Does red light therapy actually work?

Red light therapy has become an increasingly popular wellness trend, with claims that it can help treat everything from wrinkles and scars to chronic pain and autoimmune diseases. But does shining red light on your skin actually do anything? Here’s a comprehensive look at the science behind red light therapy.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy involves exposing the skin to low wavelength red light for therapeutic benefits. Also known as photobiomodulation or low level light therapy (LLLT), it was originally developed by NASA to help plants grow in space. Scientists discovered that red light could also have healing effects on human tissues.

Red light is part of the visible light spectrum, with wavelengths between 600-700 nanometers. When absorbed by the skin and cells, red light is thought to stimulate antioxidant production, increase blood flow, and facilitate healing processes in the body.

Red light therapy can be administered using laser devices, light emitting diode (LED) panels or lamps. Most at-home red light therapy devices emit a red light wavelength of 630-670 nanometers. The length of treatment can range from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more, with sessions performed a few times per week. Used consistently, advocates claim red light therapy can improve skin tone and texture, reduce inflammation and joint pain, heal wounds, and stimulate hair growth.

Potential Benefits of Red Light Therapy

What does the research say about the many purported benefits of red light therapy? Here’s a look at what studies have found so far:

Wound Healing

Red light is thought to stimulate the production of fibroblasts, the cells that synthesize collagen and facilitate wound repair. Some studies have found improved healing of diabetic skin ulcers and burns with red light therapy. A meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials found that red light therapy sped wound healing, especially when combined with other treatments.

Skin Health

Red light may improve signs of skin aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. It boosts collagen production which keeps skin firm and elastic. It also reduces inflammation, which can contribute to acne and other skin conditions. Multiple studies show red light therapy improves skin complexion, reduces wrinkles, scars, and hyperpigmentation.

Study Participants Results
12 week study on 96 women with facial wrinkling 48 women received red light therapy, 48 received placebo treatment The red light therapy group had significantly reduced wrinkles compared to placebo group after 12 weeks.
Clinical trial on 44 people with acne 22 received red light therapy, 22 did not After 12 weeks, the red light group had greatly reduced inflammatory acne lesions compared to the control group.

Hair Growth

By increasing blood flow and metabolism at hair follicles, red light therapy may stimulate new hair growth. One study found that using a red light laser comb for 15 minutes 3 times per week significantly increased hair density in people with androgenic alopecia after 16 weeks.

Joint and Muscle Pain

Red light is thought to reduce inflammation and swelling that contributes to joint and muscle pain. Multiple studies find red light therapy reduces arthritis pain and improves grip strength, joint mobility, and range of motion. It may also aid exercise recovery and reduce muscle fatigue.

Cognitive Function

There is some early research showing red light therapy may offer cognitive benefits. A small study had participants use red light therapy for 12 weeks. They showed improved verbal memory, focus, and executive function compared to those receiving placebo treatment.

Dental Applications

Red light therapy shows promise in dental treatments. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain after dental procedures. It may also help regenerate bone tissue following dental implants or oral surgery.

Wound Healing

Red light is thought to stimulate the production of fibroblasts, the cells that synthesize collagen and facilitate wound repair. Some studies have found improved healing of diabetic skin ulcers and burns with red light therapy. A meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials found that red light therapy sped wound healing, especially when combined with other treatments.

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

When administered properly, red light therapy is generally considered very safe with minimal side effects. Red light is non-invasive and drug-free, making it a gentle alternative or complement to other therapies.

Potential side effects can include:

  • Mild redness or skin irritation where the light device is applied
  • Headache or lightheadedness if applied to the head and neck
  • Eyestrain if exposed to the eyes

To reduce side effects:

  • Follow product instructions carefully
  • Don’t look directly into red light devices
  • Use eye protection if needed
  • Start with short treatment times (5-10 minutes) and increase gradually
  • Apply to clean skin without creams, lotions or oils

Talk to your doctor before trying red light therapy if you are pregnant, have a light-sensitive condition, or are taking medications that increase photosensitivity.

At-Home vs In-Office Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy is available as an in-office treatment at clinics, salons, and spas. It’s also accessible for at-home use through LED masks, handheld wands, panels, and infrared heating lamps.

Professional red light therapy devices tend to be more powerful and deliver concentrated energy. They may use clinical-grade lasers with higher irradiation. Treatments are administered in a medical setting by trained professionals.

At-home red light therapy devices are more affordable and convenient for regular use. However, the LEDs may be less powerful than laser technology. Home devices include:

  • Red light therapy masks or panels
  • Handheld LED light wands
  • Red light lamps and bulbs
  • LED teeth whitening kits
  • Red light pads and wraps

While professional treatments typically range from $100-$200 per session, at-home devices can be purchased for $30-$600 or so. At-home use must be administered correctly for best results.

At-Home Red Light Therapy In-Office Red Light Therapy
Lower upfront costs Higher upfront costs
Lower power LEDs Higher power clinical lasers
Less concentrated dose More concentrated dose
Self-administered Administered by professionals
Used regularly for maintenance Less frequent intensive treatments

Is Red Light Therapy FDA Approved?

Currently, red light therapy is FDA approved for treating mild to moderate acne and for temporarily increasing local blood circulation. However, many red light therapy devices are sold as “off-label” wellness tools. There are still ongoing clinical trials testing potential medical applications.

Takeaways on Red Light Therapy

Early research indicates red light therapy has therapeutic value for various conditions. More extensive studies are still needed to validate effects and determine optimal treatment protocols. But results so far are promising.

For healthy individuals, red light therapy appears very low-risk when used as directed. It may offer a range of benefits related to skin health, pain relief, wound healing, hair growth, cognition, dental health, and more.

While in-office red light treatments offer greater power, at-home devices provide convenience and accessibility. Home red light therapy devices allow you to benefit from treatments on a consistent basis.

If you’re considering red light therapy, consult your healthcare provider first, especially if you have any medical conditions. Start slowly and follow all product directions. With regular use, red light therapy can be a simple wellness tool that offers natural therapeutic effects.


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  • Huang YY, Sharma SK, Carroll J, Hamblin MR. Biphasic dose response in low level light therapy – an update. Dose Response. 2011;9(4):602-18. doi:10.2203/dose-response.11-009.Hamblin
  • Gupta A, Avci P, Sadasivam M, et al. Shining light on nanotechnology to help repair and regeneration. Biotechnol Adv. 2013;31(5):607-31. doi:10.1016/j.biotechadv.2012.08.001
  • Frigo L, Fávero GM, Lima HJ, Maria DA, Bjordal JM, Joensen J, Johnson MI, Bjordal JM. Low-level laser irradiation (InGaAlP-660 nm) increases fibroblast cell proliferation and reduces cell death in a dose-dependent manner. Photomed Laser Surg. 2010 Aug;28 Suppl 1:S151-6. doi: 10.1089/pho.2009.2697.
  • Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar;32(1):41-52.

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