It’s always mentioned, it’s been incorporated in our facials for years and it is now a part of the hydrafacial regime. It has also been used in saunas like the infrared ones and can even be found as an at home device or a full body machine. But, why is it such a craze now and what are we talking about?! That's right we're talking about Red Light Therapy (RLT).... does that ring a bell? Yeah we know it's amazing and we are also obsessed!
In reality, RLT is a controversial topic because there is no actual or factual or whatever you want to call it "evidence based medicine" that it is EFFECTIVE. But, what it is meant to do is to use low level wavelengths to treat a variety of skin issues including wrinkles, scars, persistent wounds, and numerous other presumed health benefits.
The theory of its "effectiveness" occurred sometime in the 90s when people noticed that this light helped plants grow and increased photosynthesis. Researchers took it one step further and tried to study it for different medical applications but we won’t get into that too much here...
So how does it work? This is the BIG QUESTION everyone is still trying to figure out. But in summary, again you use this low wavelength red light either via a sauna, a face mask, or even through a stand alone machine which then should produce an effect in the cells that makes the mitochondria stronger. For anyone who needs a refresher about the mitochondria (cute word right?) it is known as the “powerhouse” of the cell. This is where energy comes from in our bodies and what fuels our bodies to you know.. function.
Little thing for our fellow science LOVERS is that this energy is carried in what is called, "ATP". So if you increase the mitochondrial function then you can create more energy. This energy is what has reparative properties that we want to be able to see and feel in our SKIN.
Unlike other treatment modalities like laser for example, red light is not meant to cause damage to the surface of your skin which is why it’s so favored. It’s supposed to directly stimulate your skin to regenerate itself.
Side note: Because of the controversy about it’s effectiveness insurance companies won’t pay for this so it becomes an out of pocket expense... but here are some of the things that people swear that it does:
Helps with wound healing
Has anti-inflammatory properties thus reduces inflammation (DUH)
Can help with hair growth (we know that we all want to keep our locks long and healthy)
May help alleviate joint aches or pains.. at least for a little while
Reduce certain skin lesions like those seen with psoriasis (there is a specific light therapy for this we talk about it later)
Can improve skin complexion and reduce wrinkles
Can help fight off sun damage (like the dark sun spots we get on our skin). Teenage us really didn’t know anything about how to protect ourselves from the sun, right?
May help with minimizing the appearance of scars
There are many other potential effects but that should be enough for now... It is questionable if it’s effectiveness is worth delving into further with respect to people who suffer with arthritis whether it be rheumatoid or osteoarthritis as well as, for those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome but the overall health benefit we love it for is the skin effects and for your body in general!
Another questionable thing is the one that revolves around preventing cold sores from HSV infections. So let's just say that it has NOT been a proven treatment regimen for HSV infections. But, there are people who believe that this works. Part of this may be that we know that stress can be linked to herpes breakouts and if this relieves the stress then it may help prevent these breakouts.
So just to reiterate, be careful about what you read on the internet the fact that it may help does not mean that it is a curative measure so be realistic of what you are trying to treat. For example, it won’t cure depression but certain types of lights have been used in helping with certain subtypes of depression like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) specifically a white light. (Don't worry we talk about this on another episode soon).
There’s also blue light which we use in our eyeglasses to help reduce strain from all the computer light. Again, this is also still up for debate regarding its effectiveness as there is not enough evidence at this time to support the blue light effects. But, certain types of lights and wavelengths have been used for let's say cancer patients as an additive to help the cancer drugs take effect. The other thing is that there are some light therapies that are in medicine like PUVA which is a treatment option for psoriasis.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School did a review of RLT in 2013 and praised it for it being a noninvasive option with basically no side effects.
There are different types of lights and wavelengths doing different things but for red light therapy in particular lets summarize the things we love about it:
We LOOOVE it for skin health and wound healing by:
Increasing collagen, fibroblast production and increasing circulation
Protecting cells from damage, increasing messenger RNA in the cells which helps stimulate the cell, improving facial texture, reducing fine lines, and improving the appearance of wrinkles
helping with inflammation (because it acts as an anti inflammatory) or for skin irritation
Note: For acne you can use the treatments in combination with other treatments or with other light therapy
There are some FDA approved devices on the market like JOOV. But, there are not many FDA approved conditions for which you can use red light therapy.
Red light therapy does not use heat to induce a biological reaction like some other therapies so it shouldn’t be a heat risk right? Right, but individuals with specific photosensitivity issues should check with their healthcare provider before doing this.
Also, note that there are at home devices like the LED mask even the JOOV one can be used at home, but choose these at your own risk as not all of them are FDA approved (we obviously cannot stress this enough lol). Either way, we will say that we use it as a spot treatment during our routine hydrafacials, if that helps with anything?!
Side effect wise it’s pretty much safe and painless but some can cause burning so be careful with that. You should use eye protection while using any light therapy due to the nature of it being UV rays (you guys remember when we all used to go into tanning beds? Even way back then we used eye protection). Like, we say with gel manicures you should be protecting your hands. This is a similar concept.
A couple of myths to debunk real quick:
It is not like the UV lights used in the tanning beds
It won’t cure your cancer (please don't believe everything you read)
That's all for this week, don't forget to leave us feedback, rate, review, subscribe and send in your questions so we can continue to improve as well as, provide you high quality content.
Disclaimer: The Content on our podcast/website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.