We are reader-supported and sometimes earn a commission if you buy through a link on our site.

Red Light Therapy Vs SAD Lamps: Comparing Light-Based Treatments

Last Reviewed on May 1, 2024

Delve into the science behind each light-based treatment, their benefits, and drawbacks to help you make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

Looking for a natural way to improve your mood, energy levels, and overall well-being?

Light therapy just might be the answer!

The idea behind light therapy is simple: exposure to specific wavelengths of light for a set period. This treatment option can be a great natural alternative to traditional medications and treatments, especially for issues like seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

In this article, we’re going to dive into the world of light therapy and explore the differences between two popular types: red light therapy and SAD lamps.

While both therapies involve exposure to light, they have different purposes and benefits. We’ll also discuss the differences between these two types of therapy so you can make an informed decision about which option is best suited for your needs.

So, keep on reading.

Red Light Therapy

If you’re looking for a non-invasive and natural way to improve your skin’s health, you might want to consider red light therapy. This type of therapy involves exposing your skin to light that’s tuned to specific wavelengths in the red and near infrared spectrum.

Elderly woman standing in front of a red light therapy that's hanging on the back of a door

The red light penetrates deep into your skin tissue, stimulating collagen and elastin production, two key components of healthy skin. This leads to a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles and an overall improvement in skin texture and tone.

Types Of Red Light Therapy Devices

Here’s a breakdown of the different red light therapy devices available:

  1. Handheld Devices: Handheld red light therapy devices are small and portable, making them convenient for on-the-go use. The only tradeoff is that these devices are less powerful compared to larger devices like panels and beds.
  2. Wearable Devices: Wearable red light therapy devices can include a wide range of product types, from caps and helmets to LED masks to wraps and more. These devices are larger than handheld devices but are still pretty portable.
  3. Panels: Red light therapy panels might be better suited for those looking to address more severe conditions or for those looking for full-body treatments. These panels provide a wider range of wavelengths and are often used in wellness centers, health clubs, and clinical settings.
  4. Beds: Red light therapy beds provide the most powerful, comprehensive light treatment out of all the device types. In fact, you might see some professional sports teams use these devices to recover from workouts and promote muscle healing. These beds can be expensive to purchase for at-home use, but you might see them at some luxury spas and wellness centers.  

Benefits

Red light therapy offers a variety of benefits. Research has shown this light-based treatment to reduce inflammation, stimulate collagen production, and increase blood flow by using specific wavelengths of red and near infrared light to penetrate deep into the skin tissue.

Red light therapy can also improve sleep quality, alleviate stress and anxiety, and help with skin conditions such as acne and age spots.

Limitations

While red light therapy is considered safe and effective when used properly, it may not be suitable for everyone, so it is important to consult a healthcare provider before trying it.

And, for those particularly sensitive to light, there may be temporary side effects such as redness that may occur after treatment.

While some might use red light therapy for seasonal affective disorder and other mood-boosting benefits, limited scientific evidence exists regarding its effectiveness.

SAD Lamps

SAD lamps are an application of bright light therapy, one of the most commonly used forms of light therapy. These light boxes emit intense light in the visible spectrum, which can help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder [1].

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as the “winter blues”, is a type of depression that occurs during the winter months when there is less daylight.

Typically, a SAD light therapy lamp consists of a bright light that produces up to 10,000 lux (a unit of light intensity) and is designed to simulate natural light. 

Although it’s impossible to replicate the full spectrum of natural light indoors, these SAD lamps provide the maximum amount of light possible to help alleviate SAD symptoms.

Benefits

SAD lamps offer several benefits, including reducing fatigue, improving mood, and boosting concentration and focus.

People with seasonal depression often feel lethargic and struggle with regular activities during the winter months, but SAD lamps can help alleviate these symptoms. Additionally, they can aid in getting more restful sleep and preventing seasonal weight gain.

Woman with seasonal affective disorder using a SAD lamp

Limitations

There are some limitations to using SAD lamps.

SAD lamps, while designed to be bright, can be especially intense or uncomfortable for people with sensitive eyes. Some people have reported headaches and eye strain from the brightness.

You’ll also want to avoid using SAD lamps and light boxes in the evening, as the bright light can mess with your circadian rhythm – leading to sleeping issues.

Red Light Therapy Devices vs. SAD Lamps

If you’re looking for light therapy devices to manage your mental health conditions, you might have heard about red light therapy and SAD lamps.

Although these two devices have similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.

Let’s look at them in detail.

Wavelengths

One of the major differences between red light therapy devices and SAD lamps is their wavelengths. Red light therapy devices typically emit red and near infrared light within the mid-600 and mid-800 nm range, while SAD lamps emit bright white light.

Intensity

Another significant difference between red light therapy devices and SAD lamps is their intensity. Red light therapy devices, while bright, are nowhere near as bright as SAD lamps – which often reach around 10,000 lux!

Recommended Usage

Regarding recommended usage, red light therapy devices and SAD lamps differ.

While dependent upon treatment goals and device type, red light therapy devices are usually used for 10-30 minutes a day, a few times per week. It’s also recommended you wear eye protection when undergoing red light therapy.

Woman wearing eye protection while doing red light therapy

SAD lamps, on the other hand, should be used for 20-30 minutes within the first hour after you wake up. You should keep your eyes open but avoid looking at it [2].

Therapeutic Benefits

Both red light therapy and SAD lamps offer therapeutic benefits.

Red light therapy can reduce inflammation and pain, improve skin tone and texture, and boost collagen production, leading to firmer and younger-looking skin. This makes it an excellent option for those looking to improve their skin health and reduce pain and inflammation.

SAD lamps can help lift mood, improve energy levels, and balance your circadian rhythm [3]. This makes them a great option for those experiencing fatigue or mood changes during the winter.

Safety Considerations

When it comes to red light therapy devices and SAD lamps, there are some important safety considerations.

Red light therapy devices are considered safe to use, with little to no side effects. These devices also do not emit any UV rays, unlike other types of light therapy.

SAD lamps, on the other hand, emit much brighter levels of light than red light therapy devices. As a result, the higher output of these light therapy boxes can increase the risk of eye damage, especially if not used correctly. You’ll also want to avoid light therapy lamps that emit UV light.

It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using either of these devices. For example, you should not look at a SAD lamp or place it too close to your eyes. You should also avoid using a SAD lamp for longer than the recommended time.

Choosing The Right Light Therapy Device For You

When choosing a light therapy device, it’s essential to consider the benefits of both red light therapy devices and SAD lamps.

Explaining the differences between red light therapy and SAD lamps

Red light therapy devices emit visible red light known for its anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent choice for reducing the appearance of acne, wrinkles, scars, and stretch marks.

Not only that, but research has found red light therapy to improve circulation, reduce pain, alleviate muscle soreness, and even stimulate hair growth.

While there are some promising findings on red light therapy’s ability to help with major depressive disorder (MDD), we need more research before we can say anything conclusive [4].

In contrast, SAD lamps are specifically designed to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with countless studies backing up their effectiveness. These lamps emit bright white light that simulates natural sunlight. This bright light exposure can help relieve symptoms associated with SAD. 

Furthermore, SAD lamps can reset the body’s internal clock and may aid those with sleep disorders like insomnia.

So, a red light therapy device may be better if you’re suffering from chronic pain or looking to rejuvenate your skin. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or sleep disorders, a light box will be more appropriate. 

That said, remember to consult a healthcare professional to determine which treatment best suits your needs.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, red light therapy devices and SAD lamps are two different types of light therapy that are designed with different treatment outcomes in mind – as evidenced by their different mechanisms of action. 

Red light therapy has gained popularity in recent years for its skin rejuvenation and pain relief benefits, while SAD lamps have been used for decades to combat seasonal affective disorder and improve mood.

So, depending on your preferences and needs, you might find one type of light therapy better suited for you.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31574513/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/art-20048298
  3. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/sleep/advanced-sleep-phase-syndrome/treatments/bright-light-therapy.html
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26989758/
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

Leave a Comment