Man sitting in front of a red light therapy panel with his eyes closed and smiling

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Over the last few years, red light therapy has come roaring onto the scene as a hot topic and wellness practice with well-known celebrities and medical professionals alike touting its praise. As it has gained popularity, more and more skin care establishments have added red light therapy to their services and new gadgets for at-home use have hit the market — like lamps, masks, and wands, straight out of a Star Wars movie.

So what is red light therapy and how does it work? Stay tuned as we walk you through a little lesson on this up and coming wellness practice. 

How it all started

Red light therapy has a pretty interesting story, and one you probably wouldn’t expect… starting with outer space. 

NASA astronauts were the first to use the technology in the 1990s. Scientists initially experimented with red LED lights to grow plants for space shuttle missions, but coincidentally, the scientist’s skin lesions began to heal faster with exposure to the light. They were so intrigued with their findings that NASA then began to study the use of LED to increase the metabolism of human cells and stem the loss of bone and muscle in astronauts.

Fast forward 20+ years and the cosmetic and wellness industries have caught on to red light therapy’s benefits, developing masks and infrared sauna panels that many are using today — including us!

So, what is red light therapy & how does it work?

You may have seen some of these devices the last time you popped into your dermatologist’s office or in ads as you scrolled through your Instagram feed. How it works is that these devices and panels are applied to the skin for short periods of time (15-30 minutes roughly.) Panels and some masks are kept a short distance from the face while other masks and wands are applied directly to the skin to help treat various skin conditions like scars, redness, and pesky acne.  

These devices use red light and near infrared lights to send concentrated wavelengths of light deep into our bodies (see the graph below). Red light waves then stimulate the mitochondria — the powerhouse energy center within each cell responsible for all the energy, signaling, steroid synthesis, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — and set off a slew of amazing changes, such as an uptick in collagen production, reduced inflammation, pigmentation and even redness in the skin. It’s also been proven to prompt cellular repair and circulation to promote healthier looking skin.    

Red light therapy benefits

What’s the hype behind the buzz? Well, it’s not rocket science — red light therapy comes with some pretty great, proven benefits. 

Close up image of someone sitting witht their back to a red light therapy panel

Acne treatment 

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by adult acne. While many of us thought we’d never have to deal with it again after enduring a slew of embarrassing school pictures and the hormonal ups and downs of the teenage years, life threw a curveball.  

Acne is pesky, intrusive, and just downright annoying — but there’s a silver lining. Red light therapy helps calm and decrease redness while minimizing oil production and bacteria on the skin. From a study done in 2018, researchers confirmed the benefits of red light therapy in treating mild to moderate acne because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Reduced pain and inflammation

Another reason why we’re big advocates of red light therapy is the role it plays in easing pain and inflammation. Red light therapy releases nitric oxide to improve blood circulation and deliver vital nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues more effectively, aiding the repair and regeneration of damaged tissues. 

Improved athletic recovery time

For injured athletes, red light therapy has been used to help reduce the time it takes to return to play. More and more competitive athletes are trying it with even the U.S. track team jumping onboard. When the team headed to Rio to compete in the 2016 Olym­pics, they brought along a $181,000 photobiomodulation pod, better known as a red light bed. Their coach, Alberto Salazar, swore by its abilities to pro­mote recovery and heal injuries which he says allowed the track athletes to train harder

A study done in 2018 by Brazilian researchers found that after their trial on pro soccer players, those who underwent red light therapy stayed longer on the playing field. Their conclusion was that red light therapy had a significant improvement in all the biochemical markers evaluated and that pre-exercise light therapy can enhance performance and accelerate recovery.

If you’ve never thought of trying red light therapy before, we hope this gives you a little more clarity and insight into how it could improve your health or athletic performance!

Infrared sauna vs. red light therapy

A question we get a lot is, is using a red light therapy device the same as sitting in an infrared sauna? They both use light, right? Well, while they both function using light wavelengths, they’re also very different.

The main difference is that red light therapy gives off light while infrared saunas give off heat. There is zero heat involved with red light therapy — the LED lights themselves don’t get hot, and you won’t profusely sweat or experience a high heart rate, like what you’d experience sitting in an infrared or traditional sauna. 

To break it down more simply, think about exercise habits. Most people combine activities, like yoga and running or weight lifting and cycling. Very different activities but complimentary to the body. Red light therapy and infrared sauna work in the same way. 

When used together, red light therapy and infrared sauna offer a healthy, one-two punch.

Red light therapy at Sauna House

Want to try red light therapy for yourself? Enjoy our private Hot, Cold, Relax rooms which include a traditional sauna, cold plunge, and two red light therapy panels in each. Book your visit today

Try red light therapy

October 21, 2022
By: Sauna House