Red light is being studied around the world as a solution for wrinkles, age spots, psoriasis, and wound regeneration. In fact, it was also studied in space by astronauts. Scientists are confirming that red and near infrared light has a positive effect on skin cells.

Let’s take a closer look at red light therapy and what it can do for you.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Humans and plants have something in common. Our cells respond to light waves. Certain colors of light stimulate our cells to repair and reproduce faster than normal.

When skin is exposed to concentrated red and near infrared light, it makes more collagen and elastin. Those are the building blocks of healthy skin. More collagen and elastin means firmer, younger-looking skin.

Although lasers were used in early light experiments on skin cell growth, doctors have discovered that LED lights work, too. LED lamps can make cells grow up to two times as fast and blood circulate faster. They are also cheaper to buy and safer to use so you can try out red light therapy at home.

Stars such as Jessica Alba swear by red light treatments. They are much gentler than chemical peels, Botox, and lasers. You don’t need to wait days for your skin to recover.

What can red light therapy do for you?

So far, red light therapy is showing promise in:

  • making wrinkles and dark spots disappear
  • reducing the inflammation from acne
  • treating psoriasis and rosacea
  • relieving joint pain
  • healing wounds after surgery
  • reversing hair loss from certain conditions.

Now doesn’t that list make you want to run right out and try it?

Does red light therapy work?

Does red light therapy actually make a difference? Yes, it does, according to doctors and patients. It’s not just woo-woo made-up science.

You can read the research papers for yourself, including this excellent study published in 2013. It talks about LLLT, or Low Level Light Therapy. Seven medical professionals compiled the report. Their introduction says,

“Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) is a fast-growing technology used to treat a multitude of conditions that require stimulation of healing, relief of pain and inflammation, and restoration of function… The noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects encourage further testing in dermatology.”

They tested a variety of LED and laser devices on various conditions ranging from acne to age spots to wrinkles. The results they saw were generally positive.

Their conclusion is the clincher,

“LLLT appears to have a wide range of applications in dermatology, especially in indications where stimulation of healing, reduction of inflammation, reduction of cell death, and skin rejuvenation are required.”

The science of light therapy

Although it doesn’t look porous, your skin lets light through. Certain wavelengths reach deeper than others. As you can see in this image below, red and near infrared go deepest.

You may have heard of blue light therapy for acne. Blue light kills off the bacteria that causes pimples, but blue light waves don’t penetrate very deep.

Red light penetrates down past the epidermis, the top layer of skin, into the dermis underneath. It stimulates fibroblasts, or connective tissues, to develop. That, in turn, makes more collagen and elastin. The process starts right away, but it takes a while for the cumulative results to show.

That’s why when you start red light therapy you won’t see wrinkles disappear after the first treatment. You’ll need to continue making visits to the dermatologist or doing sessions at home for a few weeks.

Where can you get red light therapy treatments?

You can make an appointment with a dermatologist for light therapy if their office is equipped for that. Some tanning salons also offer treatments.

Or better yet, you can use devices for home use!

Is red light therapy safe? What are the risks and side effects?

If you use red light therapy on your face, it’s a good idea to use goggles similar to those used when tanning indoors. At a minimum, don’t look directly into the light. See below for a more explicit warning about what happens if you spend too much time staring at infrared lights.

If you are taking medications or supplements that make you sensitive to light, consult with your doctor before you try red light therapy. Some of these include retinoids like Accutane or St. John’s Wort.

Red LEDs and cold laser lights don’t get very hot. You can touch them after they’ve been operating for a while and not get burned. Even though, follow the device manufacturer’s directions and don’t exceed the exposure time limits they recommend. More time under the light doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better results. In some cases, you could irritate your skin instead of healing it.