Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

Does Red Light Therapy Really Work?

Red light therapy, or RLT, is an innovative therapeutic technique that utilizes low-level red wavelengths of light to heal skin issues such as persistent wounds, scars, wrinkles, and other conditions. 

Scientists used RLT in the 1990s to grow plants in space. This was possible as scientists discovered that intense red light from LEDs promotes photosynthesis and growth in plant cells. 

RLT was then studied for potential medical applications, specifically to see the effect of Red Light Therapy on increasing energy in human cells. 

The studies hoped that Red light therapy could be useful for treating slow wound healing, bone density issues, and muscle atrophy caused by weightlessness in space.

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Does Red Light Therapy Work: Other Names

Red light therapy is known by other names such as:

  • Cold laser therapy
  • Photo biomodulation PBM
  • Soft laser therapy
  • Low level light therapy LLLT
  • Low-power laser therapy LPLT
  • Photonic stimulation

When used to photosensitize medication, red light therapy is known as photodynamic therapy. This form of therapy utilizes light as an activating agent for medication. There are various forms of red light therapy. You can find red light beds in salons where that are used to reduce cosmetic skin problems like wrinkles and stretch marks. 

Red light therapy is also used in medical settings to treat serious skin conditions such as slow-healing wounds, psoriasis, and chemotherapy side effects.

Studies over the years have shown that red light therapy can be an effective treatment for certain conditions; however, there is still some dearth of information, particularly on how red light therapy works.

Does Red Light Therapy Work: How Is It Used?

Since the initial use of red light therapy in space, numerous clinical studies and laboratory studies have been conducted to determine if red light therapy has medical benefits. 

Numerous studies have shown the advantages of red light therapy; however, the treatment itself still holds some controversy. For instance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has determined that red light therapy hasn’t shown sufficient evidence to prove better at treating pain, ulcers, and wounds. 

The predominant belief is that red light therapy requires additional clinical research to prove its effectiveness. As it stands, there is some evidence to show that red light therapy can provide the following benefits:

  • Relieves inflammation and pain in individuals suffering from pain in their Achilles tendon
  • Helps diminish scars
  • Improves the health of joints in individuals suffering from degenerative osteoarthritis in the knee
  • Prevents recurring cold sores from herpes simplex infections
  • Helps to mend sun damage
  • Builds collagen and improves skin complexion to reduce wrinkles
  • Reduce some side effects of cancer treatment, such as oral mucositis
  • Aids in the short-term relief of morning stiffness and pain in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduces psoriasis lesions
  • Stimulates healing of slow-healing wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers
  • Provides short-term treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Improves hair growth in individuals suffering from androgenic alopecia
  • Promotes tissue repair and wound healing

Due to a lack of conclusive evidence, most medical insurance companies don’t cover or endorse red light therapy. Nevertheless, some medical insurance firms now cover red light therapy treatments against oral mucositis during cancer treatment.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy creates a biochemical effect in cells that help strengthen the mitochondria. Cells are powered by mitochondria—the cell’s energy generation unit. The energy-carry molecules found in the cells of all living things are known as adenosine triphosphate ATP.

Red light therapy can be used to increase the function of the mitochondria resulting in the cell manufacturing more ATP. Cells can function more optimally, repair damage, and rejuvenate themselves with the added energy.

It is important to note that red light therapy isn’t the same as intense pulsed light IPL or laser therapies, as RLT doesn’t damage the skin’s surface. Pulse light and laser therapies function by damaging the outer skin layer in a controlled manner. 

This damage then ignites tissue repair. Red light therapy avoids damaging the skin by directly igniting skin regeneration. The red light emitted during red light therapy can penetrate 5 millimeters below the skin's surface.

Does Red Light Therapy Work: What Has It Been Proven to Treat?

Researchers and scientists alike have known about red light therapy and its benefits for a while. However, there aren’t too many studies on it. Until now, there hasn’t been definitive research to show that it is better than other treatments that help you heal. Nevertheless, red light therapy can be useful with the following conditions:

Wrinkles and Signs of Skin Damage and Skin Aging

Research has shown that red light therapy can help wrinkles and smooth skin. Red light therapy can also help with burns, signs of ultraviolet sun damage, and acne scars.


A study of 7 people suggests that red light therapy could reduce pain and inflammation in Achilles tendinitis patients.


A study showed that infrared and red light therapy reduced pain associated with osteoarthritis by more than 50%.

Hair Loss

Studies have shown that women and men suffering from androgenetic alopecia—a genetic disorder that results in hair loss—grew thicker hair after undergoing red light therapy at home for 24 weeks. 

To ensure the results were accurate other individuals in the same study were given fake red light therapy devices and couldn’t achieve the same results.

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Dental Pain

Another study showed that individuals with TMD temporomandibular dysfunction had less clicking, jaw tenderness, and pain after undergoing red light therapy.


A study showed that individuals who have dementia slept better, were angry less often, and had better memories after receiving red light therapy through their noses and on their heads for a 12-week period.

Does Red Light Therapy Work: Conclusion

Red light therapy is a promising treatment that has shown potential in improving various health conditions. While the research is still in its early stages, there is growing evidence to support the effectiveness of red light therapy for various purposes.

One of the main advantages of red light therapy is its non-invasive nature. Unlike many other forms of treatment, it does not involve the use of drugs or surgery, which can carry a range of potential risks and side effects. Instead, it uses low-level wavelengths of red light to stimulate natural biological processes in the body, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.

Red light therapy has been shown to be particularly effective in treating skin conditions such as acne and wrinkles. It has also been shown to reduce joint pain and stiffness in individuals with osteoarthritis and improve recovery times for athletes and individuals with injuries.

Another advantage of red light therapy is its accessibility. While it is typically administered in a clinical setting, there are now a variety of devices available for home use, allowing individuals to benefit from its effects without leaving their own homes.

Furthermore, red light therapy is generally considered safe, with minimal side effects. However, as with any form of treatment, it is important to use red light therapy under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Overall, while more research is needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of red light therapy, it is a promising form of treatment that has shown potential to improve a range of health conditions. 

With its non-invasive nature, accessibility, and minimal side effects, red light therapy is a valuable addition to healthcare professionals and individuals' toolkit.

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