Red light therapy: Does it even work?

The therapeutic potential of red light therapy was initially observed in the late 1980s and later bolstered
The image shows a person receiving red light therapy facial at a spa. — Clearlight
The image shows a person receiving red light therapy facial at a spa. — Clearlight

You might find yourself wondering, "Does red light therapy actually work?" as you click through to this article. The answer? Yes, it does, but there's a catch. Before delving into the efficacy of a red light claiming to be a cure-all (which, to some extent, it can be), let's first explore what it entails and why it's garnering attention for its skin-rejuvenating properties.

What is red light therapy?

According to board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, red light therapy involves exposing the skin to low levels of red or near-infrared light, typically ranging from 630 to 700 nm in wavelength. This treatment has been shown to mitigate inflammation in the skin and stimulate fibroblasts to produce collagen, thereby reducing wrinkles and enhancing skin texture.

"Unlike UV light associated with skin cancer and premature ageing, LED light falls within the visible spectrum and offers skin benefits," explains New York-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. She emphasises that red LED lights, with longer wavelengths, penetrate deeper into the skin, inducing changes through a process called photobiomodulation without causing injury.

The therapeutic potential of red light therapy was initially observed in the late 1980s and later bolstered, although inadvertently, by NASA scientists experimenting with red and blue LEDs for plant growth. They noticed accelerated wound healing on their hands, laying the groundwork for further exploration of its benefits.

Now, red light therapy has become a staple treatment in both medical spas and home settings. Bowe highlights its noninvasive nature, making it suitable for various skincare applications without generating heat.

Advantages of red light therapy

Regular use of red light therapy yields numerous benefits, as noted by Murphy-Rose. It diminishes inflammation, boosts collagen production, and enhances collagen density, leading to smoother skin texture and reduced wrinkles over time. Additionally, it has been used for addressing pattern hair loss, alopecia, and even reducing body fat.

How often should you undergo red light therapy?

The frequency and duration of red light exposure vary depending on the device and treatment area. Bowe recommends consistent use of FDA-cleared at-home devices, advising daily or 3-4 times a week for at least six weeks to observe results. For optimal skin-firming outcomes, a regular red light routine may extend up to three months.

While noticeable improvements such as enhanced photoaging signs and collagen synthesis may take several months, a single 10-minute session can effectively alleviate inflammation, as recommended by dermatologists.

Are there any risks?

Generally, red light therapy is considered safe for all skin types, but precautions should be taken. Bowe advises closing your eyes during treatment to prevent eye damage and ensuring that neither the device nor your skin becomes warm. Excessive heat may trigger melanin production in individuals prone to hyperpigmentation.

Murphy-Rose suggests consulting a medical professional before using red light therapy if you have conditions or medications that increase photosensitivity. Additionally, thorough research is crucial before investing in an LED device to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

In conclusion, red light therapy offers a largely side-effect-free solution for various skincare concerns. Whether administered in a clinical setting or at home, its positive effects justify the investment of both time and resources.