As red light therapy gains prominence and becomes more widely used, more skeptics and detractors come out of the woodwork, promoting fake news about how exactly red light works and what its benefits are.
To put it simply, red light therapy - also known as red LED light therapy or red and near-infrared light therapy - is a type of treatment in which light-emitting diodes emit light of specific wavelengths, usually from 630 to 2,5000 nanometers, to help promote healing of various health ailments.
The light of these particular frequencies works on the surface of the skin, but it also penetrates beyond it, contributing to one’s overall mental and physical well-being.
Here, we’re going to address and debunk three of the most enduring and oft-repeated myths about red LED light therapy.
1. It’s New and Bogus
Wrong. Though it may sound like a modern invention, this type of therapy treatment has actually been around since the late 19th century when Danish physician Niels Ryberg Finsen used red light for the treatment of smallpox and lupus, consequently winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903.
When light-emitting diodes (LEDs) entered the commercial market in the late 80s, NASA scientists started experimenting with this technology in order to grow potatoes on the space shuttle. What they accidentally discovered is that sore, scrapes, and lesions on their hands started to heal faster than normal when they exposed them to these specific light wavelengths.
This discovery led NASA scientists to believe that red light therapy may be a way to speed up the healing of astronauts’ wounds and prevent atrophying of their muscles and bones in an environment that’s naturally lacking in oxygen.
Further research over the following decades found that treatments using red light and near-infrared light offered additional health benefits, such as an increase in cell growth, improvement in bone injury recovery, and reduction of pain, inflammation, and minor injuries.
NASA-supplied LED devices helped improve recovery from musculoskeletal training injuries in Navy SEAL team members by more than 40%, decrease wound healing time in the U.S. Naval submarine crew members, and reduce pain caused by oral mucositis in children by 47%.
2. It’s Just Like an Infrared Sauna
Except not at all. The way saunas work traditionally is that they use dry heat from a stove or hot rocks to increase the room’s temperature up to 90.5° Celsius (195° Fahrenheit). As the room temperature rises, so does your skin temperature, causing you to sweat, increasing your heart rate, dilating your blood vessels, and making your heart pump more blood.
Using a sauna can help relax you, make you feel more energized, and help you with pain relief. However, sauna treatments can also cause dehydration due to the heat and very low humidity, which could have severe consequences such as low blood pressure, heat stroke, seizure, and even kidney failure.
Current research on the benefits of saunas is decidedly mixed. Though there are potential health benefits to the regular use of sauna bathing, there is still insufficient evidence to recommend this kind of treatment for specific clinical conditions.
While saunas use heat for healing purposes, the benefits of red LED light therapy treatments aren’t based on temperatures. Red light emits very little heat, approximately equivalent to early morning or evening sunlight. That means it cannot cause dehydration, thermal injury, or be dangerous to those who have health conditions that prevent them from tolerating extreme temperatures.
Unlike using a sauna, where you cannot achieve targeted results, red LED light therapy devices allow you to target specific areas of the body you want to treat. You can also use LED devices at home without having to take time-consuming and expensive regular trips to a sauna.
3. It’s Not Scientifically Proven
Not even close. Thousands of studies have proven the benefits of red LED light therapy, and more research is being conducted every single day. It is easy to do a simple Google search of such studies to see the number of results that will come up instantly. Here are just some of the studies you can easily find yourself:
As previously mentioned, red light therapy has been proven successful in healing skin wounds by decreasing inflammatory cells, forming granulation tissue, and increasing collagen synthesis.
Red light therapy can stimulate cell viability and increase cell proliferation, thus promoting skin repair and wound healing.
It can be used for pain management for patients suffering from chronic pain and osteoarthritis, degeneration of joint cartilage, and the underlying bone, which commonly occurs from the middle age onward.
There are also benefits in the area of nerve recovery because red LED light therapy can assist in decreasing inflammation and pain, facilitating neural regeneration, releasing growth factors, and increasing collagen, a protein that’s found throughout the body.
Talking about nerve recovery, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common nerve disorder today, affecting 1 to 5 percent of the adult population. Red light and near-infrared light therapy treatments can improve hand grip and symptoms of mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.
Sleep quality and mental health
What’s more, red LED light therapy does not only help improve physical well-being, but mental just as well. It can help improve the quality of sleep, by increasing the production of melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps you sleep.
It can also decrease the severity of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, when used in combination with medication.
Red LED light therapy treatments also offered positive effects on mood, stimulation level, blood oxygen saturation, and heart rate in older adults suffering from moderate to very severe dementia.
And that’s hardly all. The benefits of red light therapy are nearly endless, and so is the list of studies that has proven the efficacy of these treatments.
Although myths about red and near-infrared LED light therapy keep persisting, they can be easily debunked. No, red light therapy is not a new invention, it’s not bogus, it’s not the same as sauna treatments, and it’s not scientifically unproven. Quite the contrary.
Red LED light therapy affects nearly all of the health processes in the body, improving your overall mental and physical well-being. And as more and more research is uncovered every day, it seems that we have only scratched the surface of what red light therapy can do for us.
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Lievens, P. C., & Enwemeka, C. S. (2001). Carpal tunnel syndrome: pathophysiology and clinical neurophysiology. Clinical neurophysiology, 112(12), 2046-2052.
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Chung, H., Dai, T., Sharma, S. K., Huang, Y. Y., Carroll, J. D., & Hamblin, M. R. (2012). The nuts and bolts of low-level laser (light) therapy. Annals of biomedical engineering, 40(2), 516-533.
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Rizzi, C. F., Mauriz, J. L., Freitas Corrêa, D. S., Moreira, A. J., Zettler, C. G., Filippin, L. I., & Marroni, N. P. (2017). Effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) on lung inflammation in a model of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). International journal of biometeorology, 61(10), 1773-1780.
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Chaves, M. E. A., Araújo, A. R., Santos, S. F. D. C., Pinotti, M., Oliveira, M. G. D., & Oliveira, L. V. F. D. (2016). Effects of low-level laser therapy on pain and scar formation after inguinal herniation surgery: a randomized controlled single-blind study. Photomedicine and Laser Therapy, 34(8), 402-408.
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Lall, R. K., & Syed, M. M. (2021). Red Light and the Sleep Quality and Endurance Performance of Humans. Journal of athletic training, 47(6), 673-684.
Liu, K. H., Liu, D., Chen, J. S., & Yu, B. Y. (2021). Using Red Light to Promote the Proliferation and Osteogenesis of Human Adipose-Derived Stem Cells: A Preliminary Study. Biomedicines, 9(8), 1065.
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