Among the many new health and wellness practices to emerge in recent years, red light therapy is one of the most popular research-backed methods. With potential health benefits ranging from skin health to improved recovery, the power of red light shows promise in many areas.
With claims that it can help you look, feel, and perform better, it’s no surprise that red light therapy is gaining momentum. The question remains: is it worth your time and money to pursue?
Now that many clinics, salons, and gyms offer red light services, it’s time to dive deep into the science behind his therapy and discover what it’s all about.
What is red light therapy?
Understanding red light therapy starts with learning about red light itself. In technical terms, this therapy uses a form of low-level or near-infrared red light that isn’t on the UV spectrum. Therefore, it doesn’t tan the skin or run the risk of burns.
Instead, red light is part of the visible light spectrum, specifically longer wavelengths that correspond to the color red. If you’re sensitive to UV or don’t want to expose your skin to harsh rays, red light therapy offers a safer way to get all the benefits light has to offer.
While the human body doesn’t directly convert light into energy like plants, it does require light to stimulate and support various biological processes. When red light is absorbed into the skin, it interacts with the energy-producing powerhouse of the cells known as mitochondria. Consistent exposure can lead to various health benefits that make red light an appealing option for many.
The feeling of red light is subtle and invigorating, and offers a calming yet energizing effect, according to users. The potential benefits of this therapy are more than skin deep, explaining why red light therapy is popular among high-performance athletes and physical therapy participants. Now that this technique is more accessible and sustainable, it’s worth looking deeper into red light therapy to see if it’s worthwhile.
How does red light therapy work?
Red light therapy is delivered with LED lights or low-level lasers, which emit a specific type of light to the skin. These lights aren’t like typical overhead LEDs or incandescent bulbs that emit blue light—they offer a warm red glow that provides a soothing and calming effect.
There are many formats of red light therapy offered, from small panels of lights to full-on beds that allow for total-body exposure. Custom devices, such as red light “helmets,” are also popular for specialized treatments like hair restoration.
The typical red light therapy session starts with removing clothing from the target area to maximize exposure. You bring your skin close to the lights and remain still as the red light penetrates into the surface-layer cells and deep beneath. The process usually takes 15 minutes to get enough red light to the target area, allowing you to take a moment for relaxation.
While you might not feel the effects of red light therapy immediately, users report a sense of calm, balance, and increased energy when the session finishes. The more of your skin you can expose to the red light in a given session, the greater the possible benefits.
Red light does not trigger the same response as UV rays, which means you can enjoy the technique at any time of day—you don’t need to worry about offsetting your circadian rhythm, meaning you can make it part of your evening routine and still get to bed on time.
What are the pros of using red light therapy?
Red light therapy is now a well-known therapeutic technique, but what exactly are the benefits? Let’s see what attracts the masses to red light and why you might want to make it part of your routine.
Who doesn’t want clear, glowing skin with an even complexion? Skin rejuvenation is one of the main calling cards of red light therapy, appealing to users of all ages and backgrounds. This benefit is backed by the idea of collagen production, which naturally declines with age. Red light can help stimulate the process of collagen synthesis in the skin, leading to a potential reduction in wrinkles, fine lines, or spots.
Red light therapy is also popular as a treatment for reducing scar tissue, making it a popular option for individuals bouncing back from cosmetic surgery. Combined with safe sun exposure and a balanced skincare routine, red light therapy could be a valuable asset in your skin health regimen.
Everyone is on a different time frame when it comes to healing, whether you’re dealing with scrapes on the skin or a more severe injury. By stimulating the energy-producing mitochondria of the cells, red light therapy can accelerate the wound-healing cycle and possibly reduce the time it takes to repair damage that has been done to the body.
This process is in part due to the increased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which powers the cells to perform various functions like healing and cell turnover. It may also be linked to increased circulation that comes with red light therapy, as it dilates blood vessels and boosts the flow of nutrients and oxygen to areas in need of repair.
The wound-healing properties of red light explain why it has become such a widely used form of therapy for athletes bouncing back from injury and surgery patients on their journey to recovery.
Managing pain is one of the more challenging aspects of self-care and medical practice in general. Since red light therapy has possible analgesic effects, it could be one of the more promising non-invasive methods to reduce discomfort associated with various conditions.
By stimulating cells on a micro level, red light can reduce some of the swelling and tension around joints or muscles that have been impacted by injury or illness. As the medical community searches for ways to provide safer, non-pharmaceutical methods of relief for patients, red light therapy has the potential to be a game changer.
Research on the mood-boosting effects of red light therapy is limited, but many users have reported improved mental well-being from their experience. This is likely the result of enhanced circulation and endorphin production that red light provides, some of which can target the brain or gut microbiome.
Science still has a ways to go in the study of emotional regulation and mood, but one thing is certain: a healthy body supports a healthy mind. By prioritizing physical well-being and taking other steps to promote psychological balance, red light is just one of many possible routes to lift the fog and feel well.
The toughest physical training regimens call for proven recovery protocols. Red light can stimulate cells when they’ve undergone wear and tear from weight training, running, and other forms of physical activity.
Red light therapy may also assist in delivering nutrients to cell structures that need them most during the repair and restoration process. If you’re taking recovery seriously and looking to maximize your time out of the gym, red light therapy can be a useful accessory in your program.
Hair growth stimulation
The hair restoration space is home to much speculation, with only a few approved treatments available. However, red light therapy is among the most promising new methods to emerge, with several patents for red light devices aimed at hair growth stimulation and loss prevention.
The evidence is mounting that red light can stimulate the growth cycles of existing hair follicles on the scalp and even rejuvenate the activity of dormant hair. While it might not be the miracle cure for hair regrowth, consistent red light can support other hair restoration efforts for improved results.
When searching for a therapeutic program, the non-invasive label makes a big difference. This means the method does not require a recovery period or cause further discomfort to reach a better long-term outcome.
With red light therapy, you’re not dealing with needles, punctures, or complex processes that take hours of your day. It’s an easy 15-minute session that you can enjoy with your favorite music and a cup of tea in the morning or afternoon.
Wide range of applications
The versatility of red light therapy is one of the main attractions, with many more formats coming to the forefront. The classic lay-down “bed” is arguably the most effective, but brands have introduced more compact designs that allow for at-home use with ease.
Out of all the benefits we’ve described so far, there’s bound to be some overlap in the potential user base for red light therapy. Perhaps you want to minimize wrinkles while also healing an injury or boosting scalp hair health. Red light therapy broad range of potential benefits means you can consider it multi-faceted approach overall health and wellbeing.
Some of the most popular therapies for recovery, rejuvenation, or skincare aren’t necessarily comfortable. Ice baths, sports massages, and microdermabrasion, for instance, all have a certain level of discomfort associated.
But with red light therapy, you get a pleasant and comforting experience that you’ll actually look forward to rather than dread. This is a huge plus for anyone looking to ease back into a healthy lifestyle and stay on track with a sustainable process for the long term.
What are the cons of using red light therapy?
There’s a lot to love about red light therapy, but what about potential downsides? We must look at both sides of the coin to give an honest analysis. Here are some reasons why red light therapy should be approached with caution, despite all its benefits.
Potential eye damage
Red light is nowhere near as abrasive or harmful as UV light, but there is a slight possibility of eye damage without proper eye protection.
The light emitted from red light bulbs can be bright, even if they appear soft and tolerable to the eyes. If you plan to make red light therapy a part of your daily routine, be sure to come equipped with goggles that keep your eyes safe.
Possible side effects
There are always potential side effects when any type of treatment, and red light is no exception. Some users report temporary redness or irritation in certain areas when using red light, especially those with sensitive skin conditions.
If you have a patch of skin that needs extra care, try keeping it covered while undergoing red light therapy to start. You will still reap the general benefits and stimulate healing properties that can prove useful in your recovery.
Red light therapy is more accessible than ever, but for the best treatments, there is a price to pay. Full-body red light therapy sessions can cost anywhere from $10 to $20, though monthly subscriptions to salons or gyms can bring down these costs to a reasonable level.
You can also invest in an at-home red light setup in the form of a lamp or wall attachment for full-body exposure. While this upfront cost can be intimidating, the long-term savings could be worthwhile if you decide to incorporate red light into your everyday routine.
There’s always a chance of possible interactions with certain medications and topical products in your skincare routine. Stay on the safe side and research ahead of time to ensure you can use red light therapy with limited risk.
The most potent benefits of red light therapy won’t come immediately. It can take multiple sessions, sometimes over the course of months, before you see noticeable changes in the skin. If you choose red light therapy, be sure to think in terms of a long timeframe.
Lack of regulation
Regulation is a common issue with alternative therapies, and some salons and clinics may not be on the same page with best practices. Pay attention to the regulatory side of red light therapy and always do your research to find reputable, compliant salons or providers.
What is the future of red light therapy?
The red light therapy revolution has only just begun, but what can we expect from this technology in the years to come?
As adoption increases, we can expect prices to come down on clinical treatments and more cost-friendly devices for at-home use. Keep on the lookout for specialized devices that target areas of the body, like the torso, limbs, face, and others.
Red light research is also likely to gain momentum as scientists unveil new use cases and benefits for the treatment. We might see red light used more often in hospitals, athletic facilities, or even meditation centers for various applications.
The idea of red light might seem unusual, but this type of treatment simply takes a natural form of healing light and applies it to therapeutic circumstances. As you look for red light solutions in your budget, remember that this is just one aspect of holistic health to consider.
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