A Definitive Guide To Red Light Therapy For Anti-Aging
From rosacea and premature aging to acne and psoriasis, there’s no shortage of skin issues in the world. Skin issues can affect our confidence and self-esteem and unfortunately, they’re often hard to treat within the conventional medicine sphere.
I see patients all the time suffering from skin issues that say they’ve “tried everything.” Or, they’re simply overwhelmed by all the creams, potions, and pills out there and simply don’t know where to start.
As a functional medicine practitioner, my job is to guide you to treatments that are actually effective. I have spent the last 12 years consulting patients around the world and immersing myself in the latest wellness research. And after watching that research play out and trying different therapies with my patients, I can say with total confidence that some alternative therapies for skin issues should be given more attention than others. And one of these therapies that is on rise (For good reason!) is red light therapy.
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What is red light therapy?
There’s a good chance you’ve already read a thing or two about red light therapy. You may have seen a celebrity wearing a strange glowing face shield on Instagram or seen a commercial for red light masks. At first, these therapies seem otherworldly and admittedly, a little absurd. But the truth is red light can actually change your skin's health.
Red light therapy, also known as LED light therapy and low-level light therapy (LLLT) uses specific wavelengths of light (between 625 nm and 900 nm) to penetrate the skin and promote healing. It may seem strange that shining light on the skin might be good for you. (I mean, doesn’t too much light contribute to skin cancer?) But the truth is that unlike UVA rays — like those found in tanning beds — red light does not damage your skin or cause sunburns.
What does the research say about red light therapy?
The research on red light therapy is pretty promising. And while more studies need to be done, at this point I can say that the existing studies have shown positive results with very minor (if any!) negative side effects.
Here are some studies that you should know about if you’re thinking about trying red light therapy out for yourself:
1. Acne and acne scar healing
If you’re dealing with acne and acne scarring, speeding up the healing process of blemishes can be a huge help. Red light therapy has been shown to promote wound healing, (1) which can result in faster healing of blemishes and less scarring. But wait, how does this work? Red light therapy can help cells repair themselves by stimulating the mitochondria and stem cells.
2. Collagen production and density
The majority of the research on red light therapy focuses on skin appearance. Studies, like this one published in the Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy, (2) have shown that red light therapy can reduce the appearance of wrinkles thanks to its ability to boost collagen production. Collagen is a natural protein in the body that keeps skin plump, elastic, and hydrated. One study, published in the Photomedicine and Laser Surgery (3) journal showed that regular exposure to red light therapy led to a significant increase in collagen density.
3. Hair growth and follicle health
You may not think of thinning hair as a skin issue, but hair follicles are embedded in the skin and therefore are a part of overall skin health. Thinning hair is a common problem among men and women. The good news is that research published in 2013 (4) showed that exposing the scalp to red light therapy can stimulate the growth of hair follicles.
Red light therapy can also fend off inflammation, which is at the root of many skin issues. And it’s not just skin issues that it can help with, either. Red light therapy has also shown promise for issues that occur a little farther below the surface, such as joint pain and muscle pain. Studies have also shown that red light therapy can increase the production (5) of blood vessels, which aids in fending off inflammation.
How do you get started with red light therapy?
If you want to give red light therapy a shot, know that it needs to be done consistently over time for you to see results. This is not a single appointment miracle therapy! You can get red light therapy through qualified practitioners like dermatologists and even physical therapists if you’re looking for pain relief. A quick Google search of practitioners and red light therapy in your area should give you an idea of where to go.
If you’d prefer to test red light therapy out at home, one option is Sunlighten’s limiNIR Wand, which will set you back about $250 dollars. The great thing about this wand is that you can use it on any part of your body.
If you’re looking to focus solely on skin health, the gold standard option is the FDA-approved Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite™ FaceWare Pro. It’s $435 dollars at Sephora.
Red light therapy is one of those alternative treatments that seems bizarre at first. But when you really dive into the research, you see that different doesn’t mean ineffective. In fact, in this case, it’s quite the opposite!
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- Chaves ME, Araújo AR, Piancastelli AC, Pinotti M. Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED. An Bras Dermatol. 2014;89(4):616-623. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142519
- Russell BA, Kellett N, Reilly LR. A study to determine the efficacy of combination LED light therapy (633 nm and 830 nm) in facial skin rejuvenation. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2005 Dec;7(3-4):196-200. doi: 10.1080/14764170500370059. PMID: 16414908.
- Wunsch A, Matuschka K. A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014;32(2):93-100. doi:10.1089/pho.2013.3616
- Avci P, Gupta GK, Clark J, Wikonkal N, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) for treatment of hair loss. Lasers Surg Med. 2014 Feb;46(2):144-51. doi: 10.1002/lsm.22170. Epub 2013 Aug 23. PMID: 23970445; PMCID: PMC3944668.
- Alves AN, Fernandes KP, Deana AM, Bussadori SK, Mesquita-Ferrari RA. Effects of low-level laser therapy on skeletal muscle repair: a systematic review. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Dec;93(12):1073-85. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000000158. PMID: 25122099.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.