Red light therapy, also called photobiomodulation (PBM), is nontoxic and noninvasive. It’s a great complement to other treatments for skin-care concerns ranging from the medical — like actinic keratosis and acne — to the cosmetic, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
But it’s important to use caution, as results can vary.
Reduces Pain and Inflammation
Using red and near-infrared light, or photobiomodulation, reduces pain and inflammation by acting on the mitochondria (the power plants of cells) to give them more energy. That energy boosts cellular reproduction, which helps the body repair itself and heal injuries more quickly.
Inflammation often accompanies chronic health conditions like arthritis, low backaches, fibromyalgia and nerve damage. When used regularly, RLT decreases inflammation and improves the function of muscles, bones and joints, according to studies.
Neck and back pain are common ailments, and studies show that RLT significantly increases range of motion and relieves aches, stiffness and pain from injuries. It also boosts cellular regeneration and strengthens ligaments, which can speed healing.
Many athletes use red light therapy to help prevent and treat sports injuries. One study showed that it reduces muscle fatigue, allowing for higher endurance during intense training sessions. It has also been shown to reduce numbness and pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the median nerve in the wrists.
Although RLT is relatively safe, it’s important to consult with a doctor before purchasing an at-home device. You should avoid the treatment if you have lupus, photosensitizing skin diseases or are taking any medications that interact with light (including tetracycline, doxycycline and hydrochlorothiazide). RLT is not recommended for pregnant women or people with open wounds or lesions.
Stimulates Collagen Production
Collagen is a protein that keeps your skin looking healthy and young. It also helps heal wounds, reduce inflammation, and protects your internal organs.
Studies show that red light therapy boosts collagen by penetrating your skin and boosting the energy in your cells. This energy increases ATP production, which leads to cell proliferation and better survival. It also photodissociates nitric oxide, which improves blood flow to the area and provides the glucose needed for healthy repair.
Red light also stimulates the fibroblasts in your skin to produce more collagen. As we age, our natural collagen production slows down, resulting in fine lines, thinning skin, and a loss of elasticity. Studies show that if you use a red light therapy device like Joovv three times a week for 10 minutes, you can expect to see results in as little as one month.
However, before you start a treatment regimen like this, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist or pain specialist to determine your wellness goals and to make sure that red light is safe for you. Also, be sure to follow your device’s directions for use to avoid overexposure. For example, it’s important not to use the red light therapy on open wounds or lesions. Additionally, you should avoid this type of treatment if you have a photosensitizing medical condition or are taking medications that sensitize your skin to sunlight (such as tetracycline, doxycycline, hydrochlorothiazide, and naproxen). The good news is that all Joovv products are independently tested and deemed safe for at-home use.
Red light therapy can help treat acne by reducing inflammation, stimulating collagen production and killing bacteria. It can also be used to reduce the appearance of scars, says Jagdeo. Unlike traditional topical treatments, it does not irritate the skin, making it a gentle and safe option for almost anyone.
Acne results from overproduction of sebum (oil) and clogging of hair follicles with oil and dead skin cells. P. acnes, a bacteria commonly found on the skin, causes this overproduction and triggers an inflammatory response, which leads to redness, swelling and pus. In a 2006 clinical trial, researchers found that blue and red light therapy reduced acne lesions for four weeks after eight sessions.
The FDA has approved red light therapy devices for at-home use, typically in the form of a wand or mask with dozens to hundreds of tiny LED lights. These tools are widely available online and sold in beauty spas and salons, tanning salons, and some gyms and wellness centers. The experts we spoke to recommended consulting a doctor before using one of these at-home tools and agreed that results vary.
Red light therapy is an emerging treatment for many conditions and can be used in addition to traditional treatments. It has the potential to decrease inflammation, rejuvenate skin, increase hair growth, decrease healing time after certain procedures, improve the look of scars and acne scarring, and help with a variety of other health conditions, including pain from ankle tendonitis, rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Reduces Hair Growth
Red light therapy stimulates hair follicles by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This is essentially the body’s energy currency, and it boosts cellular metabolism and activity to encourage hair growth and revive dormant follicles. In addition, it increases circulation to the scalp, which helps deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to your hair follicles.
In fact, one study found that women with androgenic alopecia saw regrowth after 12 weeks of treatment, while another found that men experiencing a receding hairline reported thicker, fuller tresses after 16 weeks of using a red light device. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory benefits of red light may help to reduce oxidative stress that can lead to hair loss and promote healthy scalp conditions.
While the exact mechanism is still under investigation, it appears that red light can help to reduce apoptosis in cells. Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death in which the body breaks down damaged or unhealthy cells. It is common during chemotherapy, but can also occur in healthy cells if the treatment is too harsh. In a study, scientists found that red light therapy significantly reduced apoptosis in hair follicle cells.
If you’re interested in using a red light device at home, look for a product that is FDA approved as a cosmetic device. LoGerfo recommends the Red LED mask from Priori Skincare UNVEILED Face, which she says is a high-quality option that is backed by research for efficacy.