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Red Light Therapy Pros & Cons: Should You Try This Popular Treatment?

Last Reviewed on May 1, 2024

Curious about red light therapy pros and cons? Learn what the science has to say about its benefits and drawbacks.

In this article, we’ll shed light on red light therapy pros and cons, helping you understand the potential advantages and limitations of this intriguing treatment.

From enhanced skin rejuvenation to potential pain relief, we’ll explore the promising benefits that have garnered attention from professionals and users alike.

We’ll also delve into the considerations you need to keep in mind, ensuring you have a comprehensive understanding of red light therapy’s limitations.

So, whether you’re seeking relief from chronic pain, looking to improve your skin’s appearance, or simply curious about this innovative therapy, join us as we uncover the pros and cons of red light therapy.

By the end, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to decide if this treatment is the right fit for your unique needs and goals.

Let’s dive in and discover the fascinating world of red light therapy together, exploring its potential to illuminate your path to wellness and beauty.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that harnesses the power of red and near infrared light to improve the health and function of our cells. This process promotes natural healing, regeneration, and rejuvenation.

Why does this matter?

Think about the skin on your face. 

If you have healthier skin cells, what do you think will happen to your appearance?

That’s right.

You’ll have glowing, more radiant skin.

That’s why light therapy experts use this treatment to reduce scars, acne, wrinkles, and redness on one’s skin.

Woman wearing eye protection while doing red light therapy

Experts have also touted the use of this crucial treatment to help with other medical conditions like androgenetic alopecia (aka male pattern baldness).

Researchers are doing their best to conduct extensive research and publish crucial information on red light therapy. There are also continuing talks on the internet regarding the effectiveness of this treatment and how it applies to different health uses.

Even though a few studies portray some promise, researchers are yet to establish the full effectiveness of this treatment.

Other common terms you might come across that describe red light treatment include the following:

  • Cold laser therapy
  • Low level laser therapy
  • Low level light therapy
  • Soft laser therapy
  • Non-thermal LED light
  • Photobiomodulation
  • Phototherapy

How Does It Work?

The exact mechanisms behind how red light therapy works are still being studied. But, here’s what the research tells us so far.

The specific wavelengths of light used in red light therapy are absorbed by our mitochondria (aka the “powerhouse” of our cells). This interaction kicks off a series of biochemical reactions within our cells, leading to various physiological responses [1].

Diagram showing how deep each light wavelength penetrates into the skin

This process might sound farfetched, but it’s nothing crazy.

Think back to your 5th grade science class when you learned about photosynthesis.

(Hopefully you paid more attention in class than me!)

But, here’s a reminder if you forgot. Plants convert light energy from the sun into food.

Red light therapy works in a similar way.

Instead of free food (how unfair!), our cells get a boost in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. A surge in ATP, the energy “currency” of our cells, enhances our natural repair and regeneration processes.

At the end of the day, the overall goal of red light therapy is to harness the power of light to promote healing from within. 

For this to work effectively, there are specific dosages and protocols to follow. These will depend on your health status and goals. Therefore, do your research when using red light therapy for your unique use case.

Red Light Therapy Pros

Red light therapy offers numerous benefits that make it a great option if you’re looking for a natural and non-invasive treatment.

Compared to other light wavelengths (both invisible and visible), red light wavelengths have been shown to deliver more benefits with fewer side effects.

Let’s now dive into the red light therapy pros.

Versatility

One of red light therapy’s key advantages is its versatility.

While red light therapy benefits cut across several fields in the medicinal world, the benefits you’re most likely to come across are in cosmetics.

(Because it’s been shown to promote skin health in almost all skin tones and types.)

That’s why you’ll see a lot of at-home devices marketed for their skin benefits.

But, red light therapy can do way more than just giving you glowing, radiant skin.

This light-based treatment can also be used to reverse hair loss, relieve pain, heal wounds, and so much more.

Because it works on the cellular level, there are other “unseen” health benefits (like improved blood flow) that will leave you feeling like a younger “you”!

Woman using a red light therapy panel with both red light wavelengths and near infrared light wavelengths enabled

You can also use red light therapy on your pets. Vets have used LED light therapy to treat chronic skin conditions, speed up healing, and reduce inflammation.

Unlike other treatments, red light therapy is 100% non-invasive. No chemicals, injections, or invasive procedures!

Plus, it’s considered safe, with little to no reported side effects.

Convenience

Another red light therapy pro is its convenience. While you can get LED light therapy done at a clinic or spa, it’s something you can do from within the comfort of your own home!

It also requires minimal time commitment. Sessions can range from a couple minutes to 30 minutes, depending on your use case and the device used.

Skin Health

Red light wavelengths have numerous applications in the field of dermatology. For instance, as noted earlier, these wavelengths can treat signs of aging and other chronic conditions [2].

Red LED light therapy works by penetrating the skin, which is vital in promoting healthy and normal cellular activity. This treatment also stimulates the formation of new capillaries and improves circulation.

Both of these improve your body’s ability to 1) get rid of toxins and 2) deliver oxygen and nutrients to your skin cells. This combination is what gives you that healthy, glowing complexion.

Woman using a red light therapy LED mask

Additionally, red light therapy treatment comes in handy to increase collagen and elastin production, which are vital to restoring the fullness and firmness of your skin [3].

This treatment is also effective in reducing inflammation and redness, making it a great choice for those looking to calm irritated skin and minimize breakouts.

Hair Growth

Red light wavelengths have been proven to effectively stimulate hair growth in multiple studies [4, 5].

When exposed to these wavelengths, the cells on your scalp are essentially “energized”. Your hair follicles spend less time in the dormant phase and more time in the growth phase [6].

Plus, the increased blood circulation means more oxygen and nutrients being delivered to your scalp cells (and faster too!).

Woman treating androgenic alopecia with red light therapy

Pain Relief & Wound Healing

Red light therapy supercharges your body’s natural healing process.

By improving circulation and reducing inflammation, this light-based treatment provides pain relief while speeding up the healing process.

In particular, when it comes to pain relief, red light therapy not only makes you less sensitive to pain but also reduces how much pain you’re feeling [7, 8].

Here’s another fun fact: Red light therapy has even been shown to reduce the side effects from radiation cancer treatments [9]!

That said, red light therapy isn’t a miracle treatment. It can’t heal and treat everything. The growing list of studies are promising, but more research is needed in this area.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move onto red light therapy’s effects on chronic pain and joint pain.

Man using red light therapy on his knee for pain relief

Red light therapy can help relieve musculoskeletal pain, including osteoarthritis, tendinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia [10].

However, most of these studies only looked at the short-term impacts.

So, while the results are promising to individuals suffering from chronic pain, there aren’t enough studies on the lasting effects of this treatment type.

As a result, red light therapy is an incredible add-on for individuals who have already adapted to a healthy lifestyle. But, it’s not ideal to incorporate this treatment as a stand-alone pain therapy.

Weight Loss

While red light therapy is not a direct weight loss solution, it can play a supporting role in helping you achieve your weight loss goals.

In some individuals, excess weight may be linked to hormonal imbalances caused by an underactive thyroid (aka hypothyroidism).

Hypothyroidism is correlated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and higher rates of obesity [11].

Balancing the functioning of the thyroid is crucial because it can positively impact the endocrine system, which is critical in regulating hormonal activity.

A restoration in hormonal balance can result in incredible weight loss. That means, in those with hormonal imbalances, weight gain might not be related to poor exercise or eating habits.

Fortunately, a 2018 study showed red light therapy to be an effective and potential treatment for individuals dealing with hypothyroidism [12].

And, if you’re active, red light therapy can help you build muscle faster [13]. Increasing muscle mass is another way to speed up your weight loss journey because it raises your resting metabolic rate. This results in the burning of more calories while resting.

Brain Health

Red light therapy is coming out as an effective and incredible treatment for promoting brain neuron health.

A 2014 study indicated that individuals could potentially incorporate red light therapy to deal with and treat degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease [14].

Researchers studying red light therapy for brain health

Anecdotally, there have been some who’ve incorporated red light therapy to 1) treat mental health issues like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and 2) boost cognitive function.

Red Light Therapy Cons

Of course, nothing’s perfect.

While red light therapy has some amazing benefits, there are some cons to be aware of.

Cost

If you’re looking to get red light therapy done in a professional setting, it can be somewhat hard to find and quite costly.

Most insurance companies don’t provide red light therapy treatment coverage. That means that you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

Be sure to do your research. Don’t pick the first clinic or spa you see on the internet.

Woman doing red light therapy while laying down

If you’re planning to buy your red light therapy device, be prepared to make an upfront investment. Most full-body panels will cost over $1,000, but there are plenty of other device types to choose from.

Pick a device that suits your use case (because there are cheaper options!).

You can learn more about the cost of red light therapy here.

Not A Cure

While red light therapy has been shown to greatly improve certain skin conditions, it’s not a cure for dermatological issues or even chronic conditions.

What this treatment does, instead, is that it offers temporary relief to different skin conditions – as mentioned earlier in this article.

Therefore, if you’re considering trying red LED light therapy, it’s crucial to understand that this will be a continuous process involving regular sessions. The treatment is not ideal for individuals who expect instant, overnight results.

Potential Health Risks

When practitioners use red therapy correctly, the benefits of this treatment outweigh the potential risks. However, you should always be aware of the possible health risks when using red light therapy.

These risks include the following:

  • Damage to the eyes (don’t stare directly into the bright light!)
  • Long-term side effects (unknown if there are any)
  • Damage to your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or are taking drugs that cause photosensitivity

There’s still a lot we have to learn regarding red LED therapy treatment. As a result, it’s impossible to fully comprehend all the potential risks and side effects related to red light therapy. 

Additionally, there aren’t any prescribed guidelines for this treatment type to help you determine the exact dosage to use.

Therefore, if you’re considering getting red light therapy, be vigilant about where to receive this treatment. Although private vendors and salons may offer red light therapy treatment at a lower cost, some of these providers use devices that fail to filter harmful UV rays. Too much exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays may lead to critical health issues, including skin cancer.

Eczema patient using red light therapy for his skin

More Research Required

Red light therapy is safe and effective for short-term use. Nevertheless, there are few studies that show the long-term effects of this treatment. While the research continues to show favorable results, more research is required on this type of treatment.

It’s unwise to self-diagnose a condition and later administer red light therapy to yourself without consulting a knowledgeable practitioner. That puts you at high risk as you can misdiagnose or miss a critical underlying condition.

As mentioned earlier, no prescribed guidelines are available on how to use this light therapy treatment to manage every condition. While skin experts may recommend specific durations and frequencies, the needs and sensitivity of different patients will always vary.

In addition, the quality of different red light therapy devices can vary greatly. Some devices fail to deliver the light intensity needed for therapeutic benefits.

In short, this health field, which is constantly emerging, only has a few studies that show the effectiveness of red light therapy on a large scale since most studies on this treatment are relatively small. 

Final Thoughts

Generally, studies surrounding red light therapy treatment cover the contexts of body sculpting, anti-aging, hair loss, wound healing, brain health, and pain relief. The available studies and research suggest that this treatment is a valuable and effective tool in the health sector since it benefits numerous conditions.

However, if you’re considering this treatment in the future, don’t get overwhelmed with exaggerated results and claims appearing in the marketplace or literature.

Also, remember that this therapy has potential side effects, just like other treatment types.

Therefore, before starting this treatment, consult an expert on whether the treatment is appropriate for you based on red light therapy’s pros and cons.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7356229/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134407000632
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24078483/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25124964/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21739260/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17374099/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137223/
  9. https://www.mdpi.com/2304-6732/9/1/10
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28145397/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911848/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6247385/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5167494/
  14. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260267066_The_potential_of_light_therapy_in_Parkinson%27s_disease 
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

John Ni, BSc.

John, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, serves as a respected scientific reviewer at TherapeuticBeams.com. His expertise extends across various domains, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and dermatology. He contributes to publications like Royal Society of Chemistry, Drug Topics, and Practical Dermatology.

John Ni, Content Editor & Scientific Review

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