Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
Red light therapy might sound like a term from science fiction, but it’s not far off! It is also known as low-level laser therapy and uses LED lasers to alleviate pain and improve cellular function in the body.
While high powered lasers could damage tissues, these low level red lasers can be the therapeutic treatment that many have been looking for.
The Basics of Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy uses low-level lasers to help alleviate pain in the body and to boost cellular function. You can get red light therapy in a few ways.
Tanning bed style: Some red light therapy units look like tanning beds but don’t contain the same UV rays that sunlight tanning beds do, so you won’t tan and you won’t increase your risk for skin cancer.
Handheld units: Use a handheld red light therapy wand to treat localized areas, such as a knee, wrist, or other smaller location.
Facial masks: Some red light therapy is available as a wearable mask for the face or head.
Screens: In order to treat a larger area, like the entire back, some at-home units are available in larger screens instead of having to use a handheld item.
Red light therapy works by stimulating the mitochondria in the cells—the energy factories that each individual cell possesses—at a different wavelength than normal light.
Because of this, it can help the cells to function more efficiently and to repair the body.
Top 10 Benefits of Red Light Laser Therapy
Red light therapy can have some amazing therapeutic effects for numerous health condition. Here are the best ways to use red light therapy to improve your life and health.
Rheumatoid Arthritis & Joint Stiffness
Stiff joints respond well to heat, but it’s not always effective to use a heating pad, which can cool off quickly and not produce consistent results. Red light therapy can produce the same sort of internal tissue and joint response as heat, without actually causing surface heat.
Red light laser therapy can help to warm a joint and make it more mobile and usable, which will help to prevent worsening stiffness. Regular use of red light therapy can help to improve mobility by at least 20 percent.
Red light laser can also improve the production of collagen in the body and can rebuild cartilage, which can lead to reduced pain levels, with no side effects compared to prescription medications that achieve the same result.
Red light therapy is also effective for osteoarthritis and normal wear-and-tear damage from aging, helping to address things like neck and back pain and increased range of motion.
The cellular heat generated from red light lasers can also help to improve the way that blood vessels work in the body, improving circulation. The better the blood vessels function, the easier the blood flows throughout the body, reducing the risk of clotting and other vascular disorders.
Blood transports oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body, so when blood flow is slow or inhibited, the entire body suffers. Improving circulation can help with many things, including immunity, skin health, neurological health, and even digestion.
There is another added benefit of improved circulation: faster wound healing. The body heals wounds by stimulating white blood cells and the lymphatic system collects waste products and removes it.
When blood circulation is efficient, this process can happen much faster, resulting in reduced swelling, faster healing, and a lower chance of infection. It can even help to reduce scarring and improve skin appearance.
Red light therapy is used by many dermatologists to address scarring, wrinkles, skin rejuvenation, burn healing, and skin grafts. It has even been used by dentists to deal with mouth sores and cold sores that occur around the mouth.
Improving circulation will also boost immunity, as was discovered by NASA scientists. Red light therapy can stimulate energy in the body’s cells that can specifically stimulate wound healing and which can boost cells in fighting infections.
It is also now being used to address things like slow wound healing in people with type 2 diabetes as well as infections that are slow to heal or resistant to treatment.
The thyroid makes hormones that regulate metabolism and energy levels, and problems relating to the thyroid impact more than 20 million Americans.
Red light therapy has been shown to be a natural means of boosting thyroid gland function in cases where it is suppressed or being attacked by the immune system.
It has the potential to improve thyroid function enough in some cases to reduce the need for medication or hormone replacement, and in others to improve the way that medication works.
Because red light therapy can improve circulation and blood flow, it can help to alleviate many aspects of pain, such as joint stiffness, inflammation, muscle problems, and more.
The pain-relieving results happen most often with consistent daily use for at least a few weeks.
Restless Legs & Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms or cramps, along with restless legs, can be very distracting and painful, particularly when it is time to be sleeping. These most often occur because of poor blood flow to certain parts of the body, resulting in insufficient amounts of oxygen.
Red light therapy can stimulate better blood flow and oxygen transport, which can, in turn, help the muscles to relax and stop contracting too much. These conditions respond well to regular, daily red light therapy treatment and can show significant improvement in around four weeks.
Compared to pharmaceutical treatments for these conditions, red light therapy has no side effects and isn’t something that patients can become dependent on.
Skin & Hair
While red light therapy is used frequently for cosmetic uses and to decrease wrinkles and other signs of aging, it can also be used therapeutically for scars, wounds, hair loss due to alopecia, severe acne and rosacea skin problems, psoriasis, and more.
Red light therapy helps to increase collagen, which boosts hair, skin, and even nails. It can lead to better skin complexion and tone, reduced scales on the skin, fewer wrinkles and lines, and an overall better feeling for patients.
Red light therapy can even stimulate hair follicles to grow after hair loss for both men and women.
Mood & Energy
While blue light therapy is often touted to reduce symptoms of winter blues and seasonal affective disorder, red light therapy can also help to improve mood and energy levels.
Red light therapy works similarly to acupuncture to stimulate energy in the cells and to produce a warming reaction throughout the body.
Red light laser therapy can specifically increase sluggish energy levels (partially by working to support the thyroid), support a balanced mood, improve mental clarity and confidence, and improve general positivity, calm, and reduce anxiety.
While red light therapy can have these benefits, it should never replace working with a mental health professional or other treatments for anxiety, depression, or the like.
Always speak with your practitioner before trying alternative therapy like a red light laser.
Can lasers help to improve weight loss? Some researchers think so! Red light lasers can improve blood flow and circulation, stimulating cells to work more efficiently and correcting poor functioning cells along the way.
This can result in a boosted metabolism but also increased ability of the cells convert glucose to energy, therefore, more effectively burning energy for weight and fat loss. It can also stimulate a faster time for waste to be eliminated from the body.
Red light therapy alone isn’t a magical weight loss treatment, but it can work in conjunction with a healthy diet, exercise, and other natural methods of support, like a healthy sleep routine, staying hydrated, and making sure you don’t have any nutrient deficiencies.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe & How to Use It
Red light therapy sounds amazing, but is it really safe to use? And if you do decide to use it for yourself, how exactly does it work?
Red light therapy can have some amazing benefits, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone and every condition. It’s always best to speak to your doctor before deciding that it is right for you.
Certain people should not use red light therapy, such as those who have seizures, women who are pregnant or might be pregnant, people with eye or vision sensitivity, or anyone who has previously had a poor reaction to it.
That being said, red light therapy has few side effects and is considered to be very safe. The only side effects that may exist are mild headaches, mild eye strain if you look directly at the laser (but this isn’t a permanent result), mild nausea, dizziness, and possible muscle weakness if the red light laser is used too long or too frequently.
If you’re using red light therapy at home, always follow directions. Excessive use of red light at one time can lead to a mild skin burn, similar to a sunburn.
To determine what amount of time and level of red light therapy is right for your condition, you should speak to a practitioner for a program plan. Many plans involve two to eight weeks of use, but the level of red light laser, as well as the time used, might differ.
People using red light therapy might notice results after their first session, or it may take a few days or weeks to notice actual improvements.
Most insurance won’t cover red light therapy because it is considered an alternative therapy, and some doctors won’t be in favor of its use. Research is still ongoing as to whether the benefits of red light therapy are applicable to all people with certain conditions.
Can You Do Your Own Red Light Therapy?
You can get red light therapy at a practitioner’s office, but many in-home units are for sale. If you purchase one for use at home, make sure you do so at the recommendation of your doctor.
Some brands of red light lasers are not as reputable and reliable, and incorrect laser levels can mildly burn the skin or cause other discomforts.
If you do not purchase a red light unit, you may be able to get treatment at any of the following places:
- Natural health providers
- Tanning salons
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.