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Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you've already heard many of the claims about the benefits of red light therapy.  But you probably still have a nagging question...

Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?  

NASA had this same question when it commissioned a company called QDI to conduct research in 1993.  After it was proven the technology could activate plant growth in space, contracts were awarded to investigate the medical application of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) specifically focused on the energy transfer to human cells.  

Nasa Proves Red Light Therapy Works

The research demonstrated the effectiveness of a specific wavelength of light at 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, the technology had been proven in hundreds of published studies, 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." (1)  Even the FDA has recognized that red light therapy has been “scientifically shown…to affect skin structure...by reducing wrinkles for months after treatment, which may be the result of new collagen formation or reorganization or repair of elastin damage.” (2).  The FDA has also approved red light therapy for the treatment of minor pains, mild arthritis, and many other conditions.  

Beyond the clinical evidence, I personally have witnessed red light improve stretch marks, totally heal eczema that had persisted for years, and drastically improve 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 the sun, we would quickly become dangerously deficient in vitamin D.  Not to mention the other physiological and emotional challenges we would face.  

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.  

Red Light in Visible Light Spectrum

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 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
  • Stimulates production of collagen and elastin
  • Enhances muscle recovery and athletic performance
  • Reduces joint pain, inflammation, and arthritis
  • Improves appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and stretch marks
  • Reduces acne, rosacea, and eczema
  • Increases circulation
  • Speeds healing of wounds and injuries

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 each 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.  

Red Light Therapy LED

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 so many red light devices on the market that it can be quite confusing to know which one to purchase.  There are many factors to consider, but ultimately the effectiveness of the red light boils down to just a few: the wavelength and 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.  

Which light therapy device should I choose?

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 we designed the Joovv Light, we 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 Joovv 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) 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

(2) FDA – Director of CDRH Office of Compliance – Memo to the conference of Radiation Control of Program Directors on Red Lamps for Skin Rejuvenation installed in tanning beds/booths 12/21/2011