Red light therapy treats pain, inflammation, wounds, arthritis, and strokes. It can also be used to improve mental and physical performance.

Red light therapy has a lot of potential in treating a variety of health conditions because of its lack of side effects. Keep reading to learn about all its health benefits.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy shines red light wavelengths (620-750 nm) through human skin to elicit certain effects in the underlying tissue. It usually uses a whole panel of red light or a LED panel.

Treatment sessions are usually short, lasting only seconds to minutes in duration, and are usually conducted every other day for weeks to months.

Surprisingly, unlike many other treatments used to address similar conditions, there are virtually no reported side effects.

Mechanisms

Most of red light’s effects are through the cells’ mitochondria absorbing light. The cytochrome c oxidase in the mitochondria absorbs red light, which causes it to release nitric oxide, increase ATP, and decrease oxidative stress [R].

This can then cause a chain reaction in the cells and affect responses such as cell formation, movement, death, and inflammation. However, its effects depend on the type of cell and its status [R].

This increased ATP (energy) production is possibly the cause of light therapy’s positive effects on muscle recovery and physical performance [R].

Health Benefits of Red Light

1) Red Light Therapy Is Anti-Inflammatory

One of the main uses of red light therapy is to treat inflammation [R].

Red light therapy limits the inflammatory response and reduces oxidative damage by reducing inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IL-1A, and IL-6) [R].

A review on muscle repair (in animal models) concluded that red light therapy has the capacity to reduce inflammation, positively impact growth factors, and increase blood vessel formation [R].

A common side effect of chemotherapy is oral mucositis, which is when inflammation breaks down the lining of the mouth. In a systematic review of 11 RCTs, both red and infrared light therapy significantly reduced the incidence and severity of oral mucositis [R].

2) Red Light Therapy Relieves Pain

In mice, red LED therapy reduced pain and improved motion after spinal cord injury [R].

In a study (DB-RCT) of 80 chemotherapy patients, red light significantly reduced self-reported pain [R].

Red light therapy might treat tennis elbow for a short period of time, but these findings were only shown by one study (RCT) [R].

With regards to chronic low back pain, findings are mixed [R, R].

3) Red Light Therapy Enhances Wound Healing

In a triple-blind RCT of 12 dental patients, red light therapy improved healing rate after oral surgery. However, it did not reduce pain [R].

In an RCT of 16 diabetic patients, red light therapy significantly decreased diabetic foot ulcer size and reduced pain [R].

Another RCT of 30 diabetic patients showed similar results; red light therapy combined with conventional therapy reduced ulcer size more than conventional therapy alone [R].

In diabetic rat models of skin wound and burn injury, red light significantly improved healing and was superior to infrared therapy for burn wounds [R, R].

Red light also enhanced the healing rate of incision wounds in diabetic rats and reduced the risk of infection [R].

In rabbits with skin wounds, red light therapy decreased healing time significantly more than blue light or no light treatment. It promoted tissue and cell growth [R].

4) Red Light Therapy Improves Physical Performance

In a study of 39 heart disease patients, red light therapy improved performance and decreased chest pain during exercise tests [R].

In a DB-RCT, 40 healthy untrained males underwent an intensive exercise session. The participants that underwent  red light therapy had significantly improved performance, decreased soreness, and reduced indicators of muscle damage compared to ones that did not have light therapy [R].

In female athletes, 2 weeks of red light therapy improved sleep quality and endurance [R].

Red light therapy also significantly improved recovery after high-intensity exercise in a DB-RCT of 40 volunteers [R].

Interestingly, red light’s effectiveness has caused researchers to question whether it should be permitted in athletic competitions due to its effectiveness in enhancing athletic performance and improving recovery [R].

5) Red Light Therapy Improves Cognitive Function

Red light therapy has been studied in a wide variety of conditions including stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, depression, and cognitive enhancement in healthy subjects [R].

In a DB-RCT of 11 dementia patients, red and near-infrared light therapy improved memory, attention, and executive function [R].

In one case study, red light therapy also decreased depression, anxiety, headache, and insomnia. Meanwhile, their cognitive function and quality of life improved [R].

Red light therapy may also improve brain function after a traumatic brain injury. In two case studies, red light therapy improved memory, attention, and even reduced PTSD in one patient [R].

In rats, red light treatment balanced inflammatory marker levels (IL-1β, TNF-α, and IL-6) and prevented cell death. This helped improve brain function for 4 weeks after a head injury [R].

6) Red Light Therapy Is Antimicrobial

In HPV patients, 3 months of red light treatment also helped eradicate the human papillomavirus from their body. However, it is possible to be re-infected after light treatment is finished [R].

In dental patients, red light therapy can help reduce infections and inflammation during oral surgery [R].

Red light killed bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes, Actinomyces odontolyticus, and Porphyromonas gingivalis) in plaque samples from dental patients [R].

7) Red Light Therapy Improves Skin Quality

In a study of 31 subjects, a combination of red and infrared LED light therapy helped improve skin conditions. They had less sun-induced aging and wrinkles [R].

In a DB-RCT of 52 female patients, 12 weeks daily treatment with red light therapy significantly improved eye wrinkles [R].

A similar study showed that LED therapy is effective against sunspots in middle-aged participants [R].

In a single-blinded RCT, red light was superior to infrared light in treating acne [R].

The addition of red light to blue light also improved acne symptoms significantly compared to blue light alone and benzoyl peroxide in an RCT of 107 acne patients [R].

Red light therapy also significantly improved skin complexion, roughness, and collagen density in an RCT of 136 participants [R].

However, in human cells, several characteristics associated with skin scarring increased with red light like reactive oxygen species and collagen formation inhibition [R].

8) Red Light Therapy Stimulates Hair Growth

In a DB-RCT, red light therapy every other day for 17 weeks induced hair regrowth in women with androgenic alopecia (balding due to hormonal imbalance) [R].

In a DB-RCT of 41 men, red light treatment every other day for 16 weeks significantly increased hair follicles relative to placebo [R].

Reviews on alopecia and hair loss concluded red light therapy was safe and effective for both men and women [R, R].

Side Effects

There are almost no reported side effects of red light therapy. The most common complaint is tiredness and redness of the skin [R, R].

Caveats

Although the effects of red light therapy have been consistent across a wide range of wound types and animal models, large clinical trials in humans are lacking in this area.

Additionally, most of the studies available are using laser therapy, not led panels. Even though both use red light wavelengths, the effects of lasers and panels may be different.

Caution should be taken when undergoing red light therapy for its health benefits.

Gene Interactions

Red light treatment can increase and decrease the expression (production) of many genes. In human cells, by increasing certain gene activity, red light helps increase cell formation, antioxidant activity, and energy production [R, R].

User Experiences

Users report experiencing a wide range things; for example, one user reported improved cognitive functioning, attention, working memory, mood, motivation, wakefulness, and physical performance.

Some users of red light therapy have reported hair regrowth, reduced skin wrinkles, and pain relief.

One user reported being able to work for incredibly long periods of time without feeling tired.

The most common responses are pain reduction, enhanced cognitive function, and skin improvement.

Although some people have reported improvements in tinnitus symptoms from red light therapy, no human trials have been performed. There are some studies using red light lasers, but not red light led panels [R].

Buy Red Light Therapy Device

I have the original (medium-sized one) with the combo of red and infrared (660 and 850 nm). It feels really nice on the skin. I and other team members at SelfHacked HQ find that it helps with skin problems and wound healing. Deeper and longer exposure helps with muscle aches and soreness, too.

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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