Is red light therapy the real deal, or just another anti-aging fad that doesn’t make a dent? The research is in, and the outlook is bright.
Wands, masks, apps, beds — red light therapy has become a buzzed-about anti-aging and skincare treatment, touted by everyone from Jessica Alba to Kate Hudson. It’s not hard to understand why. The non-invasive treatment can be done in the privacy of your own home and is said to help with everything from reducing the look of fine lines and stretch marks to helping heal sunburns and stimulating hair growth.
But is this trend all it’s cracked up to be? We did some research to find out.
What is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is the practice of exposing yourself to red light, typically the wavelengths between 630-670 and 810-880 on the light spectrum. The wavelengths of light penetrate up to 10 millimeters into your skin, kickstarting your mitochondrial cell function and energizing their metabolic processes. In other words, it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin (both of which we start producing less of as we get older, which contributes to aging), increases oxygenation in your skin, improves circulation, and repairs damaged tissue.
There are plenty of ways to do it, too. You can sit under a red light lamp in your home, go to a bed at your local salon or dermatology office, and even install an app on your phone or computer.
What Are The Benefits?
Red light therapy isn’t just another trendy skincare treatment. There’s some pretty definitive science behind the practice. It isn’t exact, but the logic is sound — cells need red light to function properly.
The problem is, most people don’t get nearly enough. Humans spend almost their entire lives indoors, especially in the developed world. By contrast, in front of screens and smartphones, we’re exposed to too much blue light, and almost no red light.
The result is cells and systems that don’t function as well as they should. At a cellular level, our bodies struggle to produce energy, which means that everything else moves slower, too. We don’t heal as fast as we should, we stay sick longer, and our bodies age faster.
Red light therapy has a whole list of benefits — it’s staggering what it can do:
- Heal wounds and sunburns
- Reduce puffiness, inflammation, and acne
- Jumpstart your lymphatic system for detox
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by improving collagen production
- Reduce the appearance of stretch marks by improving your skin’s ability to heal
- Reduce the appearance of scars
- Prevent and heal cold sores
- It might also help to stimulate hair growth
- Reduce moodiness/Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms
Read more: 5 Natural Ways to Soothe Sunburned Skin
What’s The Difference Between Red Light Therapy and Infrared Treatments?
At my local tanning salon, there are two options for red light therapy: a tanning bed with red light bulbs in it and an infrared pod.
Tanning beds outfitted with red bulbs are an easy way to get a full-body dose of red light without sinking a few hundred bucks into an in-home unit. And often, the price tag is in the same ballpark as a tanning membership. The only caveat? This light isn’t concentrated and barely penetrates into your muscle tissue. So to be effective, most salons will tell you that you need to lay in one of their beds at least three times a week. Still though, if your goal is just to head off a case of SAD with the arrival of fall, improve your circulation, or reduce the look of stretch marks, stop on the way home from work once a week for a dose of red light is well worth the detour.
The infrared pod is more expensive, and it’s recommended for everything from weight loss to muscle pain. It gets very hot but doesn’t expose you to any UV light. Infrared treatments are more intense and penetrate more deeply into your body. If your goal is to reduce wrinkles, red light therapy is probably enough. If you want to work on an achy back, infrared therapy is the way to go.
Are There Side Effects?
It’s important to note that even though red light therapy beds often reside in places for tanning and botox injections, they have almost no adverse side effects. You don’t get hot in them. Your skin will not burn in them. And they are NOT the same thing as a tanning bed. Far from it.
The only adverse effects of using a red light therapy bed are that well — you’re laying in a bed full of light. So it’s recommended that you wear eye protection if you want to avoid eye strain, eye damage, or a potential headache.
Red Light Therapy at Home
If you don’t feel like going to the tanning salon or scheduling an appointment with the dermatologist, there are several ways to try red light therapy at home.
Companies like Joovv make personal red light therapy lamp units that you can buy (and even finance) for your home. Choose from small, handheld lamps for targeted therapy and larger lamps for full-body benefits.
Red light therapy masks are a solid option for those looking to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation, specifically in the face and neck. And, depending on the model you buy, you can even wear it while doing chores around the house. Of course, prices range from moderate, like The Self-Care Mask that goes for $250 to higher-end models like CurrentBody Skin Face & Neck Kit, which has a separate red light patch for your chest and is $868. Either way, regular daily use is likely to show results.
Like red light therapy masks, wands are designed to tackle problem areas on your face and neck. The difference? They aren’t as strong as masks and are handheld, but they still offer results. The SolaWave wand is especially soothing as it stimulates cells by coupling red light therapy with low-voltage microcurrents, light vibration, and therapeutic warming. Plus, it’s portable and rechargeable.
You can opt to pick up a few specialty red light bulbs and set up lamps around your home (taking the lampshade off is highly recommended). The therapy isn’t as intense or targeted, but it can do wonders for mood, energy levels, and even sleep.
Yep, red light therapy apps are totally a thing. The jury’s still out on whether smartphones are capable of exuding strong enough wavelengths of red light to have any impact, but a slew of apps are out there that will turn your phone into a miniature red light therapy device. RedMed is a popular option and is available for iPhone and Android.
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