Yes, red light therapy is good for the eyes. But are there any precautions to take such as wearing goggles?
Should you wear goggles in red light therapy depends on the light type (laser or LED) and the light brightness. One way to know is if the light is bright enough to make you squint. You should wear goggles with laser and very bright LEDs.
You have three choices with light emitting diodes (LEDs):
- Use a light that’s not too bright for comfort
- Close your eyes during therapy, allowing the light to enter through the eyelids
- Use goggles for eye protection
This advice comes directly from Dr. Andrew Huberman, opthamologist and neurobiologist professor at Stanford University. (Here’s his Youtube video about red light therapy.)
Should You Wear Goggles in Red Light Therapy with Lasers?
Should you wear goggles in red light therapy with lasers? Yes, even though red light therapy lasers use low energy, you should still wear goggles with laser devices.
The question this blog answers is whether you should wear goggles when doing light emitting diode (LED) red light therapy.
One of the reasons that red light therapy is exploding in popularity is the great cost reduction gained when the industry switched from lasers to light emitting diodes (LEDs).
Lasers output coherent light in columns. The focus of that light energy onto one spot creates enough heat to damage tissue, including eye tissue. Lasers easily and permanently blind the eyes.
Even a low-energy laser still delivers light in columns, concentrating the energy onto a spot. A low-energy laser is more dangerous than an LED, and less dangerous than a high power laser.
Should You Wear Goggles in Red Light Therapy with a Dim Light?
What better to understand the need for goggles than looking at an eyesight red light therapy study?
Since the researchers cannot ask the subjects to wear goggles in an eyesight study, let’s look at the quality of the red light they used to avoid the need for goggles.
In a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers reported that a single dose of 670 red or 790 nm infrared for 3 minutes in the morning statistically improved color perception.
The researchers used a 50 mW/cm^2 irradiance, which is dim enough to be safe around the retinas.
An amazing outcome of this study was that afternoon therapy did not have a significant effect on vision!
Subjects received red light therapy in the dominant eye at 8 am or 1 pm. Morning therapy resulted in vision improvement of 14% to 20%, with older subjects having the most gains.
Subjects who received the same therapy at 1 pm did not have a statistically significant increase in vision.
Red Light Therapy Addresses Mitochondrial Dysfunction in the Eyes
Organs such as the eyes, brain, kidney and liver are jam-packed with mitochondria, because these organs require a tremendous amount of biological energy.
The eyes absorb light in the photosensitive melanopsin cells and the mitochondria. The melanopsin cells create chemical-to-electrical signals that the brain uses to create a mental picture of the light the eyes see.
The mitochondria use the light to bring dormant biological energy factories back online. The melanopsin cells absorb the range of colors in the visible spectrum. The mitochondria absorb some of the red and infrared wavelengths.
When doing red light therapy for the eyes, the melanopsin and mitochondria absorb the red and infrared photons. The melanopsin turn the photons into signals that become a visual picture. The mitochondria turn the photons into energy for the biological battery factory.
The light that absorbs in the mitochondria revives the ATP factories and thereby empowers the rods and cones to perform their functions.
They mitochondria take the food we eat and turn it into biological batteries called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP molecules are similar to batteries. The more energy an organ needs to function, the more battery factories (mitochondria) it has, and the more ATP it produces at that factory for the organ’s use.
Mitochondria declines with age. When this happens in the brain, we not only get tired, we also develop Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other dementia diseases.
When this happens in the eyes, the rods and cones that absorb light for vision start to go offline.
According to the abstract of a study published in Biochemical Pharmacology, mitochondrial dysfunction is implicated “age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and retinopathy of prematurity.”
The photons from red light therapy absorb in the mitochondria. The light energy brings the energy production back online. With more energy, the eyes are better able to carry out their natural functions.
The melanopsin cells are known as rods and cones. Rods absorb black, white, gray and color. Cones absorb only color.
“The cells in the back of the eye that convert light information into electrical signals that the rest of the brain can understand and create visual images from, well, those cells are extremely metabolically active,” said Dr. Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University.
In red light therapy, the light packets donate energy to the mitochondria to make more ATP, and the eyes use the ATP to see. The increased mitochondrial function means the production of more ATP, and the production of more ATP means the eyes have the energy to operate properly.
- Shinhmar, C. Hogg, M. Neveu, G. Jeffery Weeklong improved colour contrasts sensitivity after single 670 nm exposures associated with enhanced mitochondrial function Sci. Rep., 11 (2021), p. 22872, 10.1038/s41598-021-02311-1
- Moos WH, Faller DV, Glavas IP, Harpp DN, Kamperi N, Kanara I, Kodukula K, Mavrakis AN, Pernokas J, Pernokas M, Pinkert CA, Powers WR, Sampani K, Steliou K, Tamvakopoulos C, Vavvas DG, Zamboni RJ, Chen X. Treatment and prevention of pathological mitochondrial dysfunction in retinal degeneration and in photoreceptor injury. Biochem Pharmacol. 2022 Jul 12;203:115168. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2022.115168. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35835206.
- Using Light (Sunlight, Blue Light & Red Light) to Optimize Health, Huberman Lab Podcast #68, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF0nqolsNZc and https://hubermanlab.com/using-light-sunlight-blue-light-and-red-light-to-optimize-health/
Protect Your Eyes from Bright Light
Dr. Huberman warns red light therapy users not to use devices intended for intense localized treatment.
“I don’t want people taking technologies that were designed for local application and beaming those into the eyes. That could be very, very bad and damaging to your retinal and other tissues. Certainly, wouldn’t want you taking bright light of very high intensity of any kind and getting cavalier about that. Typically, the local illumination of say a wound or a particular patch of acne or some other form of skin treatment involves very high intensity light.”
He explains that intense red light therapy panels intended for use on the skin are too bright for the eyes.
Just as laser light is too intense to use without eye protection, bright panels are too bright as well.
Replicating the 670 nm Vision Study
To do the protocol that was done in the eyesight improvement study, Dr. Huberman suggests getting a dim red light with red and infrared wavelengths. The study used 670 nm (red) and 790 nm (infrared) wavelengths.
Macular degeneration and eyesight studies successfully used 630 nm, 780 nm, 810 nm and 830 nm as well. Understand that LEDs output multiple wavelengths in a range. A 630 nm light gives you 620 nm to 640 nm, give or take a few billionths of a meter.
Mostly like the ranges from 630 nm to 680 nm, and 790 nm to 880 nm are bioactive.
Most importantly, the eyesight study used an intensity of 50 mW/cm^2, which is a low dose which we perceive as “dim.”
Get something that “isn’t painful to look it… [A]ny time you look at any light source, sunlight or otherwise, that’s painful and makes you want to squint or close your eyes, that means it’s too bright to look at without closing your eyes.
Okay, that’s sort of a duh, but I would loathe to think that anyone would harm themselves with bright light in any way.
I don’t just say that to protect us. I say that to protect you, of course, because you are responsible for your health. And again, retinal neurons do not regenerate. Once they are gone and dead, they do not come back. There’s no technology to replace them at this current state in time.
So please don’t damage your retinas. So is a red light source safe to look at if it is not painful to look at? Chances are it is. And yet I would still encourage you to talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist before getting into any extensive protocols.”
— Dr. Andrew Huberman
So unless your goal is to do light therapy with a dim red and/or infrared light, you should consider wearing goggles with your red light therapy device. Bright panels will probably cause squinting, which is your cue to put the goggles over the eyes.
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