What Everyone Should Know About Red Light Therapy
As my brain and body wear with age, I research ways to maintain and gain energy, motivation, and clear thinking. These are exactly the areas where red light therapy excels.
Because red light therapy acts on the energy creators (mitochondria), genetic activators (transcription factors), and blood flow, it re-energizes the brain and body at a cellular level. Consistent exposure reduces inflammation, wrinkles, and pain, but adds energy to healing, recovery, and memory.
Why Red Light Therapy Helps So Many Conditions
Mitochondria inside the cells make “biological batteries” that power tissue defense and repair. Red light therapy adds power to battery production, making more energy available for healing, repairing, and thinking. Red light therapy opens the blood vessels, allowing oxygen and nutrition to reach worn-down and injured areas for repair.
Red Light Therapy Reduces the Pain
Given the actions that red light therapy triggers in the body, it’s not surprising that it significantly helps with osteoarthritis pain. Red light therapy reduces inflammation and pain sensitivity.
Red Light Therapy Ended My Arthritis Pain
My orthopedist studied my knee X-ray when I was 50 years old. He said I had the degeneration of someone who was at least 70.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the aches and pains of getting older. I’m a bit obsessed with finding ways to relieve pain. I use red light therapy to keep my arthritic knee from hurting.
When I did physical therapy a few years ago, my knee pain went from intolerable to tolerable.
When I did physical therapy this year — and added my own red light therapy – my pain went from intolerable to not even noticeable.
I do my exercises. I take my fish oil. I do my red light therapy. I support the pain relief however I can.
But I’ve seen red light therapy reduce pain even when the user kept injuring the treated area.
How Red Light Therapy Reduced Carpal Tunnel Despite Constant Re-Injury
My neighbor works for a famous high-tech company, so he’s on the computer all day. He developed carpal tunnel syndrome for which his doctors decided to operate.
My friend deeply regrets getting carpal tunnel surgery, because his wrist still hurts with tendon pain, but not it hurts from surgery pain, too.
I gave him a red light to use four weeks post-surgery.
I checked in on him a few times, asking him to be honest. At two weeks of daily treatment, he didn’t think he felt a difference.
“Are you still typing?” I asked him. Yes, he was still doing the thing that caused the problem in the first place.
“OK,” I said. “Maybe we’re asking too much of the light to power through that resistance.”
But everything changed in the fourth week of therapy.
He told me he felt the light was helping. He wanted to keep using it and to test it on other issues he was having.
Although this example is anecdotal, plenty of science backs up my friend’s experience. Science says that red light therapy eases carpal tunnel and surgery pain. To learn more about these effects of red light therapy, see my articles (they open in new browser windows):
- 10 Studies Confirming that Red Light Therapy Shrinks Pain
- The Healing Power of Red Therapy for Surgical Pain
How Red Light Therapy Helps Bones Heal
One of the earliest uses for red light therapy was to stimulate the healing of non-union fractures — those broken bones that refuse to heal.
Red light therapy stimulates bone growth and fusion. It synthesizes fibroblasts (part of collagen), collagen (fresh skin), and elastin (which tightens skin).
It also stimulates hormonal and natural opioid mechanisms to quiet the pain signal to the brain.
Researchers tested osteoarthritis pain relief in a study published in Clinical Rehabilitation. They gave the treatment group red light therapy in the quadriceps. They treated the control group with a sham light. After therapy, the treated group had less pain, faster walking speed, and greater strength than the placebo group.
In a study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, researchers treated arthritic knees with red light therapy and had the subjects exercise as well. The treatment and placebo groups had similar strength gains, but the group treated with red light therapy had significantly less pain.
Red light therapy helps with arthritis because it reduces inflammation and pain perception. Studies on
Alfredo PP, Bjordal JM, Junior WS, Lopes-Martins RÃB, Stausholm MB, Casarotto RA, Marques AP, Joensen J. Long-term results of a randomized, controlled, double-blind study of low-level laser therapy before exercises in knee osteoarthritis: laser and exercises in knee osteoarthritis. Clin Rehabil. 2018 Feb;32(2):173-178. doi: 10.1177/0269215517723162. Epub 2017 Aug 4. PMID: 28776408.
de Paula Gomes CAF, Leal-Junior ECP, Dibai-Filho AV, de Oliveira AR, Bley AS, Biasotto-Gonzalez DA, de Tarso Camillo de Carvalho P. Incorporation of photobiomodulation therapy into a therapeutic exercise program for knee osteoarthritis: A placebo-controlled, randomized, clinical trial. Lasers Surg Med. 2018 Oct;50(8):819-828. doi: 10.1002/lsm.22939. Epub 2018 May 7. PMID: 29733117.
Red Light Therapy Helps the Skin
The spa and beauty industry has embraced red light therapy for decades. Red light therapy is non-invasive, has no side effects, and produces the holy grail of skincare: fresh collagen!
I have a friend who is currently 68 years old, but he appears to be in his 50s. He was an early adopter of red light therapy when home units cost thousands of dollars. His skin glows.
Red Light Therapy Replaces Wrinkles with Collagen
Studies on red and infrared light confirm over and over that red light therapy reduces wrinkles. Recently a new study found that low-energy green light works just as well.
This was a study published in The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, and it showed that green light could produce collagen too. The green light reduced the rate at which cells died. The treatment produced Type I and Type III collagen.
The treatment group had less MMP-1, the enzyme that breaks down collagen. And the green light activated the autophagy response that recycles dead cells to create fresh new ones.
Jia C, Gong C, Lu Y, Xu N. Low-energy green light alleviates senescence-like phenotypes in a cell model of photoaging. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Jun 21. doi: 10.1111/jocd.15175. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35729802.
Red Light Therapy Kills P acnes Bacteria
Red and infrared light studies consistently demonstrate that the therapy reduces acne. The most effective combination is blue, red and infrared, delivered separately (not all at the same time).
I documented the acne studies on my EMF Channel site where you can read the study explanations in greater detail. Each of the links below opens in a new browser window so you don’t lose your place on this page.
- yellow light reduced redness
- blue, red and infrared light reduced acne symptoms
- blue, red and infrared light improved skin texture and reduced acne pustules
- two wavelengths of red light reduced the number of acne lesions
Read the rest of the list on my EMF Channel website in my article Does Red Light Really Work for Acne?.
Red Light Therapy Improves Psoriasis
Psoriasis causes itchiness, dryness, and soreness.
Dermatologists sometimes treat psoriasis with ultraviolet A (UVA), something mere mortals like us cannot and should not do at home.
But blue and green light are close to ultraviolet on the electromagnetic spectrum, and they have some of the effects of UV without the dangers.
Some psoriasis is from an immune system overreaction. One theory is that blue light suppresses the immune system, preventing psoriasis symptoms.
Researchers tested using blue and red light for psoriasis. They were published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. Blue and red were equally good at reducing scaling and induration (hard skin). Blue was better than red at reducing redness.
Read more study summaries about psoriasis and red light therapy on my EMF Channel website (links open in new browser windows).
Kleinpenning MM, Otero ME, van Erp PE, Gerritsen MJ, van de Kerkhof PC. Efficacy of blue light vs. red light in the treatment of psoriasis: a double-blind, randomized comparative study. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2012 Feb;26(2):219-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2011.04039.x. Epub 2011 Mar 24. PMID: 21435024.
Red Light Therapy Reduces Brain Injury and Dementia Symptoms
I recently saw a post online from a dementia patient caregiver who couldn’t take it anymore. “PLEASE STOP CALLING DEMENTIA A ‘MEMORY’ DISEASE!”
This caregiver’s mother no longer recognized her daughter. The mother thought her own daughter had kidnapped her because this stranger was controlling her life and living in her home. The mother attacked her daughter with a kitchen knife and then called 911. Dementia and brain injury are so much more than memory loss. These conditions destroy everything in their path.
Red Light Therapy Turns on the Lights
One pathway to dementia is the failure of the cells to make energy. The energy factories (mitochondria) slow to a halt as we age and with injury. Our brains are like factories without electricity.
The photons (light packets) from red light therapy absorb in the electron transport chain of the mitochondria. Through a mechanism that is not yet well understood, the light absorption brings the electricity back to the factory. The mitochondria regain the ability to create energy. The brain uses that energy for the little things, like thinking, talking, and remembering the members of one’s family.
Red Light Therapy Calls in the Red Cross
Arteries that carry blood get narrower with age and disease. A happy side effect of photon absorption is that nitric oxide reaches the blood vessels. Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator. Its presence triggers a sequence of events that widen the blood vessels.
Once the pipes are open, the blood flows through them once again. Blood carries oxygen and nutrition the cells need to repair themselves.
Studies on mice show that the result of this energy and nutrition upgrade is a cleanup of the disease’s droppings. The renewed energy and nutrition allow the brain’s immune system to go after the plaque and protein clogging up the wires.
Red Light Therapy Clears Amyloid Plaques and Tangled Tau Protein
Brain injury, dementia, and just plain aging correlate with amyloid plaque and tangled protein deposits in the brain.
Salehpour published a massive review of the literature demonstrating red light therapy’s effects on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I will summarize their report, and you can read the original article here: Brain Photobiomodulation Therapy: A Narrative Review (opens in a new browser window).
Damaged mitochondria produce less energy and too much oxidation. They signal cells to die before their time.
Red light therapy reverses mitochondrial damage. It turns the neural lights back on. The oxidation falls to a healthy state (some oxidation is needed for messaging). The mitochondria pull back on their cellular death signals.
Salehpour and colleagues gathered the results from red light therapy studies on people with dementia and brain injury, alongside co-morbidities such as depression and anxiety.
The studies they summarize reported that red light therapy has these effects:
- increased healthy brainwave patterns
- more oxygen in the brain’s blood
- improved physical response times
- sustained positive emotional states
- reduced depression
- less irritability
- better ability to stay focused
- fewer instances of wandering
- improved gait (Parkinson’s)
- more socialization
- improved memory
In studies on mice engineered to have amyloid plaques and tangled tau proteins, red light therapy had these effects. The therapy:
- reduced tau tangles
- reduced amyloid plaque deposits
- messaged the brain to switch from an inflammatory to a non-inflammatory immune response
- increased the rate at which the brain cleaned up and re-used dead cells
- slowed the rate of degeneration in the hippocampus
- reduced inflammation
- remyelinated affected axons
- Salehpour F, Mahmoudi J, Kamari F, Sadigh-Eteghad S, Rasta SH, Hamblin MR. Brain Photobiomodulation Therapy: a Narrative Review. Mol Neurobiol. 2018 Aug;55(8):6601-6636. doi: 10.1007/s12035-017-0852-4. Epub 2018 Jan 11. PMID: 29327206; PMCID: PMC6041198.
- Lu, Y., Wang, R., Dong, Y., Tucker, D., Zhao, N., Ahmed, M. E., Zhu, L., Liu, T. C., Cohen, R. M., & Zhang, Q. (2017). Low-level laser therapy for beta amyloid toxicity in rat hippocampus. Neurobiology of aging, 49, 165â€“182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.10.003
- Sommer AP, Bieschke J, Friedrich RP, Zhu D, Wanker EE, Fecht HJ, Mereles D, Hunstein W. 670â€‰nm laser light and EGCG complementarily reduce amyloid-Î² aggregates in human neuroblastoma cells: basis for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease? Photomed Laser Surg. 2012 Jan;30(1):54-60. doi: 10.1089/pho.2011.3073. Epub 2011 Oct 26. PMID: 22029866.
- De Taboada L, Yu J, El-Amouri S, Gattoni-Celli S, Richieri S, McCarthy T, Streeter J, Kindy MS. Transcranial laser therapy attenuates amyloid-Î² peptide neuropathology in amyloid-Î² protein precursor transgenic mice. J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(3):521-35. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-100894. PMID: 21116053.
- Ayar Z, Gholami B, Piri SM, Kaveh M, Baigi V, Ghodsi Z, Hassannejad Z, Rahimi-Movaghar V. The effect of low-level laser therapy on pathophysiology and locomotor recovery after traumatic spinal cord injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lasers Med Sci. 2022 Feb;37(1):61-75. doi: 10.1007/s10103-021-03301-5. Epub 2021 Mar 31. PMID: 33791887.
We’re Just Getting Started
Red light therapy has far-reaching effects because it gives the brain and body the ability to engage their own healing mechanisms.
Unlike drugs that sacrifice good tissue to eliminate bad molecules, red light therapy has no side effects. It’s non-invasive and available without a doctor’s prescription. The FDA classifies the lights as “general wellness devices.”
Over 8,000 papers published in scientific journals show that red light therapy is more than skin, pain, and brain therapy. But those are three of the biggest and most important areas where red light therapy can relieve suffering and improve life.