Scott Nelson

How Does Red Light Therapy Actually Work?





Red light therapy has been studied and tested across hundreds of peer-reviewed clinical trials, with overwhelmingly positive results for skin health, collagen production, physical performance & muscle recovery, sleep, joint pain, inflammation, and a lot more. And that’s without drugs, chemicals, UV rays, invasive procedures, or other common side effects.

NFL stars, NBA teams, Olympians, world-class trainers, natural health leaders, and leading clinics & gyms are using red light therapy every day for these natural health benefits. We’ve written about the clinical evidence and real-world proof that red light therapy is effective.

But how does red light therapy work? How do natural wavelengths of red and near infrared light lead to these positive biological effects in your body? We break it down in this article.

Basics of a Red Light Therapy Treatment

A high-quality red light therapy device like a Joovv uses medical-grade LEDs to deliver concentrated wavelengths of natural light to your skin and cells, without dangerous UV rays or excess heat. All you have to do is sit or stand near a device for 10-15 minutes a day to charge your cells. The more surface area of your body you can cover, the more your cells absorb natural light, and the more full-body benefits you can expect to see with consistent use.

Clinically-Proven Wavelengths of Red and Near Infrared Light

Not just any light will do. Only the safest, most proven wavelengths will deliver optimal health benefits. Natural light is a wide spectrum encompassing many wavelengths and colors. Leading photomedicine researchers have found in numerous peer-reviewed studies that a narrow band of red and near infrared light is the clinical sweet spot for health and safety. The best light therapy devices use these proven wavelengths: red light in the mid-600 nanometer range, and near infrared light in the mid-800s. [1,2]

Natural Light Powers Your Cells

All living things need to make ATP cellular energy to function and survive, and nearly all living things rely on natural light to power this process in our cells every day. Red and near infrared wavelengths of natural light stimulate the mitochondria in your cells, the powerhouses responsible for taking light, oxygen, and the food we eat—and turning it into usable energy for our bodies through the process of cellular respiration.

If you want to get under the microscope and go deep on the science, check out this detailed article on how natural red and near infrared light supercharges the cellular respiration process.

In addition to making more ATP energy and performing at higher levels, here are some of the other basic principles of red light therapy:

Antioxidants Reduce Oxidative Stress: Natural red and near infrared light helps promote antioxidant production, which plays a central role in reducing the oxidative stress associated with cell injury and things like muscle fatigue and joint pain & inflammation. Antioxidants also increase the production of heat proteins—special enzymes that help protect cells from stress and early death. [3,4]

Increased Circulation: Studies have also identified an increase in circulation following red light therapy, indicating tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients important for healing—while also ridding themselves of toxic byproducts. [5]

Proven Benefits of LED Red Light Therapy

More Collagen is Crucial for Skin Health

Collagen is a long-chain amino acid and the most abundant protein in the body. It’s responsible for giving skin elasticity, hair its strength, and connective tissue its ability to hold everything in place. In fact, collagen protein makes up 30% of the total protein in the body, and 70% of the protein in the skin! [6]

While collagen is beneficial to the entire body, it's most noticeably beneficial to skin rejuvenation. As a person ages, the epidermis (outer layer of skin) becomes thinner and loses elasticity through a process called elastosis. As this happens, a person tends to show more signs of aging and acquires more wrinkles.  

Red light therapy restores more healthy cellular function, stimulating the production of collagen—which is why so many people have experienced the skin & anti-aging benefits of red light therapy. [3]

See more on how red light therapy promotes skin health, collagen production, & healing. 

Red Light Therapy for Joint Pain and Inflammation

Natural light enhances activity within the lymph system, which has been shown to reduce swelling and inflammation. [7]  Red light therapy’s positive effects on arthritis, joint pain, and inflammation have been well-documented across hundreds of clinical trials over the last three decades. Conventional medicine manages arthritis symptoms, but doesn’t offer a cure. Emerging laboratory research is showing that red light therapy has the potential to treat arthritis at a cellular level and address the root causes.

Photomedicine researchers in Brazil published a study in late 2018 showing that red light therapy decreased all cytokine levels after therapy and increased immune cell populations in mammals. Researchers concluded: “Our results indicate that light therapy could change the inflammatory course of arthritis, tending to accelerate its resolution through immune cells photobiostimulation.” [8]

Read more about red light therapy’s clinically-proven joint pain relief.

Check out this related article about red light therapy & inflammation and pain relief.

Healthier Sleep: How Red Light Therapy Increases Melatonin and Balances Your Circadian Rhythm

If you’ve had trouble sleeping, you might have tried or heard about melatonin. It’s a naturally-occurring hormone your body makes to regulate sleep and wakefulness. Exposure to artificial light after dark inhibits the body’s ability to release melatonin, increasing the time it takes you to fall asleep—and preventing you from staying asleep. If you use a high-quality red light therapy device during the day, it’s been clinically shown to increase your natural melatonin output, which helps you get to sleep and stay asleep. [9]

Read more about how natural red light therapy can help you sleep better.

How Red Light Therapy Cuts Fat

Researchers believe red light therapy affects adipocytes, cells that store fat, causing the lipids to disperse. In other words, light therapy helps the body wash away fat cells. [10] Light therapy may work in other ways that affect fat and weight loss as well. A 2012 study in the International Journal of Endocrinology showed that light can affect hunger levels, which could help prevent the buildup of extra fat before it even begins. This study found that red light helped control levels of the hunger-related hormones leptin and ghrelin in sleep-deprived participants. [11]

Less Cellulite: In a 2011 study on red light therapy and cellulite reduction, women ages 25-55 were divided into two groups: some did treadmill exercise + red light therapy twice a week, while the other group just did treadmill exercise. The researchers presented thermographic photographs of the changes in thigh circumference and cellulite to demonstrate that red light therapy and exercise was more effective than just exercise alone. The study concluded that treadmill exercise and red light therapy in conjunction improves body aesthetics. [12]

Read more about the science behind red light therapy and fat loss here.

Red Light Therapy Boosts Physical Performance, Prevents Fatigue, and Speeds Muscle Recovery

The increased ATP energy production from red light therapy helps your body function more efficiently, with more energy, and better circulation. This leads to a wide range of physical performance improvements, as shown in hundreds of peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials. That’s backed up by all the pro athletes and world-class trainers using Joovv every day for performance and recovery benefits.

To read about the science and on-field evidence of performance improvements with red light therapy, check out this article.

This article breaks down how red light therapy prevents muscle fatigue and speeds muscle recovery.

Additional Benefits of Red Light Therapy

There’s also some pretty convincing clinical research and real user testimonials about red light therapy for male fertility. Same goes for red light therapy and improved thyroid health.

Check out our Learn library for even more articles on the science and research behind red light therapy and it’s clinically-proven natural health benefits.

Scientific Sources and Medical References:

[1] Avci P, Gupta A, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Mar 2013;32(1):41-52.

[2] de Almeida P1, Lopes-Martins RA, De Marchi T, et al. Red (660 nm) and infrared (830 nm) low-level laser therapy in skeletal muscle fatigue in humans: what is better? Lasers Med Sci. 2012 Mar;27(2):453-8.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] Di Lullo, Gloria A.; Sweeney, Shawn M.; Körkkö, Jarmo; Ala-Kokko, Leena & San Antonio, James D. (2002). Mapping the Ligand-binding Sites and Disease-associated Mutations on the Most Abundant Protein in the Human, Type I Collage.. J. Biol. Chem. 277 (6): 4223–4231.

[7] Michael R. Hamblin. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophys. 2017; 4(3): 337–361.

[8] Dos Anjos LMJ et al. Modulation of immune response to induced-arthritis by low-level laser therapy. Journal of Biophotonics. 2018 Sept 11:e201800120.

[9]  Morita T., Tokura H. “ Effects of lights of different color temperature on the nocturnal changes in core temperature and melatonin in humans” Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 1996, September; 15(5):243-246.

[10] Peterson P.S., Lei X, Wolf RM. CTRP7 deletion attenuates obesity-linked glucose intolerance, adipose tissue inflammation, and hepatic stress. American Journal of Physiology. Feb 2017;10:1152.

[11] Figueiro MG, Plitnick B, and Rea MS. Light Modulates Leptin and Ghrelin in Sleep-Restricted Adults. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2012.

[12] Paolillo FR, Borghi-Silva A, et al. New treatment of cellulite with infrared-LED illumination applied during high-intensity treadmill training. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2011 Aug;13(4):166-71.

Joovv light therapy products are indicated for use in the relief of muscle and joint pain, including arthritis and muscle spasm pain, and increasing of blood circulation, and relaxation of muscles. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of Joovv devices, or diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It's not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.

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