Scott Nelson

Infrared Heat Lamps vs. LED Light Therapy Devices





Are red light therapy devices different from infrared (IR) heat lamps? Yes, a lot different, and one of the big reasons is right in the name: heat.

Heat lamps are designed to induce heat stress on a user. The heat is the point. The problem is that excess heat can potentially cause damage to your skin. By contrast, high-quality LED light therapy devices—like Joovv—give off very little heat, and have been found safe, effective, and free of side effects in numerous clinical trials. [1]

Even if heat lamps could deliver clinical results similar to light therapy, the burn risks aren’t worth it. Beyond the heat dangers, heat lamps simply don’t offer the clinically-proven wavelengths or medical-grade power output of a high-quality LED device, which we’ll explain in more detail throughout this article.

Heat Lamps Don't Offer Clinically-Proven Wavelengths of Light

Not all natural light is created equal; different wavelengths and colors within the light spectrum have different effects. And it’s hardly a secret which wavelengths are effective for light therapy. Extensive research has shown that only a relatively narrow band of red and near infrared wavelengths impact your cells and have a significant therapeutic effect.

What are the ideal wavelengths for light therapy? Red wavelengths (600-660 nanometers) and near Infrared wavelengths (810-880 nm). These narrow ranges fall within the “therapeutic window”, a term used by photomedicine researchers to describe the band of wavelengths that have the greatest positive effect on cellular biology. Other wavelengths have limited effectiveness, at best. [2]

Heat lamps produce a wide range of wavelengths, but as the graph below shows, the wavelength curve builds to its peak output around 1100 nm. [3]

Less than 1% of the energy from heat lamps is delivered from 600-660 nm, and only about 2% is delivered in the entire 810-880 nm range. In total, these wavelengths only represent about 3% of the total energy delivered by a heat lamp bulb. In other words, 97% of wavelengths from a heat lamp fall outside of the wavelength range known to produce the greatest health benefits.

Wavelengths of Infrared Heat Lamps

Translation: heat lamps deliver mostly ineffective wavelengths of light that don’t have any real effect on human health.

You can read more about factors to consider when choosing a light therapy device here. World-famous fitness trainer and longevity expert Ben Greenfield also wrote a big guide on red light therapy, featuring a lot of FAQs and more specific info on wavelengths.

We also have a related post about how Joovv compares to a specific setup of IR heat lamps, Sauna Space.

Infrared Heat Lamps Lack Power and Effectiveness

In addition to heat lamps delivering inferior wavelengths, they don’t offer medical-grade power like a high quality LED light therapy device.

A robust amount of research has shown that the total energy delivered to the body typically needs to be 4-5 Joules/cm2 at a minimum to produce skin benefits. Some clinical studies have even shown that higher amounts, approaching 100 Joules, are needed to treat deep tissue.

The total power output—sometimes referred to as irradiance—from a device also directly impacts the time required for treatments. Lower-powered products like heat lamps take way longer to produce benefits, if ever. Imagine filling up your water bottle from a dripping faucet—it will fill up eventually, but you’ll waste a lot of time in the process.  You can read more about how to accurately measure light therapy power here.

That’s another problem with IR heat lamps: the light power that’s delivered drops off a great deal as you move further away from the light—even though they get hot enough to burn you, which obviously isn’t good!
Heat lamps are a double-edged sword: too close and you can burn yourself. Too far, and you don’t get any real power.

The graph below shows the irradiance of four 250-watt infrared heat lamps. Because they’re hot to the touch, you need to be at least 18” away, but at that distance, the irradiance is only about 1 mW/cm2. With this type of power, you’re going to need hours to receive a meaningful dose of energy. Who has that much time every day?

Power Output Irradiance of Infrared Heat Lamps

Bottom line: the total energy your body receives is a direct function of three things:

The quality of the source. Cheap LED devices and NIR heat lamps are extremely inefficient.

The distance you are from the device. The farther you are, the less energy you’ll receive, and you pretty much have to be far away from a heat lamp to avoid burn risks.

The size of the device matters too. With clinical light therapy, coverage and consistency are key. You can only get optimal benefits and short treatment times from a full-body device like a Joovv. Heat lamps can’t match Joovv for size or coverage, in addition to lacking in power and wavelengths.

Conclusion: Infrared Heat Lamps are Poor Sources for Light Therapy

When you break down the scientific research on power and wavelengths, it’s easy to see that heat lamps really don’t compare to a full-body red light therapy device like a Joovv. There’s a reason you can pick up IR heat bulbs at your local hardware store for less than $10. They simply can’t deliver the clinical benefits of a real red light therapy device, and they come with too many risks.

There’s also a reason medical researchers use LEDs or lasers when they conduct photomedicine research. You won't ever find them using heat lamps, which use ineffective wavelengths, don’t offer clinical power or short treatment times, can’t match Joovv’s coverage or consistency, and come with the added dangers of burns.

If you’re looking for medical-grade light therapy with clinically-proven safety and health benefits, check out a full-body Joovv.

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] Chung H, Dai T, Sharma SK, Huang Y-Y, Carroll JD, Hamblin MR. The nuts and bolts of low-level laser (light) therapy. Annals of Biomedical Engineering. 2012;40(2):516-533. doi:10.1007/s10439-011-0454-7.

[3] Phillips. Infrared heat lamps/industrial product specification.

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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