What is Red Light Therapy, and What Does It Do?

Middle-aged woman holding a red light therapy device to her face.

If you care about skin care, then you’ve likely heard about red light therapy. Today it is easier than ever to use red light therapy at home thanks to portable LED devices now available. Whether you own a device already, or you want to investigate the technology before you buy, here’s everything you need to know about red light therapy.

What is LED Light Therapy?

The TL;DR definition: Your skin absorbs light. While we all know UV rays are harmful, LED lights produce wavelengths that are actually helpful to the skin. 

The in-depth, scientific definition: LED light therapy uses LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that produce non-invasive wavelengths of light to promote cellular growth and provide relief for a range of conditions. LEDs use semiconductor chips composed of diodes on a reflective surface to produce light. How the semiconductor is composed determines the wavelengths and colors of the light, such as blue, yellow, red, and infrared. Different wavelengths (colors) of light penetrate different depths of the skin. Red light is in the 630-700nm spectrum, making it effective for minimizing signs of aging, such as wrinkles. (See this article in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology for a comprehensive clinical history of LEDs.)

While LED technology dates back to the 1960s, NASA in the 1990s was the first to use a narrower wavelength of light for clinical applications.

What is Red Light Therapy? 

A form of LED light therapy, red light therapy (RLT) is a therapeutic treatment that uses red LEDs to produce low-level wavelengths that penetrate the skin in a non-invasive way. Mitochondria in the body’s skin cells absorb the red light to create energy, which experts believe helps with cellular repair and health. Although red light therapy has a wide range of applications for both skincare and pain relief, much of the interest is in its applications for anti-aging

Red light devices often produce visible light you can see, as well as infrared wavelengths that are outside the visible spectrum. Today, red light therapy has a variety of clinical and consumer uses. Other names for red light therapy include: 

  • Low-level laser therapy (LLLT)
  • Low-power laser therapy (LPLT)
  • Photobiomodulation (PBM) 
  • Soft laser therapy
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Biostimulation
  • Photonic simulation

Most prominently, red LED devices are at-home anti-aging skin care treatments.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Although red LEDs do not feel hot to the touch, they create friction and heat below the skin’s surface. Energizing cells in this way increases their activity, causing them to reproduce faster. Cells take in energy through their mitochondria, which tells them it’s time to divide. Using red light therapy is like a boost to your skin cells’ metabolism. Each time a skin cell splits from the energy of red LEDs, it creates two new copies of itself. As new cells emerge, they displace old, damaged cells that contribute to signs of aging.

What Does Red Light Therapy Do?

The result of light therapy treatments is more healthy skin cells, which can help to contribute to a more youthful appearance. Red light therapy can also increase your blood circulation to bring more oxygen and nutrients to your skin’s surface. Increased blood flow also contributes to faster skin cell regeneration. Unlike laser therapy or abrasion, red light therapy doesn’t need to destroy your skin tissue in order to rebuild it. Instead, the minimally invasive light boosts your skin’s natural cellular regeneration.

Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

It’s not only customers and influencers who appreciate red light therapy. Doctors and scientists also vouch for the treatment. The following scientific research studies support the efficacy of red light therapy for clinical skin treatments.

Improved Complexion

Researchers in Germany conducted a randomized, controlled study of 136 volunteers. After 30 treatment sessions of varying lengths, the subjects experienced “significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling,” including less roughness and denser collagen.

Cell Regeneration

A study out of the Medical College of Wisconsin showed increases in growth of 155-171% of normal human skin cells in a lab. The same researchers that Navy SEALs experienced significantly faster healing of musculoskeletal training injuries by using LED light therapies.

Of course, the best evidence is your own. Many customers start with a small device and work up to larger devices as they become convinced of red light therapy’s potential for their skin.

What are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?

Many of the most popular benefits of red light therapy involve treating signs of age in the skin. Red light treatments have been shown to help reduce the appearance of:

  • Wrinkles
  • Crow’s feet
  • Dark spots

Additionally, red light energy may also help with healing wounds and mitigating the appearance of scars. When used with blue light therapy, red light may also help reduce acne and blemishes. Other applications for red light therapy include regenerating muscle tissue, gum tissue, and other areas of the body.

Before and After close up images of crow's feet and reduction in wrinkles around eye area from using red light therapy
Red Light Therapy Before and After Photo

The Bottom Line: What is Red Light Therapy Good For? 

  • Anti-aging: Red light therapy is known as an anti-aging treatment, reducing wrinkles and other signs of aging.
  • Scar reduction: Red light therapy can also be used to minimize scars by reducing information and supporting tissue regeneration.
  • Pain treatment: Red and infrared light therapy combined are an effective, natural form of pain relief for people suffering from nerve and/or muscle pain. 
  • Muscle recovery: Again, when combined with infrared light therapy, red light therapy can help athletes, weekend warriors, and everyone in between to speed muscle recovery and stimulate healing after working out.
  • Oral health: Red light therapy improves oral health by preventing gum disease, relieving pain, helping to whiten teeth, and combatting oral microbes and bacteria that cause bad breath.

Red Light Therapy Pros and Cons

Pros of Red Light Therapy

  • Red light therapy has been scientifically proven to help with the issues listed above — everything from anti-aging to pain relief to oral health.
  • Red light therapy is a safe, natural treatment for a variety of pain points that otherwise require medication, co-pays and doctor’s appointments. 
  • With at-home light therapy devices, red light therapy is easy and convenient, making it simple to implement in your skincare routine, workout plan or other daily activities.
  • Red light therapy is a relatively low-risk treatment that has widespread health benefits and that’s easy to do.

Cons of Red Light Therapy

  • People who are sensitive to light may not be suited for light therapy. Before using your light therapy device, we recommend testing your light therapy device on a patch of your skin to identify any sensitivity before using it on a regular basis.
  • The quality of light therapy devices varies greatly, so it’s essential to make sure you choose a high-quality device (more on that later). Red Light Therapy is required to have FDA clearance in the United States. There are many foreign devices marketed online that do not have FDA clearance and it is recommended to use only FDA cleared devices to ensure safety and efficacy.

How is Red Light Therapy Different From Other Colors? 

Different wavelengths of light have different effects on the cells of the body. Using different colors of light therapy can provide stronger impacts depending on your treatment goals.

Red vs. Blue Light Therapy

While red light therapy stimulates the production of elastin and collagen, helping cells reproduce faster, blue light therapy penetrates the pores and eliminates bacteria. When combined, blue and red light therapy are used to reduce inflammation, scarring and other skincare issues.

Red vs. Infrared Light Therapy

The key difference between red light and infrared light therapy is that red light therapy primarily works on the skin’s surface, while infrared light therapy penetrates deeper into the body. Red and infrared light therapy can be combined to provide relief from soreness at different depths of tissue.

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

LEDs generate less heat than standard light bulbs. Because of the lower temperature, LED light therapy devices can be used comfortably and regularly on the body.

When using red light therapy in a dermatologist’s office or FDA-cleared home devices, the treatment is generally considered safe. Red and infrared LEDs contain no UV rays, so there’s no risk of skin cancer like from the sun. 

Does Red Light Therapy Have Side Effects?

Too much LED exposure for too long could potentially cause burns or eye damage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid overdoing light therapy. For example, for most of our devices, we recommend a maximum of three treatments per day.

How Long Does Red Light Therapy Take to Work?

Like most skincare products, the effects of red light therapy take time. Each device comes with its own recommended usage time, usually from three to 10 minutes per treatment area. You can choose to use it once or twice a day, or every other day, as your schedule allows. Consistency is key to seeing results. Even so, improvement to skin tone and appearance will happen gradually. You may see minor results quickly, but you will continue to see the full effects over three to six months. After that, you will want to use the device less frequently for maintenance. 

It’s best to track your results with “before” and “after” photos. Once you have your new device, take photos every day or week in the same position, and report the results over time. It’s also important to use your device correctly for the best results.

That’s what Aimee found while using her reVive Light Therapy®️ Essentials — Anti-Aging device — regular use leads to results. She says: 

“I’m a believer! I researched a lot before using it for the first time. It’s important to understand the process — you must be consistent and vigilant, and daily treatment is required. I apply a green tea lotion before use, aloe lotion after. I did a 3-minute treatment every morning and another every night for one week. I halted all other usual routines, peels, masks, etc., to isolate the results of light therapy. OMG, I will never be without this device. The device has surpassed my expectations.”

Before and After images of red light therapy results in reducing wrinkles around the mouth
Aimee’s Before and After Photo

Can You Do Red Light Therapy At Home?

While gyms, hospitals and other facilities have red light therapy beds, they are often expensive per session and cause the inconvenience of leaving your house. Now there are multiple at-home, portable red light therapy devices available for you to use. 

If you’re looking for a red light therapy device to use at home, here are some criteria to keep in mind: 

  • Optimal wavelengths: Studies show that certain wavelengths may be more powerful than others, such as wavelengths at 620 nm, 670 nm, etc. This is important in choosing the right device.
  • Light combinations: Depending on your treatment goals and pain points, you should search for devices that combine wavelengths for maximum effectiveness, like a device for skin treatment that has both red and blue light therapy, or a device for chronic pain that has both red and infrared light therapy.

Reviews: Of course, before you buy a red light therapy device to use at-home, read the reviews to see if people experienced results with the product.

Best Red Light Therapy Devices for Skincare

Red light devices have come a long way from when NASA first used them for clinical purposes. Now anyone can buy them to perform red light treatments at home. Finding the right device depends on the size of the device and its range of applications.

Portable devices like Glō and the reVive® Clinical Wrinkle Reduction wand can be easily stored in a purse for on-the-go wrinkle treatments, while larger foldable panels like the dpl® II can treat large areas of the face, neck, or back in single treatments. 

[Explore all reVive Light Therapy® anti-aging products today.]

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