Does Any Red Light Work for Red Light Therapy?

Some people claim that red light therapy home devices are just a bunch of cheap LED lights falsely marketed and overpriced, and that any red light (including a simple torch) can be used for red light therapy.

Is that true?

You’ll find out the answer right here, right now.
can any red light be used for red light therapy

Key points

  • Red light therapy involves exposing the skin to red or near-infrared light. This light penetrates deep into the skin tissues to stimulate cellular repair, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
  • Not all red lights can be used for red light therapy. Specific wavelengths and intensities are necessary for therapeutic benefits, which standard red lights like bulbs or traffic signals lack.
  • Red light therapy devices, such as LED panels, lamps, masks, wraps, or red light therapy mats, are engineered to emit the precise wavelengths and intensities required for effective treatment. Simply using any red light won’t provide the targeted therapy needed for optimal results.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy involves exposing your skin to low levels of red or near-infrared light.

This light is typically emitted from devices such as LED panels, LED bulbs, LED light therapy masks, red light therapy mats, and more.

The light is applied directly to the skin and is scientifically proven to penetrate deep within the skin tissues (or deeper tissues, depending on the wavelength) – where it can stimulate cellular repair and regeneration, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.

red light therapy penetration into the skin
Image source: researchgate.com

👉 See all my red light therapy posts

Does Any Red Light Work for Red Light Therapy?

The short answer is no.

While it’s true that red light therapy devices emit red or near-infrared light, not all red lights are designed to deliver the specific wavelengths and intensity required to enjoy the therapeutic benefits.

Simply standing under a standard red light bulb or basking in the glow of a traffic signal won’t cut it.

does any red light work for red light therapy

Of course, there are bound to be skeptics who argue otherwise.

They might say that any source of red light should theoretically yield similar results since it’s the color of the light that matters, right?

Wrong.

The effectiveness of red light therapy depends not only on the color of the light but also on its wavelength and power output.

Without the proper specifications, you can’t expect to get the science-backed results of the optimal red light wavelength and irradiance.

👉 See the full light therapy colors guide

Why Wavelengths Matter

Some people might argue that a red light is a red light, regardless of its specific wavelength.

After all, visible light – including red light – is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, so why should the exact wavelength matter?

The therapeutic effects of red light therapy are shown in studies to come from specific wavelengths within the red and near-infrared spectrum, typically ranging from 630 to 850 nanometers.

These wavelengths were shown to penetrate the skin more effectively, reaching the underlying tissues to work their magic.

Think of light like tiny punches:

Shorter wavelengths (like the beginning of red light) have a weaker punch.

They don’t travel as far and mostly hit the closer cells, like those in your skin. This is helpful for wrinkles or wound healing because it targets those areas.

Longer wavelengths (like deeper red and near-infrared light) pack a stronger punch:  They can travel deeper into your body, reaching muscles and joints.

This can be good for reducing pain or inflammation.

Why Irradiance (Intensity) Matters

There’s a therapeutic window for red light therapy:

Too little light (low power input or irradiance) might not be effective, while too much (very high settings) could be damaging. 

The optimal dose depends on the condition you want to treat and the specific wavelength used.

Higher power input means the device delivers more overall energy during your treatment.

Irradiance is the intensity of light delivered per area: This is measured in milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm²).

Higher irradiance means more light energy is hitting a specific area in a given time, which allows for shorter treatment times because more light energy is delivered per second.

Conversely, lower irradiance might require longer sessions to achieve results.

However, some of the world’s most known LLLT experts, such as Dr. Michael Hamblin, claim that “Lower irradiance (<50mW/cm2) is less likely to cause skin hyperthermia leading to potential deleterious effects”.

Also, devices emitting more than 100 mW/cm² were never clinically tested for safety and efficiency. 

What Is the Optimal Irradiance and Wavelength for Red Light Therapy?

According to most studies, the optimal irradiance and wavelength for skin anti-aging and wound healing appears to be in the range of 3-40 J/cm2 using near-infrared (at 830 nm) or red light wavelengths (at 630 nanometers).

At a 6-8 inches distance, an irradiance level between 5 mW/cm² and 100 mW/cm² is appropriate for surface treatments.

For deeper cellular penetration, an irradiance level greater than 30 mW/cm² is needed.

How Do You Choose the Right Red Light Therapy Device?

therapeutic red light therapy devices

So, if not just any red light will do, how do you choose the right red light therapy device?

It all boils down to choosing a device that’s specifically designed for therapeutic purposes, with carefully calibrated wavelengths and power output.

I’ve been researching and testing red and infrared light therapy devices for years.

I’m sharing my findings in many of my posts, including the best red light therapy home devices (for the skin), the best infrared therapy home devices (for pain relief), and the best red light therapy for the body.

I can send you my tips and advice straight to your email if you want to Sign Up – I’ll be thrilled if you join our community.

To your health and happiness,

Meital

Meital James
Founder and CEO of 4 healthy living blogs, has a background in Naturopathic medicine, research, journalism, and nutrition. Her blogs are the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and experience and all the posts are verified by scientific findings.

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