Where Did Red Light Therapy Come From?

Updated on:

Where Did Red Light Therapy Come From?

Red light therapy (RLT) has become a popular health intervention, with everyone from elite pro athletes, Hollywood celebrities, leading skincare professionals, world-class fitness trainers, and natural health leaders using Joovv devices every day.

But where did red light therapy come from? And why is it becoming such a widely-used, noninvasive treatment modality? In this post, we’ll answer those questions and provide a handy timeline of the history of the emerging field of photomedicine/light therapy.

An Intro to the History of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy is also called photobiomodulation, low level light therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT). People have been using natural light to address medical concerns for centuries, and modern light therapy devices and techniques have been in use for decades. But red light therapy has really taken off in the last 10-15 years. Why? A combination of 3 major factors:

  • Impressive, peer-reviewed clinical research on light therapy treatments has significantly increased over the last 2 decades, with over 1,000 published studies and trials showing a wide range of extremely positive findings. And all with very few documented side effects or risks.
  • This research has expanded the clinical frontiers of light therapy and encouraged many physicians and health practitioners to adopt light therapy for their patients.
  • Learn more details about how RLT works here.

LED technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the new millennium, making affordable and clinically-effective light therapy devices a possibility for the first time. Expensive laser technology has given way to more affordable LEDs. For example, Joovv’s devices deliver concentrated wavelengths of light directly to your skin and cells, with no UV rays and very little heat. All in the comfort of your own home!

Consumer interest in natural health has also spiked in the last 10-15 years. More than ever, people are looking for effective, natural treatments that don’t rely solely on prescription drugs, chemicals, and invasive procedures. Consumers have never been more interested in preventive medicine and lifestyle factors. Light therapy options fit this growing sensibility by addressing the root causes of health and illness.

This is a timeline of some of the most important developments in light therapy history:



The First 2,000 Years of Light Technology (Pre-1800s):

From Ancient Greek philosophers like Euclid and Ptolemy, to Scientific Revolution figures like Sir Isaac Newton, mankind’s brightest minds have been studying the properties of light for centuries. Gas and oil-based lighting dominated until the 1800s, when for the first time, people were able to use light more deliberately, in modern technologies like electricity.

1870s: Thomas Edison and Electricity

American inventor Thomas Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878, and demonstrated his incandescent light prototype a year later, in 1879. By 1925, half of all homes in the US had electric power. [1] The modern era of light technology had begun.

1903: Niels Ryberg Finsen wins Nobel Prize for Early Light Therapy Treatments

Scandinavian scientist Niels Ryberg Finsen suffered from Niemann-Pick disease, a metabolic disorder that affected his quality of life. Seeking to treat himself, Dr. Finsen sunbathed and investigated the effects of light on living organisms. He developed a theory of phototherapy that showed how specific wavelengths of light can have beneficial effects. Dr. Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1903, "in recognition of his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation, whereby he has opened a new avenue for medical science." [2]

1917: Albert Einstein Develops Modern Laser Principles

It doesn’t take an Einstein to see the health benefits of light, but it did take Einstein himself to establish the theoretical foundations of laser technology, in a 1917 paper on the quantum theory of radiation.

1967: The Discovery of Photobiomodulation

Like so many crucial scientific breakthroughs, photobiomodulation was discovered by accident when Dr. Endre Mester noticed the positive effects of a low-level laser on hair growth and wound healing in mice. This led to greater scientific interest in stimulating cells to improve healing and growth, and the field of photobiomodulation was born. [X]

1980s: NASA Experiments with Light Therapy in Space

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NASA tested how LED-based light therapy works for plant growth in space with red light stimulation. It worked! Plants responded to light therapy in the absence of sunlight, and this led researchers and doctors in many fields to start conducting their own experiments with natural light and health. [3]

1990s: LED Technology Ushers in the Modern Age of Light Therapy

LED technology had been around since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when advances started to significantly reduce lighting costs and improve efficiency. This made personal light therapy a possibility. [4] The efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatments with LEDs has been well-established in clinical studies.

2013: Researchers Demonstrate Cognitive Benefits from Light Therapy

In 2013, researchers conduct the first placebo-controlled study demonstrating cognitive performance benefits in people who received light therapy treatments directed at the brain. The results were eye-opening: red light therapy improved reaction times, memory, and positive emotional states. These findings encouraged optimism in the medical research community about the possibility of a noninvasive treatment that could aid brain cell regeneration and improve prefrontal cortex executive function, without risky drugs or surgeries. [5]

Pre-2016: Red Light Therapy is a Luxury Treatment in Salons and Spas

Red light therapy treatments were available before 2016, but you wouldn’t have known it without going to luxury spas and clinics in Europe and the United States, where it was first offered as a skin treatment. The problem was that there wasn’t red light therapy for the public in an affordable or convenient way, so it was only used by a small handful of people who could afford it.

2016: Joovv Makes the First Affordable, In-Home, Full-Body Light Therapy Devices

In early 2016, Joovv introduced the first consumer light therapy devices that delivered affordable, full-body treatments in the comfort of your home. No longer did you have to go to a spa or salon for expensive light therapy to get positive results. This ushered in an era of convenient, personal light therapy options for the public, and led to rapid adoption of light therapy among athletes, trainers, skincare professionals, and health practitioners.

2018: National Association of Sports Medicine Endorses Light Therapy

In 2018, the National Association of Sports Medicine endorsed red light therapy for injuries, pain, and strain.

2017: Elite Pro Athletes are Joovvin’ for Performance and Recovery

As personal red light therapy becomes more established, some of the biggest names in pro sports start using Joovv devices for performance and recovery. Everyone from NFL stars, to gold medal winners, to UFC champs, and the best golfers on earth.

2017: Nobel Prize Awarded to Scientists Studying Circadian Rhythm

Also in 2017, a group of American scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of the molecular mechanisms controlling the body’s circadian rhythm. The scientists, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, identified that circadian rhythms affect all living organisms at a cellular level. The importance of a regulated circadian rhythm can’t be overstated, and the impact of natural light on our sleep cycle is made clear through their work. [7] Read more about light and circadian rhythm here.

2019: Red Light Therapy is the Go-To Skin Treatment for Hollywood Celebrities

In recent years, red light therapy (often called LED light therapy for skin treatments) has become a go-to beauty solution for Hollywood celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Emma Stone, and the Kardashians. And top Hollywood estheticians and facialists like Shani Darden use it for their clients, like Jessica Alba.

2019: MASCC/ISOO Recommends Light Therapy for Oral Mucositis

Oral mucositis (OM) is one of the most debilitating side effects of cancer treatment. In 2019, the Mucositis Study Group of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer/International Society for Oral Oncology (MASCC/ISOO) announced their recommendation of light therapy for the prevention of oral mucositis. [9]

2020: Joovv Conducts Mood Study to Investigate Light Therapy and Mental Health

Building on previous studies of light therapy and mental health (that used non-Joovv devices), in 2020 Joovv began conducting its own research into the effects of red and NIR light on mood. You can read more about this research here.

Conclusion: The Future of Red Light Therapy is Bright!

Light has always been fundamental to human health, and people have used light to improve their well-being for centuries. But only in the last few decades has human technology advanced to the point where breakthroughs like LED light therapy are possible. And only in the last ten years has light therapy become an affordable option for everyday consumers. Today, some of the world’s best medical researchers and health practitioners are discovering new and exciting ways to use and benefit from light therapy. The future is bright!

The future of light therapy is bright!

Sources and References:

[1] The Electric Light System. National Park Service.

[2] The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1903. The Nobel Prize.

[3] LED Lights Used in Plant Growth Experiments for Deep Space Missions. NASA.

[4] History of LEDs - Light Emitting Diodes. History of Lighting.

[5] Barrett DW, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. 2013 Jan.

[6] John Foley, David B Vasily, et al. 830 nm light-emitting diode (led) phototherapy significantly reduced return-to-play in injured university athletes: a pilot study. Laser Therapy. 2016 Mar.

[7] The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017. The Nobel Prize.

[8] 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 Oct.

[9] Zadik Y, Arany PR, et al. Systematic review of photobiomodulation for the management of oral mucositis in cancer patients and clinical practice guidelines. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2019 Oct.