Red light therapy: at home
Ever been to a beauty salon and lay under one of those strong lights used for skin rejuvenation? Or maybe you own an LED beauty face mask? (More on those below – spoiler alert: I don’t recommend). Or you might have been put under an infrared lamp at your physio to treat joint pain? If so, then you’ve already dipped your toe into the incredible world of light therapy.
As someone who lives and breathes wellness, I’ve been wanting a proper, medical-grade red light device for a long time now. I’d heard so much about the benefits for overall health including better skin, mood, sleep and energy, I finally bit the bullet and bought a device from the US six months ago.
What is red light therapy?
At its simplest, light therapy involves specific wavelengths of light entering your cells to help your body’s natural healing and regeneration processes. Also called “photobiomodulation”, light therapy uses red and near infrared light in particular, to reach all the way into your cells to improve your health and appearance.
Basically, red light therapy works by enhancing cellular function. Wavelengths of red and near infrared light have been shown to stimulate the mitochondria (the powerhouse inside each cell) and protect your cells from oxidative damage and aging.
What are the benefits?
Here’s a rundown of some of the benefits of red light therapy. If you’d like to nerd out on a particular area, check out the materials at the end:
- Better skin health: red light therapy generates production of collagen, increases tissue repair and speeds up wound and bruise healing. It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, assist with reducing acne and improve skin elasticity.
- Stimulates hair growth: red light therapy stimulates the stem cells in the hair follicle to encourage active growth. Can help to create thicker and longer hair and is also used to treat alopecia (such as male pattern baldness).
- Better circulation: red light therapy dilates blood vessels for increased blood flow. Blood circulation has been found to significantly improve following treatment sessions, which helps to oxygenate tissues and remove toxins.
- Quicker recovery time: great for athletes, red light therapy accelerates muscle repair and stimulates mitochondria and stem cells for faster recovery. It also promotes connective tissue health.
- Reduces inflammation: red light therapy can soothe sore muscles, joint pain and arthritis. It also has been shown to ease some symptoms associated with autoimmune disease, spinal cord and traumatic brain injury.
- Brain health: there is evidence that red light therapy can help the brain repair itself by stimulating neurogenesis, upregulating synthesis of BDNF (aka brain-derived neurotrophic factor – important for learning and memory), and encouraging synaptogenesis (the formation of synapses).
- Improved vision: red light therapy has been shown to offset the vision loss that typically occurs after 40 years of age. A recent study showed 3 minutes of red light exposure once a week in the morning might be all that’s needed to help protect against declining eyesight.
- Less pain: becausered light therapy can ease joint stiffness, improve recovery, reduce inflammation and increase blood flow, it can also help with arthritis and joint pain.
This list is far from exhaustive and we’re learning more every year about how red light can improve our health and a range of different conditions.
What are the downsides?
What I love about red light therapy is how safe it is (to avoid any confusion, this is not a UV or tanning device, you will definitely not get sunburnt!). You get a full body treatment with no medications, all just tapping into your body’s own natural regeneration mechanisms. Having said that, if you do invest in a device, be sure to follow the safety instructions that come with it.
Which device to buy?
I’ve been wanting a red light device for several years so I finally took the plunge and researched every leading brand in depth (the work of red light expert Alex Fergus was so helpful in this regard). I eventually bought the Platinum LED Biomax for a few reasons as follows – you might like to consider these same factors in making your own choice:
- Strength: as far as I’m aware, Platinum Biomax is the absolute strongest red light therapy on the market thanks to the quality and power of each bulb they use. Given how long I spend standing in front of this device, I definitely didn’t want to waste my precious time on something with inferior results.
- 5 different wavelengths: explaining this in full would require a long science lesson so, in short, different light wavelengths offer varying health benefits. I chose the Platinum Biomax because it includes five different wavelengths in one device (630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm and 850nm). You get exposure to all five with every treatment session.
- Quality: this is not important to everyone, but personally I find it reassuring that Platinum lights are official FDA Class II Medical Devices and they’re manufactured in an FDA registered facility.
- Modular: Platinum lights are modular so you can start with a smaller size and keep adding to it as your budget allows.
- EMFs: you’ve probably heard about the potential dangers of exposure to the electromagnetic fields emitted from electronic devices. This always plays on my mind, but thankfully Platinum has thought this through and put shielding tech in their devices. The upshot? When you’re standing at the at the minimum usage distance of 10-15cm, the Platinum Biomax has zero EMF emissions. Yup zero. Phew.
I ended up buying the Biomax 900 and it’s about half of me in length so I can cover either the top half or lower half of my body in one treatment sesh. If I bought another unit to clip to it, I could do my whole body at once. Mine is placed carefully in a cupboard, but you might prefer to use a stand or hang it from the back of a door.
(Platinum have kindly provided a discount code for my followers if you would like 5% off just enter the discount code LOUISE or shop using this link.)
How do you use it?
This will depend on what you’re seeking to treat. For me, it’s just overall health optimisation so I stand in front of my device (clothes off) most every day for 10-15 minutes – perfect time for a podcast. I’ll spin around and do my back some days too. My son, who is an elite runner, also uses it on his legs after a race for speedy recovery. Each device varies so follow the precise usage instructions for your device – and of course check with your doctor for advice relating to your individual circumstances.
How do the large red light panels compare with a beauty face mask?
Basically it’s like comparing a blue whale to a tadpole. Whereas the large red light panels (such as my Platinum Biomax) are legit medical devices with results proven in clinical research, I personally consider those LED beauty face masks a total waste of time and money. They simply lack the strength to achieve, well, basically anything.
More than that, you’re holding hot plastic directly against your skin for what can clock up to hours each week (I’ve road tested them and … that’s a big no from me thanks). Plus, if you want to minimise exposure to EMFs, you’re better to be at a distance from your device – definitely not have it laying straight on your skin.
There has been an explosion in scientific research into red light therapy (photobiomodulation) in recent years. Here are just some of the papers I found of interest, but there are many more on PubMed if you fancy taking a deep dive:
“Photobiomodulation: The Clinical Applications of Low-Level Light Therapy” (2021) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33471046/
“Photobiomodulation for the aging brain” (2021) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34325071/
“Photobiomodulation for the management of hair loss” (2021) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33377535/
“Photobiomodulation and Sports: Results of a Narrative Review” (2021) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34947870/
“Optically Improved Mitochondrial Function Redeems Aged Human Visual Decline” (2020) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32596723/
“Photobiomodulation drives pericyte mobilization towards skin regeneration” (2020) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33159113/
“Factors influencing the effect of photobiomodulation in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: A systematic review and analyses of summary-level data” (2020) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32790116/
“The Effects of Photobiomodulation Therapy on Post-Surgical Pain” (2019) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31360374/
“Does Photobiomodulation Influence Ageing?” (2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6188498/
“Brain Photobiomodulation Therapy: A Narrative Review” (2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041198/
“Photobiomodulation for traumatic brain injury and stroke” (2018) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29131369/
“Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation” (2017) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28748217/