I wrote here comparing and contrasting infrared and regular saunas, and along the way discussed benefits of infrared light exposure. What’s the difference between the various uses for red light?
Red Light, Infrared Light, and Lasers
The primary difference between red and infrared light is where they are on the light spectrum: they’re right next to each other, but the wavelength of visible red light is shorter, while the wavelength of invisible infrared is longer. Wavelength has implications for how deep the light penetrates into the skin: visible red light has a more superficial effect, while infrared’s effect is deeper, penetrating about 1.5 inches into the body.
LASER, meanwhile, is an acronym that stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The stimulation comes from an electrical current, and the photons created are uniform in wavelength and direction. It’s still light in the red part of the spectrum—mostly infrared, though some lasers are visible. But this focus and coherence makes them much more targeted, and therefore stronger, than infrared or red light therapy (also called low level laser therapy). They also therefore have the potential to cause far more damage. (Because, you know, with great power comes great responsibility.) 😉
Red light is delivered via LEDs (light-emitting diodes) while infrared treatment, to my knowledge, is primarily delivered in the context of a sauna (although you also get both kinds of light from the sun, of course!) Lasers have small and targeted delivery systems, appropriate for their purpose.
Which of the three you’d pick would depend on what you were trying to accomplish. For more superficial issues, red light or low-level laser therapy would be appropriate. For more systemic issues, such as detoxification, infrared is best. Lasers would be best for deeper, localized issues–they are even used in surgery.
How Red Light Therapy Works
Red light therapy works much the same way that many of these kinds of treatments do, such as castor oil packs, hydrotherapy, massage, PRP or prolotherapy injections: all of these treatments drive blood flow to the site of the problem. The body may otherwise learn to live with something rather than heal it on its own, but these treatments force it to take a second look.
Red Light Therapy works similarly, driving blood flow, which stimulates cellular activity, increases ATP (cellular energy) production, and encourages production of various products made by the cells—after all, healing is in the blood.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy
The studies for low level laser therapy are pretty impressive—again, for superficial conditions. These include:
- Improving wound healing
- Hair regrowth for alopecia
- Diminishing wrinkles by stimulating collagen production. (Note: if you use LEDs for this purpose, make sure you wear protective eyewear to protect your eyes! Most clinics offer this if you have a treatment done, and at-home products typically come with protective eyewear.)
- Healing sun damage on the skin
- Diminishing scars
- Decreasing inflammation from tendon injuries (including the Achilles)
- Decreasing pain in arthritic joints
If you’re looking for more systemic benefits, infrared is the way to go. But if you have superficial, localized concerns, red light therapy has been shown to be very effective. Some clinics and spas have these treatments available, but you can also purchase at-home hand-held devices for red light therapy as well!