Light Exposure Therapy

Light Exposure Therapy

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Light exposure therapies like red light therapy and SAD lamps are popular at-home health modalities. In this article, we’ll explain light exposure therapy and how it works. We’ll also break down the health benefits of light exposure therapy and show you where and how to do a light exposure treatment.

What is Light Exposure Therapy?

Light exposure therapy is a blanket term for any treatment that works by shining light on the human body. Before we get into how these therapies work, it’s important to differentiate between the two main kinds of light exposure therapy: light therapy lamps (or SAD lamps) and red light therapy with an LED device.

What are Light Therapy Lamps?

Light therapy lamps are one of the most common types of light exposure therapy and they work by mimicking sunlight with artificial light that brightens a space. Many people use these lamps to try and improve seasonal depression symptoms or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Supporters believe light exposure therapy benefits a person by affecting brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, which may ease seasonal mental health symptoms. [1]

This is what the Mayo Clinic currently says about using light therapy lamps for mental health concerns: “Light therapy lamps probably won't cure seasonal affective disorder, nonseasonal depression or other conditions. But it may ease symptoms, increase your energy levels, and help you feel better about yourself and life.” [1]

What are Red Light Therapy Devices?

A Red light therapy device is a device that delivers both red and near infrared light to the user. Red light therapy with an LED device is a proven and  effective type of light exposure therapy and is a simple way to add more healthy light to your daily life. You might be wondering why light exposure therapy is important when we have the sun right outside. Well, it's important, because most people aren’t getting enough natural light from the outdoors everyday. The average American spends over 90% of their time indoors. [2] This lack of healthy light only gets worse in the winter, with less daylight hours and colder temperatures.

Devices like Joovv use medical-grade components that deliver both red and near infrared light to your skin and cells. This is just like the wavelengths of light your body needs from natural sunlight, but without the heat or UV rays that can cause sun damage. 

How does Light Therapy Work?

How does red light therapy work? At a high level, red and NIR light helps your cells produce energy and rejuvenate more efficiently. Because red light therapy improves cellular health, it has the potential for systemic benefits like more energy, inflammation relief, and better sleep.

Red light therapy is backed by a large amount of peer-reviewed clinical research. You can learn more about the science behind red light therapy here.

Key Differences Between Light Therapy Lamps and LED Devices

Light therapy lamps and LED devices are two very different approaches to light exposure therapy. Light therapy lamps light a room to give the impression of more sunlight, while LED devices actually deliver concentrated red and NIR light wavelengths to a person’s body and cells for a physiological benefit like enhanced ATP energy production. Light therapy lamps, like the ones used for SAD are also generally less regulated than LED devices because they are essentially just lighting products. That means you see a lot of cut rate, untested lamps available for purchase.

The Health Benefits of Light Exposure Therapy

What is light exposure therapy used for? SAD lamps are primarily used as a way to improve seasonal depression symptoms and other mental health concerns. Red light therapy devices like Joovv have a more expansive physiological effect on the body than SAD lamps, so red light therapy is used for a greater range of health benefits than SAD lamps. Keep reading for an overview of the health benefits of light exposure therapy.

Benefits of Light Therapy Lamps

Light therapy lamps are a type of light exposure therapy mainly used to treat seasonal depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Light therapy lamps gained credibility as a potential mental health tool after a 2006 Canadian study showed light therapy lamp sessions had a positive effect on people with winter seasonal depression. [3]

Benefits of Red Light Therapy Devices

Red light therapy devices have a wider range of potential health benefits than light therapy lamps. These are some of the most well-established benefits of red light therapy:

Pain & inflammation relief: One of the most common benefits of red light therapy is inflammation and pain relief. Light therapy devices can help improve the efficiency of your body’s natural inflammation and pain processes as you recover from illness or injury. [4] Read more about inflammation, strain, and light therapy here.

Improved blood flow and healing: One of the potential benefits of light therapy is a significant increase in blood circulation following treatment sessions. This indicates tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients that are important for healing. Concentrated light wavelengths can also help the body and circulatory system rid itself of toxic byproducts. [5] Learn more about circulation and therapy lights here.

Optimal fitness & recovery: LED Light therapy is widely used by trainers and pro athletes to improve fitness, boost physical performance, and support the recovery process. Muscle cells require a great deal of energy, and grow & strengthen through a process of tears & repairs. Light therapy helps your body produce and use energy more efficiently. Supporting circulation and inflammation reduction with light therapy can also help you heal and recover after injuries and workouts. [6] Joovv’s unique Recovery+ mode is designed to optimize the body’s natural recovery process. Learn more about recovery, performance, and light therapy here.

Better sleep and circadian rhythm: Healthy light intake is crucial for sleep and maintaining natural circadian rhythms. Our brains interpret light as a sign of when to be awake and asleep, and when to make crucial sleep hormones like melatonin. Bright blue light at night can knock your sleep cycle out of whack, but red light is a lower-intensity alternative that can help support longer, more restful sleep. [7,8] Joovv specifically designed Ambient mode to support sleep and circadian rhythms. Learn about circadian rhythms and light therapy here.

Risks of Light Exposure Therapy

Another major plus for light exposure therapies is that the treatments are generally safe and well-tolerated, with very few side effects. Neither light therapy lamps nor red light therapy devices have been found to pose significant health risks. Light therapy lamps are just that: lamps. They’re designed to brighten a room and your mood, but they have little impact on your physical health unless you have specific photosensitivity issues. Red light therapy devices do have an impact on physical health, but it’s rarely negative. Hundreds of clinical studies and trials have established that red light therapy devices present very few risks or potential harms, and may offer a wide range of benefits.

Where and How to Use Light Exposure Therapy

Light exposure therapy is easily used in your home. You can purchase a wide range of light therapy lamps online and set them up in the comfort of your own space. LED-based Light therapy treatments are quick and simple. All you have to do is sit or stand in the light for 5-15 minutes a day. Today, you can use red light therapy in your home with a quality system like a Joovv. You can also find red light therapy at a wide range of clinics and businesses. These include spas and salons, medical doctors, gyms and trainers, chiropractors, and others.

The downside to the commercial route for light exposure therapy is the high cost. It is much more expensive to do red light therapy at clinics than at home. It’s also harder to maintain consistency, which is crucial for effective red light therapy. Many people choose to purchase an in-home red light therapy system they can use every day, without extra costs or a commute. You pay a one-time cost of buying the device and then have unlimited access to private, convenient light exposure sessions.

Conclusion: Light Exposure Therapy is Safe and Effective

Light exposure therapy is any treatment that shines light on the human body. The most common types of light exposure therapy involve light therapy lamps or red light therapy devices with LEDs. The LED-based approach has a greater effect on human cellular function and a wider range of health benefits like sleep, skin, fitness, and circulation. In-home use for light exposure therapy is ideal, especially with a high quality brand like Joovv


Sources and References:

[1]  Light Therapy. Mayo Clinic. 

[2] Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology. 2001 May.

[3]  Lam RW, Levitt AJ, Levitan RD, Enns MW, Morehouse R, Michalak EE, Tam EM. The Can-SAD study: a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of light therapy and fluoxetine in patients with winter seasonal affective disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 May;163(5):805-12.

[4] Hamblin M. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017 May.

[5] Mak MC, Cheing GL. Immediate effects of monochromatic infrared energy on microcirculation in healthy subjects. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012.

[6] Stelian J, Gil I, Habot B, Rosenthal M, Abramovici I, Kutok N, Khahil A. Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow-band light therapy. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1992 Jan;40(1):23-6.

[7] Jung C, Khalsa S, et al. Acute Effects of Bright Light Exposure on Cortisol Levels. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 2010 Jun.

[8] Harvard Health. Blue light has a dark side.