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Can you do red light therapy yourself?

Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation or low-level laser therapy, has become an increasingly popular wellness and beauty treatment in recent years. But with professional devices costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, many people wonder if it’s possible to experience the purported benefits of red light therapy at home.

What is red light therapy?

Red light therapy involves exposing the body to low-level wavelengths of red and near-infrared light. These wavelengths are thought to stimulate cellular energy production, increase blood flow, and facilitate healing and tissue repair.

Some of the conditions that red light therapy is commonly used to treat include:

  • Wrinkles and fine lines
  • Scars and stretch marks
  • Hair loss
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Wounds and injuries
  • Skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and psoriasis

There is some research supporting the benefits of red light therapy for certain conditions. However, larger and more robust studies are still needed to confirm effectiveness, especially for conditions like hair loss.

Professional vs. at-home red light therapy

Professional red light therapy devices are available at doctor’s offices, med spas, and salons. Treatment sessions are typically carried out by trained technicians. Professional devices tend to use clinical-grade lasers or LEDs that penetrate deeper into the skin.

At-home red light therapy devices are designed for personal use in your own home. They tend to be smaller, more affordable versions of professional devices. Many use red LEDs rather than lasers as their light source.

Here is a comparison of some key differences between professional and at-home red light therapy:

Professional Red Light Therapy At-Home Red Light Therapy
Higher power density and intensity Lower power density and intensity
Deeper skin penetration More shallow skin penetration
Full body treatment available Smaller treatment areas
Higher cost per session Lower upfront cost to purchase
Provided by trained technician Self-administered

Can at-home devices provide benefits?

At-home red light therapy devices have lower irradiation intensity than professional devices. However, research indicates they can still provide some beneficial effects, especially when used regularly.

In one study, participants used an at-home LED red light device on their face daily for 4 weeks. By the end of the study, they showed significant improvement in skin complexion, self-perceived age, wrinkles, pore size, and red spots [1]. Other studies on at-home devices have found benefits for acne, skin texture, collagen density, and more [2].

For conditions like sore muscles and joint pain relief, at-home devices may provide localized benefits when applied directly over the area of pain. But full-body professional devices tend to give better overall results.

How to use at-home red light therapy

Here are some tips for using at-home red light therapy devices effectively:

  • Read the instruction manual thoroughly and follow directions for timing and distance from skin.
  • Cleanse skin and remove any cosmetics, oils, or sunscreens before treatment.
  • Start slowly (e.g. 5 minutes daily) and work up to longer treatment times.
  • Target problem areas but also include adjacent healthy skin.
  • Be consistent and use it regularly, such as daily or a few times per week.
  • Protect eyes and avoid looking directly at the red lights.
  • See a doctor if pain, rashes, or other reactions develop.

Talk to your doctor before starting red light therapy if you have any specific medical conditions or are on certain medications.

Choosing an at-home device

There are many at-home red light therapy devices to choose from. Here are the key factors to consider when selecting one:

  • Light source – Most affordable at-home devices use red LEDs. Look for those emitting wavelengths in the ideal range of 630-660nm.
  • Power density – Higher power densities around 40-100 mW/cm2 provide more benefits.
  • Treatment area size – Choose based on whether you want to spot treat or cover larger areas.
  • Ease of use – Hands-free, portable units are most convenient for home use.
  • Safety features – Devices should have built-in timers and eye protection.
  • Cost – Prices range from $50 for basic facial masks to $500+ for full body panels.

It’s also a good idea to look for FDA-cleared light therapy devices, as these have met certain safety and testing standards.

Risks and precautions

Red light therapy is generally very safe, especially when manufacturers’ usage guidelines are followed. However, there are some risks and precautions to keep in mind:

  • Avoid looking directly at the red lights to prevent eye damage.
  • Red light therapy may not be safe during pregnancy – check with your doctor first.
  • People with lupus or porphyria may experience adverse reactions.
  • Added heat from the devices can burn the skin if overused.
  • Improperly designed devices could emit harmful UV radiation.

The bottom line

At-home red light therapy devices will not match the results of professional devices. However, they can still be beneficial, especially with consistent use. Look for an affordable, easy-to-use device from a reputable company with the wavelengths and power density suited to your purposes.

While red light therapy is generally very safe, it’s still a good idea to check with your doctor before starting treatment if you have any specific medical conditions. Be sure to protect your eyes, start slowly, and pay attention to how your skin responds.

With the right device and proper usage, at-home red light therapy can be a convenient way to improve your skin and potentially reduce pain and inflammation. Just don’t expect overnight miracles from those handheld masks – give it time and use it regularly to see the best results.


[1] Lee SY, Park KH, Choi JW, Kwon JK, Lee DR, Shin MS, Lee JS, You CE, Park MY. A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, and split-face clinical study on LED phototherapy for skin rejuvenation: clinical, profilometric, histologic, ultrastructural, and biochemical evaluations and comparison of three different treatment settings. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2007;88(1):51-67. [2] Filonenko A, Liderau A, Caucanas M, Sadick N, Lupo M, Kawada A, Klostermann S, Hönigsmann H, Nestor MS. The Efficacy of New Device Using Light Emitting Diode Photomodulation in the Treatment of Inflammatory Acne Vulgaris: A Randomized Controlled Study. Lasers Surg Med. 2020 Aug;52(6):433-441.