How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

joovv red light therapy girl using laptop

How does red light therapy work? The short answer is that red light therapy treatments supercharge your cells with the natural light they need to make more energy. When your body makes more energy, it can have a major positive effect on your health and function. Below, we’ll break down how red light therapy works in more detail, explain the health benefits, and how to effectively do a red light therapy treatment.

What is Red Light Therapy?

does red light therapy work joovv

Red light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers concentrated natural light to your skin and cells. Treatments are quick and easy: all you have to do is sit or stand in the light for 5 to 15 minutes, ideally every day.

Our cells need natural light every day, just like they need water and nutrients from food. Red light therapy allows you to supplement the light you get from your environment with concentrated wavelengths of red and near infrared light, with a wide range of natural health benefits.

A high-quality home device like a Joovv uses medical-grade LEDs to shine natural red and near infrared light on your body. Just like the wavelengths of light your body needs from natural sunlight, but without the heat or UV rays that cause sun damage, and without the need for sunny weather.

Backed by clinical research: Red light therapy is backed by thousands of peer-reviewed medical studies and clinical trials, which have shown overwhelmingly positive results, and an almost total lack of side effects or health risks.

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How to Do a Red Light Therapy Treatment

joovv red light therapy treatment guidelines

Consistency and proper use is key for effective red light therapy. Which type of device a person uses will also have a big effect on the results they see. Check out this post on how to use a Joovv for guidelines on optimal red light therapy in your home, including a wide range of frequently asked questions about results, pets, children, clothing, eyes, skin, and more.

For optimal results with a high-quality, LED-based device like a Joovv, follow these basics:

  • Position yourself about 6 inches from the device and its LEDs
  • Expose your skin for best results
  • Approximately 10-minute treatment times per coverage area
  • Daily use is ideal
  • Any time of day

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy works by boosting your energy production at a cellular level. Red light therapy also has a natural anti-inflammatory effect, and has been shown to improve circulation and reduce oxidative stress. We’ll go into greater detail about how red light therapy works in the following sections.

Red Light Therapy Helps People Produce More Cellular Energy

In simplest terms, red light therapy works by charging your cells. Wavelengths of natural light stimulate your mitochondria, also known as “the powerhouse of the cell.” This helps your cells produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy during the cellular respiration process. ATP energy is a crucial molecule that fuels everything our bodies do. It’s often called “the energy currency of life,” and the more ATP energy a person can make, the better they can look, feel, heal, and perform.

Read the details on red light therapy and enhanced ATP production here, including how red light therapy reduces oxidative stress and nitric oxide, for a more efficient cellular environment.

Most people don’t get enough natural light: Natural light is essential to human health, but unfortunately, most people don’t get nearly as much light as they need from their environments. Surveys show that the average American spends over 90% of their time indoors. [1] This helps explain why a simple intervention like red light therapy can make a big difference in someone’s health, and produce full-body health effects.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Red Light Therapy

joovv red light therapy help with inflammation

Dr. Michael Hamblin of Harvard Medical School is one of the world’s leading photomedicine researchers, and a member of Joovv’s Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Hamblin has studied red light therapy at length and believes one of its most reproducible effects is “an overall reduction in inflammation, which is particularly important for disorders of joints, traumatic injuries, lung disorders and in the brain.” [2]

Dr. Hamblin says that wavelengths of natural red and near infrared light are “a very mild form of stress that activates protective mechanisms in the cells...for instance, when longer wavelengths or visibly red light hits the skin, it nudges mitochondria to make energy more efficiently and boost production of healing anti-inflammatories or disease-fighting antioxidants.” [2]

Decreased cytokine levels after red light therapy: 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.” [3]  Read more about red light therapy’s clinically-proven joint pain relief.

Other Mechanisms of Action for Red Light Therapy

Researchers have pinpointed cellular energy gains and anti-inflammatory effects as the primary mechanisms of action for red light therapy. Emerging research is also showing other physiological effects of red light therapy treatments that help explain its numerous health benefits.

Increased circulation: Red light therapy has been shown to improve blood flow, which is one of the big reasons it decreases inflammation and can speed the healing process for damaged tissues. [2] Studies have also indicated that red light therapy helps tissues receive more oxygen and other nutrients—while also ridding themselves of toxic byproducts. [4]

More antioxidants, less oxidative stress: Natural red and near infrared light also has been found to help promote antioxidant production. Antioxidants play 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. [5,6]

Enhanced cell signaling: Specific wavelengths of light help to create a better oxidative environment in your cells. This results in the activation of numerous intracellular signaling pathways, increased protein synthesis, enzyme activation, and enhanced cell cycle progression. [7]

Red and Near Infrared (NIR) Wavelengths are Optimal for Light Therapy

Not all light is the same. Natural light is a wide spectrum of colors and wavelengths, and they all affect the human body in different ways. But only the safest, most clinically-proven wavelengths of light will deliver optimal health benefits. These are red and NIR light. 

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 red light therapy devices use these proven wavelengths: visible red light in the mid-600 nanometer range, and invisible NIR light in the mid-800s. [8,9]

Red light therapy differs from bright light therapy and “SAD lamps” because it delivers natural light, not bright artificial light. And unlike near infrared saunas or heat lamps, red light therapy doesn’t rely on heat to produce a biological response in the body.

Use Devices with Medical-Grade LEDs for Effective Red Light Therapy

Highly efficient, medical-grade LEDs are by far the best way to deliver the specific wavelengths of light and intensity needed for optimal, full-body light therapy. LEDs are uniquely capable of delivering a specific wavelength of light at great efficiency, with almost no heat. On average, they last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they’re not likely to break. LEDs have revolutionized lighting in the last two decades, and made it possible for individuals to harness safe, effective light therapy in their own homes at a reasonable price.

Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy has been studied and shown to produce a wide range of natural health benefits. We’ll cover some of the core red light therapy benefits below.

Pain and inflammation relief: Red light therapy has a natural anti-inflammatory effect, and Joovv is cleared by the FDA as a Class-II medical device for the treatment of pain and strain. Natural light treatments increase circulation and blood flow to damaged tissues and promote cellular regeneration. This aids the healing process, for less pain and quicker recovery times. [10,11]

Fitness, performance, and muscle Recovery: Elite pro athletes are using red light therapy to train and recover. Clinical studies have consistently shown that red light therapy improves strength, endurance, speed, and muscle growth, and speeds the muscle recovery process.

Sleep and circadian rhythm: Natural light exposure is a key ingredient to a healthy circadian rhythm and restful sleep. Red light therapy is used as a sleep aid and nighttime light source because it has a low color temperature, and has been shown in clinical studies to aid the body’s production of melatonin and improve sleep disorders like insomnia. [12,13]

Skin rejuvenation: Red light therapy, or “LED light therapy,”,is a popular skin rejuvenation and natural beauty treatment. Leading estheticians and Hollywood celebrities have taken notice, using red LED light treatments to boost collagen and lessen signs of aging.

Emerging Clinical Fields for Red Light Therapy

The future of red light therapy is bright. In addition to the core benefits mentioned above, doctors and researchers in a wide range of clinical fields are discovering new therapeutic uses for natural light. Red light therapy research has shown positive early results for things like hormone health and thyroid regulation, mental health and depression, and cognitive function. Keep in mind that these fields are just emerging, and red light therapy treatments are not approved by the FDA for these areas.

Red Light Therapy for Hormone Health

joovv red light therapy hormone health

Emerging research on red light therapy is showing positive results for hormone balance, like improving thyroid health, testosterone production, and overall sex hormone levels.

Check out this post for all the details on red light therapy and hormone health.

Brain and Cognitive Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

joovv red light therapy help with brain health

When a light therapy device is shined on a person’s head, wavelengths of near infrared (NIR) light can penetrate deep into the body and be absorbed by the brain. [14] The brain benefits from increased cerebral blood flow, more oxygen availability & consumption, and a boost of ATP energy production.

Check out this post for more information about the cognitive function and brain health benefits of red light therapy.

Red Light Therapy for Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and Depression

joovv red light therapy help with seasonal depression

Light therapy is showing potential for improving depression, SAD, and mental health treatments as well. In 2018, leading mental health researchers conducted the Elated-2 Pilot Trial to test transcranial near infrared light therapy for people with major depression symptoms. This groundbreaking study’s positive findings have encouraged optimism about wider use of natural light treatments for people with depression. [15]

Read more about red light therapy and depression here.

Who Uses Red Light Therapy?

In addition to the growing number of people using red light therapy devices in their home, red light therapy systems can be found in many professional and clinical settings:

Skincare professionals: Red light therapy is a popular skin treatment among Hollywood celebrities for anti-aging, and it’s used by leading skincare professionals like estheticians and dermatologists to treat skin conditions and promote collagen production.

Health practitioners: Red light therapy is an emerging subspecialty of medicine in a wide range of fields. From oncologists treating cancer side effects, to dentists reducing oral inflammation, to physicians treating mental health conditions, red light therapy is becoming more widespread in clinical practice.

Natural health experts: Leading voices in natural health and wellness like Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Dave Asprey, and Ben Greenfield use red light therapy. So do Paleo and Keto health experts like Mark Sisson, Dr. Anthony Gustin, Luke Storey, and Robb Wolf.

The research supporting light therapy is robust, and my own experience matches up with what is documented in scientific literature. In particular, using Joovv has resulted in improved energy, markedly reduced pain, elevated mood, and I look & feel so much younger. As you can imagine, I'm a huge fan — and can't recommend enough!*
joovv Dr. Sarah Ballantyne

Dr. Sarah Ballantyne

New York Times Best-Selling Author

Sports medicine pros: Joovv is a partner of the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), and red light therapy is used to heal sports injuries by sports medicine professionals across the globe. Including the top trainers and doctors on the PGA Tour, like Dr. Troy Van Biezen and Dr. Ara Suppiah.

Elite pro athletes: Red light therapy is a popular training tool across pro sports, from NFL stars like Patrick Peterson, to UFC champs like Anthony Pettis, to gold medal gymnast Sanne Wevers. See other elite pro athletes who use Joovv here.

Fitness and training: World-class personal trainers like Lacey Stone and Jorge Cruise use red light therapy to both enhance performance and improve the muscle recovery process.

Supportive cancer care: The Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC) recommends red light therapy for the treatment of oral mucositis (OM), a common and debilitating symptom of cancer treatment. Check out this post for an interview about red light therapy with a leading member of the MASCC.

Side Effects and Risks of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy has been tested and analyzed in thousands of peer-reviewed trials. The consensus among medical researchers and the clinical community is that natural light treatments are safe, well-tolerated, and produce little to no side effects. Research teams have concluded this in study after study.

Dermatology researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a review of red light therapy in 2013 and praised its “noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects.” [8]

Mental health and brain researchers analyzed red light therapy for depression treatment in a major 2018 controlled trial. Among their findings, they noted that red light therapy was well tolerated by patients, with no serious side effects or adverse reactions. [15]

Red light therapy is safe for eyes, and has actually been shown to have beneficial effects for vision. You can read about red light therapy and eye health here. People with specific photosensitivity concerns should check with their healthcare provider.

Check out Joovv’s FAQs for optimal red light therapy use to see details about other health concerns and potential risks.

Disclaimers and considerations: The information on this page is meant to educate readers about the science, research, and health benefits of red light therapy. Consult a trusted health professional for the diagnosis and treatment of specific medical conditions.

Joovv’s light therapy products are registered with FDA as class II medical devices for the treatment of pain, strain, and inflammation. Other health benefits mentioned in this article are for educational purposes only and not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of Joovv’s devices, and not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease. The information presented is based on peer-reviewed clinical research, including information about emerging studies and scientific inquiries.

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Sources and References:

[1] 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.

[2] Hamblin M. “Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation.” AIMS Biophys. 2017.

[3] Bjordal JM, et al. A systematic review of low level laser therapy with location-specific doses for pain from chronic joint disorders. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. 2003.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] Al Rashoud AS, Abboud RJ, et al. “Efficacy of low-level laser therapy applied at acupuncture points in knee osteoarthritis: a randomised double-blind comparative trial.” Physiotherapy. 2014 Sep.

[7] Huang, Ying-Ying; Chen, Aaron al. Biphasic dose response in low level light therapy. Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology, and Medicine. 2009

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] Gál P,  Stausholm MB, et al. Should open excisions and sutured incisions be treated differently? A review and meta-analysis of animal wound models following low-level laser therapy. Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Aug.

[11] John Foley, David B Vasily, et al. 830 nm light-emitting diode (led) phototherapy significantly reduced return-to-play in injured university athletes: a pilot study. Laser Therapy. 2016 Mar.

[12] 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, Sept.

[13] Naeser M., Zafonte R, Krengel MH, Martin PI,  Frazier J, Hamblin MR, Knight JA, Meehan WP, Baker EH. “Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: open-protocol study”  Journal of Neurotrauma. 2014, June.

[14] Barrett DW, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. 2013 Jan.

[15] Cassano P, Petrie SR, et al. Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2018 October.