Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
Red light therapy, aka low-level light therapy or LED light therapy, is a light treatment that may help reduce joint pain, help with muscle recovery, and reduce fine lines in your skin.
It turns out that your skin can take in energy from certain wavelengths of light and use it to reduce inflammation, synthesize vitamins, and more.
Specific wavelengths do different things. Quantity matters, too (just ask anyone with a sunburn).
This article will cover how red light therapy works, the clinical studies behind red light therapy, four red light therapy benefits, and how you can use red light therapy to improve your health.
NASA was the first to discover red light therapy, back in the 1960s. They were using red lights to grow plants in space when they stumbled onto the idea that red light could benefit people, too.
Red light therapy uses a collection of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to shine red wavelengths of light on your skin. Photoreceptors in your skin and the tissue below it absorb the red light and convert it to energy, which creates a variety of benefits.
You can get red light therapy locally from a panel of concentrated red LED lights, or you can use a full-body red light therapy device.
Local red light therapy is great for spot treating acne or speeding up recovery from a specific injury, while whole-body red light therapy is a great choice for inflammation or improved physical performance.
Some light devices also include infrared light or near-infrared light, which gives you additional health benefits.
Red light treatment lasts a few minutes. It’s painless (in fact, red light therapy is great for relieving pain) and has no side effects.
Red light therapy has a few science-backed benefits. Here are four of the main ones:
#1: Physical Performance and Muscle Recovery
Red light therapy helps you perform better in the gym and recover faster afterward.
The difference is pretty big, too — so much so that some researchers suggest classifying red light therapy as a performance enhancer and banning it from professional sports[*].
Your muscles are packed with mitochondria, little bean-shaped power plants that make energy (in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP).
Mitochondria are in almost every cell in your body, and they power everything you do, from thinking to moving. If you make your mitochondria stronger, you’ll see widespread benefit, especially when it comes to energy levels and performance.
And because your muscles have such a high density of mitochondria, you can get a meaningful boost in the gym from red light therapy.
Several clinical trials have found that doing red light therapy before a workout increases cellular energy production in your muscles, which leads to better endurance and higher maximum power output[*][*][*][*]. In other words, red light therapy lets you push harder for longer.
Red light therapy improves recovery, too. People who used red light therapy after intense training saw two positive results: faster muscle repair and less muscle soreness[*].
#2: Smoother, More Even Skin
You can add red light therapy to your skin care routine, too.
Red light improves skin tone and triggers skin rejuvenation at a cellular level. It’s also good for inflammatory skin conditions. Here are a few ways it might help:
- Wrinkles and signs of aging. Red light therapy reduced facial wrinkles and fine lines and reversed sun damage by 25-50% after nine light therapy treatments[*]. In another study, daily treatment with red light significantly reduced wrinkles around the eyes[*].
- Acne. Red light is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, which makes it ideal for treating acne without drugs. Red light therapy twice a week cleared up severe facial acne completely within 8 weeks[*].
- Psoriasis. Red light therapy relieves psoriasis, as well as the pain, itching, and rough skin that comes with it[*].
- Smoothness and elasticity. Red light therapy also stimulates collagen production in your skin cells, which makes your skin smoother and more supple. People who did red light therapy on their faces twice a week reversed their wrinkles and had smoother skin, as well as increased collagen density and greater skin elasticity — all hallmarks of younger, healthier skin[*].
Note that some places advertise red light therapy for stretch marks. There are no good clinical trials to support that claim.
However, red light therapy is a powerful, non-invasive way to increase collagen production and reverse skin aging, without using any drugs or questionable chemicals.
#3: Lower Inflammation
Red light therapy started out in the 1960s as a way to reduce inflammation and swelling[*]. Red light is a strong anti-inflammatory that reduces oxidative stress and cellular damage[*]. It works both by turning off inflammation pathways and by increasing your body’s natural antioxidant production — a two-pronged approach to reducing inflammation[*].
#4: Recovery From Injury
Red light may help injuries heal faster, too. Part of it is thanks to the decreased inflammation that you just read about.
On top of that, red light pushes your body to create more collagen and make fibroblasts, two essential components of wound healing and tissue repair[*].
If you want to try red light therapy, you have a couple of options.
Many spas and tanning salons have red light therapy beds (don’t worry — there’s no UV light, so you won’t get tan or burn), as well as smaller units for localized therapy.
You can also get a light device for your home that’s just as powerful. Joovv is a reputable brand for red light therapy, and their panels all connect, so you can buy a smaller unit for localized therapy and gradually build your way up to a whole-body unit.
If you’re looking for athletic performance or you want to reduce overall inflammation, whole-body red light therapy is the way to go.
For smoother skin, acne, or injuries, localized red light therapy is fine.
Using an in-home unit is simple. Just shine the light on the target area for about 10 minutes, holding it ~12 inches from your skin.
You can do red light therapy daily or a couple of times a week. Red light therapy is very safe; studies report no side effects.
If you’re looking for an edge in the gym, acne treatment, skin anti-aging, pain relief, or faster healing, red light therapy could be a great option that doesn’t involve side effects or drugs. Give it a try and see how you feel.