Introduction to Red Light Therapy

Hand on shoulder

Red light therapy (RLT) is quickly gaining the spotlight as an alternative therapy for a number of health, fitness, and skin issues.

Called many names such as photobiomodulation (PBM), and low-level light therapy (LLLT), RLT uses low-energy light emitting diodes (LEDs) for pain relief, treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis, and even weight loss.

While its use remains controversial, some research found evidence that it is safe and effective, particularly in reducing fine lines, skin roughness, and wrinkles.

So, if you want to know whether RLT is for you, read on. This article will discuss how red light therapy works, as well as its health, fitness and beauty benefits, and its possible side effects.

How does red light therapy work?

While more evidence is needed to solidify its supposed benefits to health and wellness, initial studies found that RLT is effective in helping to treat acne, age spots, sun damage, psoriasis, and wounds.

RLT was also found to help activate certain drugs that combat certain types of cancer such as lung and esophageal cancer.

So, how is this possible? RLT is believed to work by creating a biochemical effect in cells that helps improve the functioning of the mitochondria, organelles that are known as the powerhouse of cells.

By enhancing the mitochondria function, a cell can make more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which helps power the cell’s metabolic activities.

Having more of this energy-carrying molecule allows cellular metabolism to resume, and cells to function more efficiently.

How can you benefit from red light therapy?

The benefits of red light therapy are attributed to its certain wavelengths that penetrate beyond the skin’s surface, which are thought to have the following beneficial effects:

It helps lessen joint stiffness

Suffering from stiff joints? Red light therapy might help. Several studies show that red light therapy can reduce inflammation in the joint, alleviating pain and improving the symptoms of chronic joint disorders.

This pain-reduction effect results in less stiffness, allowing you to use your joints as you normally would.

It relaxes muscle spasms

Muscle spasms are commonly caused by muscle exhaustion, dehydration, and electrolyte abnormalities. Their intensities range from mild twitches to severe pain. Luckily, RLT works to relieve muscle spasms, too. 

One research showed that RLT has beneficial effects on muscle tissue as well. The study found that RLT or LLLT helps to stimulate stem and progenitor cells, aiding in muscle repair.

RLT has also been discovered to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage, which helps alleviate and treat muscle fatigue and injury.

People suffering from injured muscles or Duchenne muscular dystrophy as well as athletes may find RLT beneficial in addressing their muscular conditions.

It enhances blood flow

The body has natural responses to heat and among them is dilating blood vessels. The same effect occurs when the red light is applied.

The widening of blood vessels allows increased blood flow, which is associated with some benefits. Enhanced blood flow helps to deliver more nutrients throughout the body, and regulate blood pressure.

It reduces inflammation

One of the prized benefits of red light therapy is its ability to reduce inflammation, which has been linked to a number of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, and cancer.

Because of its inflammation-reducing effects, red light therapy can be used to treat joint injuries, excessive swelling, and osteoarthritis.

It relieves pain

Knee taping massage

It was also found that red light therapy can be used as an effective treatment for different types of pain such as headaches and back pain.

It’s anti-inflammatory effects also help decrease pain associated with muscle spasms, osteoarthritis, and other joint disorders.

It assists in wound healing

Not only can RLT help relieve pain but aid in healing wounds, too. Research shows that RLT also promotes the healing of skin wounds by reducing inflammatory cells, stimulating angiogenesis, and boosting fibroblast proliferation.

It boosts collagen production

Red light therapy is also well-known for its anti-aging effects, treating facial aging, and increasing collagen density.

RLT at certain wavelengths helps to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin fibers, resulting in smooth and firmer skin for a more youthful look.

It treats acne

Got a zit problem? RLT can treat acne as well as it helps improve circulation and minimize inflammation. It is also thought that RLT can diminish oil glands, reducing oil that contributes to the appearance of acne.

RLT was also found to be beneficial in dwindling the appearance of acne scars, making them less noticeable.

These favorable effects are partly attributed to RLT’s ability to improve collagen and elastin production and enhanced blood circulation, which can help speed up healing.

It helps treat frozen shoulder and restless leg syndrome

People suffering from frozen shoulder and restless leg syndrome (RLS) may also find relief from using RLT.

Another research found that the study participants who received laser treatment experienced less pain and lower disability scores compared with the placebo group.

Meantime, a case report also discovered that RLT has the potential to treat restless leg syndrome.

A 69-year-old Caucasian woman with restless leg syndrome for over 30 years received near-infrared light treatment, three times a week for four weeks.

According to the case report, the woman experienced no side effects from the treatment and was symptom-free by week four. The results suggest that light therapy may help treat patients with RLS.

It aids in weight loss

Person wearing loose jeans

If you’ve got some serious weight loss and fitness goals, you might find RLT beneficial, too. In fact, several studies provided proof of this.

A 2011 study found that RTL safely and significantly reduced waistline girth of 40 healthy men and women aged 18-65 years.

A separate study in 2013 showed that RLT has the potential to reduce fat and cellulite, and improve blood lipid profile without causing any adverse side effects.

Two separate studies concluded that RLT is a non-invasive approach for body contouring of the waist, hips, and thighs.

A comprehensive review of studies related to RLT’s body slimming effects also concluded that this light therapy is safe and effective for reducing fat layers.

Is It Safe to Use Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is considered to be a safe alternative treatment for a number of health issues. Its use has been found to be generally tolerable as well.

It is important to note, though, that results vary among people as well as the conditions being experienced. Some people and health issues may respond better compared with others.

What are the Possible Side Effects of Red Light Therapy?

Several studies noted that the use of red light therapy has no adverse side effects. And if there may be, the side effects are safe and painless and will disappear soon.

Some of the possible side effects of RLT include a headache or eye strain that is possibly caused by the light’s glare. Other people also reported experiencing burns and blisters after using RLT units.

To minimize the risk of these side effects, it is best to wear protection for your eyes and care for your units more. Using appropriate eye protection may lessen the effects of light. Some therapy kits come with this feature.

A few of those who reported burns and blisters experienced such after sleeping with the unit on or due to broken wires in the device. To avoid this, be careful not to sleep with the unit running, and make sure it is in perfect condition before using.

Consider the dose being given as higher doses don’t always mean more effective. Overuse of RLT may potentially cause dizziness, nausea or muscle weakness, so consider how long should your RLT sessions be.

How Often Should Your Red Light Therapy Sessions Occur?

The dosage and span of use of red light therapy usually depend on your condition, so it’s best to consult with a doctor first.

If you are using RLT for pain relief, several programs suggest you treat the area with light therapy two times a day for two weeks. Then, follow up with one or two sessions every week.

On the other hand, you can use RLT for anti-aging and cosmetic purposes for two to three times a week for three to six weeks. Then, follow up with a single session every two weeks for maintenance.

Take note, though: This still varies depending on your age, and the severity of your condition. While it is advised to follow the directions indicated in your unit, it is still best to seek professional advice from your physician.

Also, remember to follow your therapy plans to see optimum, visible results, and do not overuse your unit as it can adversely affect your progress.

How Long Will You Wait to See Results?

How soon the results will show also depend on your case. In some cases, people report experiencing pain relief as soon as 20 minutes following the treatment. In other cases, such as healing wounds, the results may be visible after 24 hours.


Several studies support the supposed health, fitness, and skin benefits of red light therapy, which you may find helpful in treating your condition, too.

There are many red light kits available in the market today, and they are usually designed for home use as well. Should you decide to try red light therapy, make sure that you research the best devices to buy, and consult with your doctor first.

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