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Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you’ve heard the claims about the many benefits of red light therapy but you’re a bit skeptical and either have your doubts, some questions, or perhaps you’re just looking for some research data that supports these claims. Whatever the case may be in this article we will address each of these concerns and then some.

Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

In 1893, a scientist named Niels Finsen published his first paper about the effects of light on the skin. Finsen would later discover that certain wavelengths of light initiate healing properties. His research demonstrating the benefits of ultraviolet light in the treatment of painful facial lesions of those suffering from lupus vulgaris would win him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903. In 1993, Dr Finsen’s research served as the basis for Quantum Devices, Inc, and for NASA’s joint project to promote plant growth in space using High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate (HEALS) technology.1

In 1993 NASA commissioned a company called QDI to conduct research. After it was proven the technology could not only activate plant growth in space, but that plant cells exposed to near infrared-light from LEDs grew 150-200 percent faster than cells not stimulated by the light, contracts were awarded to investigate the medical application of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) specifically focused on the energy transfer to human cells. 2

They began extensive clinical trials at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to examine the ability of near-infrared light to relieve muscle spasms, joint pain, and stiffness and to increase blood flow in the tissues where it was applied. Between 1995 and 1998, NASA and the University of Wisconsin conducted research proving red LED light’s benefit on the promotion of cell growth as a way to prevent bone and muscle loss in astronauts in space.3 NASA’s research led to the development of a red LED device called the WARP 10 (Warfighter Accelerated Recovery by Photomodulation), and later the WARP 75, which was used by special forces on the front lines for immediate first-aid care. The WARP 10 debuted in 2005, and the WARP 75, which covers 75 cm (versus the 10’s 10 cm), was available in 2008.4 Since the publication of NASA’s research in the 1990s, many research studies on red light and infrared therapy have demonstrated its benefits on wound healing, metabolism enhancement, and the reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, and acne.

The research demonstrated the effectiveness of a specific wavelength of light, 660 nanometers (nm). What began as a way to limit bone and muscle loss of astronauts soon had proven its effectiveness so thoroughly that by 2010, there were hundreds of published studies on the benefits of the technology, including a clinical trial on bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Patients in that double-blind placebo study experienced a 45% reduction in pain compared to the control patients.

Light therapy devices have also been distributed to US Special Forces units to aid in wound care. And several other studies have demonstrated that red light therapy “significantly reduces facial wrinkle levels.” 5 Even the FDA has recognized that red light therapy has been “scientifically shown…to affect skin structure…by reducing wrinkles for months after treatment, the result of new collagen formation and the reorganization or repair of elastin damage.”. 5 The FDA has also approved red light therapy for the treatment of minor pains, mild arthritis, and many other conditions.

Beyond the clinical evidence, we’ve personally witnessed red light improve stretch marks, completely heal eczema that had persisted for years, enhance energy levels and endurance, drastically improve severe acne, restore hair loss, aid in weight loss, and enhance muscle recovery after strenuous workouts. The real-life benefits of red light for improved health are quite overwhelming.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

The human body needs light. Without sunlight and specifically light in the ultraviolet B range, we would quickly become dangerously deficient in vitamin D3.  Not to mention the other physiological and emotional challenges we would face. For more on this visit Harvard Health for Vitamin D and your Health.

Sunlight is a combination of the entire visible light spectrum (400 – 700 nm) as well as UV (300 – 400 nm) and infrared (700 – 1000 nm) light. Most people are well aware of the potential dangers of too much sunlight due to damaging UV rays.

However, the body has specific responses to light in the 600 – 900 nm wavelength range, also known as the therapeutic window. This light energy can pass through human tissues much easier than other wavelengths. Specifically, light in the mid-600 nm and mid-800 nm range has been shown to provide optimal biological responses. This energy is absorbed by the body up to a depth of about 10-12 mm and stimulates ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the “energy currency of life” and the mode of chemical energy transportation at the cellular level. The cells receive this rejuvenating, anti-aging energy boost that enables them to perform their natural functions at a heightened level.

Here are some of the documented benefits of red light therapy:

  • Improves skin tone and complexion 7
  • Stimulates production of collagen and elastin 7
  • Enhances muscle recovery and athletic performance 8
  • Reduces joint pain, inflammation, and arthritis 9
  • Improves appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and stretch marks 7
  • Reduces acne, rosacea, and eczema 7
  • Increases circulation 10
  • Enhanced testosterone production through the stimulation of leydig cells 11
  • Speeds healing of wounds and injuries 10
  • Ability to not only slow hair loss, but to stimulate hair re-growth 12
  • And believe it or not, a lot more!

Unlike many other types of treatments, red light therapy is completely safe, non-invasive, uses no chemicals, and has no harmful side effects. It simply harnesses the natural healing and rejuvenating benefits of a specific range of light and delivers this energy at a higher rate than the sun (without the harmful UV rays). It is a very relaxing and energizing experience that is quickly becoming a revolutionary treatment in numerous medical specialties due to its many applications and benefits.

How Long do You Have to Use Red Light Therapy to Experience the Benefits?

Researchers have indicated an optimal cellular response when at least 4-6 Joules/cm2 of energy is applied during each session of red light therapy. Some published studies have demonstrated benefits when 100-120 Joules/cmof energy was utilized for deep tissue treatments. The amount of time required to apply this specific amount of energy is dependent on the intensity of the red light on the specific treatment area.

Each treatment can be done once or even several times daily. But the time required to get results depends on the symptom that is being treated. For example, you may get relief from pain and inflammation by the end of a single session, while improvements in wrinkles and fine lines can take 8-12 weeks or longer.

Do LEDs Make a Difference?

Incandescent bulbs are so inefficient that less than 5% of the energy is turned into light while the rest is lost as heat. The actual light output of a 100w incandescent bulb is about 1000 lumens or roughly 10 lumens per watt.

Halogen bulbs are a little more efficient at about 14 lumens per watt. Fluorescent bulbs, such as a 48” T12, put out 2,600 lumens on only 40w. That equates to about 65 lumens per watt. Not too bad, right? Well, there are some drawbacks to be aware of.

Since the light from halogen sources is evenly distributed around the entire 360 degrees of the bulb, we’re forced to rely on fixtures that reflect half the light back to the desired direction. When you combine these reflection losses with the quick depreciation of light output, the end result is only about 30% of the output hitting the intended surface when using fluorescent bulbs. This puts the real world light output back down around 20-25 lumens/watt. Additionally, the mercury content of fluorescent bulbs makes them a real safety hazard if a bulb breaks.

LED devices, on the other hand, are uniquely capable of delivering a specific wavelength of light at an efficiency of over 100 lumens per watt, with no UV rays or mercury to worry about. There are no fragile bulbs to break and the average life is about 25 times that of incandescent bulbs and 2.5 times fluorescent bulbs. LEDs are the best way to deliver the specific wavelength and intensity of red light in order to get the optimum cellular response and corresponding health benefits.

So Which Red Light Therapy Device Should You Choose?

There are a number red light devices on the market and many factors to consider when attempting to determine which device to purchase. Ultimately the effectiveness of the red light device boils down to just a few (1) the wavelength and (2) the amount of energy delivered to the skin surface.

Most studies on red light therapy, including the original research funded by NASA, point to optimal wavelengths in the mid-600 nm and mid-800 nm range. Research has also shown our cells respond best when at least 4-6 Joules/cm2 of energy is delivered. The amount of time to deliver this specific amount of energy is determined by the intensity of the light at the surface of the skin. This intensity is measured in W/cm2. The amount of energy in Joules is calculated by multiplying the intensity by the time in seconds.

For example, if the intensity is .010 W/cm2, it will take 400 seconds, or almost 7 minutes, to get 4 Joules. Unfortunately, most red light therapy devices don’t publish their output intensity, which makes it nearly impossible to determine how much energy is being delivered to the treatment area.

If the data is made available, the advertised intensity is typically at the surface of the light. But the energy delivered to the treatment area will be much less if the device is at a distance. So if the light takes 7 minutes to provide the energy required, this would need to be repeated for each treatment area.

Some devices are meant for the entire face, but the intensity of the light at the skin is so low that a session time of over an hour would be required to get the best results. For most people, this simply isn’t practical. Therefore, it’s important to select a product with the optimum light intensity that results in a treatment time that is convenient and desirable.

When it’s engineer’s designed the Joovv Light, they refused to settle for anything less than the optimum wavelength of light along with unparalleled output. With 120 degree lenses on the diodes, at a distance of 18”, the light rays reach an area of 56” x 26” with an intensity (irradiance) of .017W/cm2. This allows the Joovv Light to deliver 4 Joules of red or near infrared light to your body in less than 4 minutes. And 6 Joules in under 6 minutes!

So Yes, Red Light Therapy Does Work!

The clinical and scientific evidence for red light therapy is quite convincing. But it’s imperative to choose a device that delivers the right amount of light within an ideal range of wavelength. This will allow you to experience the benefits of red light therapy in an easy and convenient way.

Admittedly, we’re a little biased but with the Opera LED Light Therapy Mask and the Joovv Red and NIR Light, you can reap the rewards of Red Light Therapy in the convenience of your own home in less than 10 minutes per day. Check it out. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed!


[1] Barolet D. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in dermatology. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008;27(4):227-238.

[2] NASA Light-Emitting Diode Technology Brings Relief In Clinical Trials – Michael Braukus November 13, 2003

[3] Nasa Spinoff. Lighting the Way for Quicker, Safer Healing. 2005. Nasa Web site. Accessed January 8, 2018.

[4] Nasa Spinoff. LED Device Illuminates New Path to Healing. 2008. Nasa Web site. Accessed January 8, 2018.

[5] Facial Rejuvenation in the Triangle of ROS – Andrei P. Sommer and Dan Zhu – Institute of micro and Nanomaterials, University of Ulm, 89081 Ulm, Germany July 24, 2009

[6] Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M et al. “Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring.” Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 March ; 32(1): 41–52.

[7] Ferraresi C, Hamblin M, and Parizotto N. “Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) on muscle tissue: performance, fatigue and repair benefited by the power of light.” Photonics Lasers Med. 2012 November 1; 1(4): 267–286. doi:10.1515/plm-2012-0032.

[8] Al Rashoud AS, Abboud RJ, Wang W, Wigderowitz C. “Efficacy of low-level laser therapy applied at acupuncture points in knee osteoarthritis: a randomised double-blind comparative trial.” Physiotherapy. 2014 Sep;100(3):242-8.

[9] Mitchell UH, Mack GL. “Low-level laser treatment with near-infrared light increases venous nitric oxide levels acutely: a single-blind, randomized clinical trial of efficacy.” Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 Feb;92(2):151-6.

[10] Emília de Abreu Chaves M, Rodrigues de Araújo A, Piancastelli ACC, and Pinotti M. “Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED.” An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jul-Aug; 89(4): 616–623.

[11] Myerson, A.  Influence of ultraviolet radiation on excretion of sex hormones in the male. Endocrinology. 1939;25:7-12.

[12] Am J Clin Dermatol. 2014 Apr;15(2):115-27. doi: 10.1007/s40257-013-0060-6.

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