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The Potential Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Last Updated on: December 23, 2021

woman checking her skin

Have you ever heard of red light therapy (RLT) and wondered what it’s all about? As it turns out, RLT may be a safe and effective treatment for a myriad of health concerns.

You may have seen red light therapy (RLT) offered in gyms, spas, or tanning salons and wondered what its benefits are. RLT is even offered in dermatology offices, lending credibility to its use. (1)

Interestingly, RLT rose to prominence in the 1990s when researchers were attempting to help plants grow in space. They found that RLT promoted the growth of the plants’ cells. Based on this information, scientists then studied whether or not RLT could increase energy in human cells. They found that RLT helped treat the side effects of weightlessness from space travel, including slowed wound healing, bone density problems, and atrophied muscles. RLT is now more widely applicable for a variety of health conditions. (2)

young woman getting red light therapy session
RLT uses painless, low-level heat to help the cells’ mitochondria generate energy.

How Does RLT Work?

During an RLT session, your skin is exposed to low levels of red light, which your body experiences as heat. The mitochondria in your cells, which generate energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), take in this heat and use it to make more energy and repair themselves. Scientists believe that this ramped-up energy production helps heal skin and muscle tissue. (2, 3)

RLT will not burn or damage your skin like laser and pulsed-light therapies, which purposely damage the skin to induce tissue repair. RLT eliminates this step by employing a low level of heat to stimulate the skin. (2, 3)

upclose of a knee scrape
RLT can speed up wound repair by stimulating new blood vessel formation.

What Are the Benefits of RLT?

Many studies have shown the promising benefits of RLT for several health issues.

Skin Improvement

A review in the publication, “Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery,” states that RLT may increase the production of collagen in the skin. Collagen is responsible for skin’s elasticity. The same review also notes that RLT may increase circulation between blood and tissue cells, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and protect skin cells from damage. Another study from the journal, “Photomedicine and Laser Surgery,” found that RLT can improve the skin’s feel and complexion. (4)

Wound Healing

More studies are needed, but initial research in wound healing shows that RLT may accelerate wound repair by stimulating the formation of new blood vessels and reducing inflammation. RLT can also help the skin produce fibroblasts, which are connective-tissue cells that secrete proteins, especially molecular collagen. (4, 5)

Hair Growth

A study in the “Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy” revealed that RLT improved hair density in people with alopecia compared to people in the control group. (4)

Pain Reduction

RLT may also be effective for pain management in people with certain musculoskeletal disorders. The “European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine” gathered the results of many studies on this topic, and the research showed that RLT reduced musculoskeletal pain in adults. (4)

Anti-Inflammatory Support

The journal, “AIMS Biophysics,” states that a variety of the health issues that RLT can treat are rooted in inflammation and that RLT has substantial anti-inflammatory abilities. Researchers say that because of this, RLT may help treat chronic inflammation-based diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, tendonitis, psoriasis, and thyroiditis. (4)

woman checking her skin's complexion
RLT can help improve the skin’s feel and complexion.

Red Light Therapy Pros and Cons

Pros

RLT is a promising therapy, and there is very little risk in using it. This is because RLT does not cause damage and is painless when used properly; it simply uses safe, low-level heat to stimulate energy and repair in the cells. (3, 4)

Cons

It may take several RLT sessions before patients notice improvement. Also, there are no guidelines on how much light to use. Using too much light may damage your skin, and using too little may not produce the desired results. In addition, RLT is not Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. For these two reasons, RLT should not be used without the advice of a doctor. (2, 3, 4)

The Takeaway

Now that you’re aware of the possible benefits of red light therapy, you can start to explore whether RLT is right for you or your family members. Take time to ask your doctor about this painless natural remedy.

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