that RLT isn’t covered by insurance companies and isn’t FDA-approved for many conditions. Any severe condition, like slow-healing wounds, arthritis, psoriasis, or pain, should be reported to your doctor.
Have you ever used red light therapy before? What conditions did you use it to treat? What was the outcome of the treatment using RLT? Please share your experience with us in the comments.