Red light therapy seems to be everywhere, from spas to doctor's offices/chiropractic, dermatologists, and even gyms. Today, let's take a deep dive through the world of red and infrared light therapy. We'll explore what it is, the various wavelengths, benefits, mechanisms of action, and some different types of red light therapy units and available options. 

Let's dive in! 

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red Light Therapy (RLT) and Near Infrared Light Therapy (NIR), collectively also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), is a therapeutic technique that uses various wavelengths of red and/or near-infrared light to enhance overall well-being by stimulating an increase in the health and function of our cells. The easiest way to imagine its overall purpose? It's a concentrated dose of the sun's healing power without any of the blue or UV light present in actual sunlight! Just like we nourish our cells by ingesting nutrients in our food, the photons of light energy in red and near-infrared light are like light food for our cells! 

Understanding the wavelengths

Just like anything else, it helps to know a bit about the light spectrum before understanding how this therapy works. 

Unlike bright light therapy, which uses the entire spectrum (but specifically blue light) to target receptors in our eyes and to help wake and stimulate the circadian rhythm, red and near-infrared light target cells specifically - it is absorbed through the skin and can work either on the skin's surface or deeper within the body, like the bones. 

red light therapy spectrum

Red light (630-750nm) comprises the last portion of the visible light spectrum. Since red light has shorter wavelengths than near-infrared light, it is absorbed primarily by the skin and doesn't penetrate more deeply into the body. For this reason, red light therapy is used mainly to target skin health, collagen production, reduction of scars, etc. Many estheticians use red light therapy on their patients to help improve the appearance of the skin. 

Near and mid-infrared light (800-1400nm) are the longer wavelengths of light right after red light (and the end of the visible light spectrum). Infrared light is not visible to the human eye but is instead felt as radiant heat (like that from a fire or an incandescent light bulb) and holds many benefits for our overall health and the health of our mitochondria, commonly known as the "energy generators" of our cells (more on this in just a bit).  

The longer the wavelength of light, the further it can penetrate the body, so near-infrared light can penetrate more deeply, supplying beneficial light nourishment deep into our tissues, organs, cells, and even bones! (Interestingly, infrared light comprises approximately half of sunlight itself)!

Using Both Red + NIR Light Therapy Together

Great things are often wonderful on their own but even better together. Many red light devices are combo units delivering both red light wavelengths and near-infrared light wavelengths. The reason for this is simple: they work synchronously to bring about the most significant benefits! 

Key Benefits of Red/Infrared Light Therapy:

We've alluded to the benefits of red/NIR light therapy, but now, let's really get into it! 

If we had to boil down the benefits of red and infrared light therapy into categories, they would be Energy, Mood, Recovery, and Skin Health.

And - as we've alluded to all along - these various benefits all have to do with the main benefit and mechanism of action of red/NIR light therapy: enhanced mitochondrial and cellular function. Since cells are the building blocks of our physical being, improving cells can have many far-reaching benefits! 

Reduced InflammationRed light/NIR light therapy has been found to effectively reduce inflammation by stimulating cellular processes that help alleviate swelling, redness, and pain associated with inflammatory conditions. Targeting affected areas can provide relief for conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, and muscle strains, promoting better mobility and comfort.

Pain Management:

By reducing inflammation and promoting tissue repair, red light therapy may help alleviate pain associated with conditions such as arthritis, muscle strains, and chronic pain syndromes.

Better Recovery:

By triggering a cascade of biochemical reactions, red and near-infrared light therapy facilitates the release of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that enhances blood flow to injured or fatigued muscles, accelerating the removal of metabolic waste and delivering vital nutrients for faster healing. Furthermore, these wavelengths mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress, reducing discomfort and swelling associated with injury or intense physical exertion.

Skin Health: 

Red light therapy has been shown to stimulate collagen production, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and improve overall skin tone and texture.

Improved mental acuity:

These wavelengths have the ability to penetrate the skull and reach the brain, where they stimulate mitochondrial function and increase cerebral blood flow. As a result, red and near-infrared light therapy can optimize neuronal activity and enhance neurotransmitter release, which are essential for cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and learning. Furthermore, this therapy has been found to reduce neuroinflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, both of which can impair cognitive function over time. By promoting neuroplasticity and supporting neuronal health, red and near-infrared light therapy offers a non-invasive and potentially effective method for improving mental acuity and cognitive performance in individuals of all ages. 


The Effect of Red and NIR Light on Our Cells

The most well-studied mechanism of action surrounding red and near-infrared light therapy is increased mitochondrial energy production in our cells.

Mitochondria, often referred to as cell energy generators, are responsible for generating energy stored in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As we age - or due to various factors such as illness and lifestyle choices - our mitochondria produce less ATP over time.

Red light therapy encourages the production of more ATP, allowing cells to function more efficiently. For instance, after undergoing red light therapy, cells exhibit improved abilities to repair the skin and promote new cell growth.

Moreover, exposure to red light triggers cells to expedite the production of antioxidants. This, in turn, leads to lower levels of inflammation. 

In essence, red light therapy works by leveraging the power of these specific wavelengths of light to optimize cellular processes, promote healing, and mitigate inflammation for overall improved well-being.


The Role of Cytochrome C Oxidase

At the heart of red light therapy lies cytochrome c oxidase, a vital enzyme found within the mitochondria of our cells. Mitochondria are often referred to as the cell's powerhouse, responsible for generating energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Cytochrome c oxidase plays a crucial role in the final step of the electron transport chain, where oxygen is used to produce ATP.

Red and near-infrared light wavelengths interact with an enzyme called Cytochrome C Oxidase to stimulate mitochondria to use oxygen more efficiently to produce more ATP.

By enhancing ATP production, red light therapy provides cells with an energy boost, enabling them to perform their functions more efficiently. This can have various beneficial effects, from accelerating wound healing and reducing inflammation to improving muscle recovery and skin health. Better, more efficient cells translate to better systemic function and overall well-being.


How to use Red Light Therapy

Use in 10-20 minute increments 3-12 inches away from your target treatment area. For maximum effect, use on bare skin. You should feel a soothing warmth, and many people report a feeling of energy as the light takes effect. Relax and breathe as you visualize the concentrated benefits of red light therapy!

It's recommended not to look at the lamp directly while in use and to use protective eyewear (provided) if using the lamp anywhere near your face/eyes.








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