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Is there any science behind red light therapy?

Red light therapy has become an increasingly popular natural health treatment, Touted by celebrities and health gurus alike, red light therapy seems almost too good to be true. Proponents claim it can increase energy, ease pain, stimulate hair growth, improve skin, enhance athletic performance, and even slow aging. But are these Red light therapy benefits backed up by scientific research?

red light therapy science

The answer is a resounding yes! Extensive science validate red light therapy as a legitimate, drug-free treatment that leverages natural light to provide real results. Keep reading as we highlight what the science behind red light therapy is.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy involves exposure to light in the red and near-infrared spectrums (660-950 nanometers wavelength). These wavelengths of light penetrate through the skin and into the underlying cell tissue. The mitochondria inside the cells absorb these wavelengths like fuel. This causes increased ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production inside the mitochondria. Since ATP is the primary energy source for cells, higher levels boost cell energy and activity. Most red light therapy devices use targeted LEDs (light emitting diodes), for optimal results. Sessions are non-invasive, convenient, and carry virtually no side effects [1].

What is Red Light Therapy?

A Brief History of Red Light Therapy

The concept of using light to accelerate healing has origins in ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese cultures. But modern red light therapy first came around in the late 1890s. A Danish physician named Niels Finsen discovered that exposure to red wavelengths could heal smallpox lesions and skin tuberculosis.

Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1903 for this pioneering work. In the 1950s, Eastern European scientists expanded on Finsen’s findings to develop modern phototherapy devices using red light.

In the 1990s and 2000s, NASA studied how LEDs affected wound healing and human cell growth during spaceflight. Extensive research from the past few decades continues to verify red light’s therapeutic value today.

The Science Behind Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy has been shown in numerous scientific studies to provide the following benefits:

Increased Energy and Improved Mood
Studies show red light exposure increases circulation and oxygenation, boosting cellular energy production. Just a few minutes of exposure can provide hours of lasting energy. Red light also elevates mood and motivation in a similar fashion by stimulating the brain [2].

Pain and Inflammation Reduction
Studies demonstrate red light alleviates all types of pain by reducing inflammation. This includes joint pain from arthritis, back pain, chronic headaches, neuropathic pain, sprains and strains, fibromyalgia, and more. By delivering photons that reduce inflammatory mediators and increase circulation, red light provides natural pain relief [3].

Faster Wound and Injury Healing
By increasing circulation and reducing inflammation to accelerate healing of wounds, burns, fractures and surgery incisions [4]. Red light also helps repair muscle damage after intense exercise, making it a go-to for pro athletes [5].

Healthier Skin and Hair
From acne to wrinkles, red light improves all skin types. It encourages collagen production to reduce fine lines and smooth skin texture [6]. Red light also fades scars and stretch marks by speeding cell turnover[7]. For hair, it stimulates follicles and growth factors to prevent thinning and shedding, while encouraging new growth [8].

Enhanced Athletic Performance
By improving muscle recovery, red light therapy gives a proven performance boost, demonstrated in studies of strength training, sprinting, cycling, and other sports. This helps you ramp up your personal record and build muscle efficiently. Red light therapy reduces oxidative stress from exercise while amping up your natural energy [9].

The Science Behind Red Light Therapy

How to Use Red Light Therapy?

Choosing Your Device
There are a variety of options when it comes to red light therapy devices, from handheld devices to full-body panels. When choosing a device, consider your budget, the area of your body you want to treat, and the device’s intensity and wavelength. It’s best to look for products with both red (660nm) and near infrared (850nm) LEDs to achieve a full spectrum of benefits. Medical grade devices provide the highest intensity light.

Determining Treatment Length
The length of your treatment will depend on the device you’re using and the area of your body you’re treating. Most treatments last between 5 and 20 minutes, and you may need to repeat the treatment several times a week to see optimal results.

Positioning Yourself Correctly
To maximize results, make sure to position yourself correctly. Depending on the device you’re using, you may need to position yourself a certain distance from the light source. Follow the device’s instructions carefully to ensure you’re getting the optimal treatment. The key is ensuring thorough, consistent light coverage. While nudity provides best absorption, even light clothing will work.


Red light therapy is more than just a passing trend – it’s backed by science and has proven benefits for a variety of health concerns. Whether you’re looking to improve your skin, reduce pain and inflammation, or boost your mental health, red light therapy could be the natural solution you’ve been seeking


Can too much red light therapy be bad?

Prolonged and excessive exposure to red light can potentially cause skin irritation, burns, or other adverse reactions. It’s important to follow the recommended treatment times and guidelines provided by the manufacturer of your red light therapy device.

Who should avoid red light therapy?

Pregnant women
Individuals with skin cancer
People with implanted medical devices like pacemakers
Those with photosensitive conditions or on photosensitive medications

Are there any negative side effects from red light therapy?

There are NO known side effects of red light therapy when used properly. Unlike UV light, it does not burn or damage skin.

How long should you do red light therapy?

That depends on your goals. For general wellness, 5-10 minutes daily is great. For anti-aging, 15-20 minutes every other day work well. For hair regrowth, skin enhancement, or pain relief, sessions up to 30 minutes deliver optimal results.

How many times a day should you do red light therapy?

Once per day is sufficient for most people to experience benefits. Some people enjoy doing short sessions (5-15 minutes) two or even three times daily – morning, afternoon, and before bed – for an added boost. This added frequency is safe and effective.


[1]Pinar Avci, Asheesh Gupta, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar;32(1):41-52.

[2]Cassano P, Petrie SR, et al. Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis. Neurophotonics 2016;3:031404.

[3]Cassano P, Petrie SR, et al. Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2018 October.

[4]Ryan Spitler, Michael W Berns. Comparison of laser and diode sources for acceleration of in vitro wound healing by low-level light therapy. Journal of Biomedical Optics 19(3), 038001. 2014, March.

[5]Bruno Manfredini Baroni, Ernesto Cesar Pinto Leal Junior, et al. Low level laser therapy before eccentric exercise reduces muscle damage markers in humans.European Journal of Applied Physiology.2010 July.

[6]Wen-Hwa Li, InSeok Seo, et al.Low-level red plus near infrared lights combination induces expressions of collagen and elastin in human skin in vitro. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2021 Jun;43(3):311-320.

[7]Andrew Mamalis, Daniel Siegel, and Jared Jagdeo. Visible Red Light Emitting Diode Photobiomodulation for Skin Fibrosis: Key Molecular Pathways. Curr Dermatol Rep. 2016; 5: 121–128.

[8]Friedman S, Schnoor P. “Novel Approach to Treating Androgenetic Alopecia in Females With Photobiomodulation (Low-Level Laser Therapy).” Dermatologic Surgery. 2017 Jun.

[9]Alexander Wunschcorresponding, Karsten Matuschka. Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Reduction of Intradermal Collagen Density Increase. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Feb.

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