SAD Lamps vs Red Light Therapy: How to Choose the Best Light Therapy Lamp For You

SAD Lamps vs Red Light Therapy: How to Choose the Best Light Therapy Lamp For You

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Light therapy lamps are often used for seasonal depression, SAD, or the “winter blues” and are often referred to as SAD Lamps.  SAD Lamps mimic natural sunlight by brightening a room. Another type of light therapy with more potential benefits is LED light therapy with red and near infrared (NIR) light.

In this article we’ll explain the difference between SAD therapy lamps and red light therapy with an at-home LED device. We’ll also break down what  therapy lights can treat, and show you how to choose a light therapy product. 

What are Therapy Lights?

Therapy lights can refer to a few different types of treatments. There’s red light therapy with a light emitting diode (LED) device (also called photobiomodulation or PBM). Many people also use light therapy lamps for SAD and seasonal depression. 

SAD Lamps vs. Red Light Therapy Devices

These are the key characteristics of SAD therapy lamps and red light therapy lights.

SAD  therapy lamps:

  • Mimic sunlight with bright artificial light.

  • Used for prolonged periods to light a room or work space.

  • Also called bright light therapy, light boxes, SAD lamps, and happy lights.

  • Used for SAD, seasonal depression, and lighting a dark room.

  • May positively affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep.  [1]

  • Have shown a positive effect on people with depression in some clinical trials. [2]

Red light therapy devices:

  • Use LEDs to deliver concentrated wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light directly to a person’s skin and cells.

  • Simple at-home treatments that take just 10 minutes.

  • Also called photobiomodulation (PBM), photomedicine, and LED therapy.

  • Used for skin rejuvenation, fitness and recovery, sleep, inflammation, joint pain, and general balance & energy.

  • Backed by thousands of peer-reviewed clinical studies and trials.
  • Help people get the healthy light they need every day, no matter the weather.

Devices like Joovv use LEDs that deliver both red and NIR light to your cells. This is just like the wavelengths of light your body needs from natural sunlight, minus any heat or UV rays that can damage the skin.

Key Differences Between SAD Therapy Lamps and LED Red Light Therapy Devices

SAD therapy lamps and LED devices differ in some key ways. SAD lamps are used to brighten a room and give the impression of more sunlight. LED devices actually deliver red and NIR light to a person’s body and cells for a physiological benefit like enhanced ATP energy production.

These are some other key differences between SAD therapy lamps and LED light therapy lights like Joovv:

  • SAD lamps are less regulated: Light therapy lamps used for SAD are essentially just illumination devices, so they aren’t regulated like a health or wellness product. That means you see a lot of cut rate, untested lamps out there.

  • Red light devices offer a wider range of benefits: LED light therapy devices have far more potential benefits. Red light therapy has been widely studied and tested in clinical trials and medical settings. Bottom line: Red light therapy devices have a lot more potential upside for your health than simple lamps.

Why Use Therapy Lights?

Light therapy is effective because it helps people get the healthy light they need for optimal function and health. To make energy and power our bodies, we all need wavelengths of healthy, natural light every day. But most people don’t get nearly enough. In fact, the average American spends over 90% of their time indoors. [3] Light therapy treatments can help supplement your natural light intake, no matter the weather or time of year. 

What Conditions Does a SAD Therapy Lamp Treat?

While SAD therapy lamps are mostly used for SAD and seasonal depression, LED devices like Joovv have a wide range of potential benefits.

Benefits of Red LED Light Therapy Devices

LED devices like Joovv are designed to improve health and wellness on a cellular level. Here’s a look at some of the most well-established health benefits of red light therapy:

Enhanced cellular function and ATP energy: Red light therapy treatments often have systemic benefits because they can improve cellular health across the entire body. When your cells are working more efficiently and producing more ATP energy, the better you can look and feel. Learn more about ATP energy and light therapy here.

Inflammation management: Light therapy devices can help improve the efficiency of your body’s natural inflammation processes as you recover from illness or injury. [2] 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. At the same time, light helps the body and circulatory system rid itself of toxic byproducts. [3] Learn more about circulation and therapy lights 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. [4,5,6] Joovv designed Ambient Mode especially to support sleep and circadian rhythms. Learn about circadian rhythms and light therapy here.

Recovery, healing, and performance: 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. [7] Joovv’s unique Recovery+ Mode is designed to optimize the body’s natural recovery process. Learn more about recovery, performance, and light therapy here.

Skin health and beauty: Taking in healthy light is crucial for skin cells, skin health, and beauty. Red and NIR light promotes balance across the body and skin by enhancing cellular respiration, making energy production more efficient, with less oxidative stress. [8,9] When your cells are in greater balance, your skin will look and feel softer and more invigorated. Learn more about skin health and therapy lights here.

When and How to Use a Light Therapy Lamp

Light therapy lamps are mostly used to combat seasonal depression, or “winter blues.” They’re most popular in the fall and winter months, when the sun is out for less time and the rooms in your home are darker & colder. While many people use a SAD lamp to brighten a dark room, others with mental health concerns may benefit from working or sitting in an environment close to a light therapy lamp.

To use a SAD therapy lamp, simply plug it into an outlet, turn on the lamp, and select your light intensity setting.

When and How to Use a Red Light Therapy Device

Red light therapy is most effective when you’re consistent with treatments. For the best results, you should use a light therapy device on a regular basis. It only takes 10-15 minutes per treatment. Many people use red light therapy before and after workouts or training for its muscle health and recovery benefits. Others use red light therapy as a lighting source in the evenings, to cut down on bright blue light and help their bodies transition more naturally to sleep.

Using an LED red light therapy device like Joovv is simple. They can be mounted on doors and walls, or floor stands can be used to secure the panels of LEDs that shine red and NIR light on the body. All you have to do is sit or stand in the light for a few minutes each day. Problem areas, like sore joints or skin, may benefit from more frequent treatments.

What are the Risks of a Therapy Light?

Therapy lights for SAD often times are risk free but on occasion short term side effects can happen including but not limited to:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder

In the rare case side effects do not clear up on their own after a short period, consult with a trusted healthcare provider. [1]

Best Therapy Lights

If you’re looking for a light therapy lamp for SAD or seasonal depression, there are hundreds of affordable options. Just make sure to pick a brand that cites clinical research and has independent third-party testing of its products & procedures. You don’t want a cut rate, unregulated SAD light therapy lamp.

For LED devices, it’s important to pick a science-first brand that’s transparent with its testing and manufacturing processes. Most of the low-end LED light panels on the market are not adequately tested for human use, and may not be safe. You can see how Joovv compares to some of these devices here.

Joovv is the highest quality light therapy device available for in-home use. Joovv’s unique modular design delivers the most effective, powerful light therapy treatments, and fits almost any space in your home. It’s the most tested, trusted light therapy you can buy, and only Joovv has innovative light therapy features like Recovery+ Mode and Ambient Mode.

Check out this post for help choosing the best Joovv light therapy light for you.

Conclusion: Therapy Lights are an Effective Home Treatment

Therapy lights are simple, effective, and safe treatment tools you can use in the comfort of your home every day. Light therapy lamps brighten rooms and may have a positive impact on depression whereas LED red light therapy devices have a wider range of potential benefits, from better sleep to rejuvenated skin. When choosing a red light therapy device, make sure to go with a science-first brand like Joovv.


[1]  Light Therapy. Mayo Clinic. 

[2]  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.

[3] 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.

[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] Sheppard A and Wolffsohn J. “Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration.” BMJ Open Ophthalmology. 2018 April.

[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.

[9] Hamblin, Michael. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophys. 2017.

[10] Hamblin, Michael. Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders. ScienceDirect. 2016 Sept.

[11] Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, Vecchio D, Pam Z, Pam N, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar.

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