The Power of (Red) Light
If you struggle with acne, wrinkles, age spots, joint inflammation, or pain raise your hand.
If you are not raising your hand, you are either a newborn baby or Christie Brinkley. For everyone else, I’m right there with you. Besides having the usual concerns associated with getting older, I also have an ongoing battle with acne and a nagging bicep tendon issue that just won’t go the f*** away.
So when I heard that there may be a way I could tackle these issues by exposing myself to something as seemingly simple as red light, I was intrigued. While I’ve written about blue light and its negative impact on sleep; red light? This I had to try.
Here’s what I discovered.
Light. More Than Meets the Eye
While most of us consider the sun a bright orange ball in the sky that makes us hot, sweaty, and happy all at the same time, its rays are actually made up of a whole spectrum of colors. These colors include violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red, and they each reach the earth via different wavelengths.
Just so we’re on the same page, or should I say wavelength (see how I did that?!), let me explain. The sun’s light hits the earth’s atmosphere in waves (if we’re going to get technical, sunlight is actually electromagnetic radiation, which sounds sort of scary, so let’s just stick with calling it “light”). When scientists measure the length from one wave’s crest to the next, they call it a “wavelength.”
Each visible color from the sun has its own wavelength.
Including red light.
Fun fact: Rainbows are the only way a human can view the sun’s spectrum with the naked eye. This happens when sunlight reflects off from water droplets and reveals its individual colors through some magical process of light refraction. The other way to see the individual rays of color is by using a billion dollar telescope purchased from NASA. You choose which method works best for you.
The Wavelength of Red Light
The sun has a hella lot of wavelengths, with ultraviolet light being somewhere around 300 – 400 nanometers (nm), the visible light spectrum around 400 – 700 nm, and infrared light around 700 – 1000 nm. This may seem like more information than you really need to know (because, nanometers), but it’s actually relevant to the overall article. Stay with me.
Remember how I told you that each color of the spectrum has its own wavelength range? Red and near-infrared light’s wavelength is around 600 – 900 nm.
Tuck this number away, it’ll matter later.
Why (Wave) Length Matters
So back to red light and how it can actually help you.
We already know that sunlight has proven to be both beneficial and harmful to humans. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, for example, can result in serious life-altering conditions like wrinkles and sun spots. And, oh yeah, cancer.
On a side note, Vitamin D3, a super important nutrient for human health, is obtained through UV rays too. Now that creates a bit of a conundrum, doesn’t it?
Anyway, UV rays are on the shorter end of the wavelength spectrum, being somewhere around 300 – 400 nm. The shorter a wavelength, the more radioactive energy it contains, and the more harmful it can be to the human body. X-rays, for example, have even shorter wavelengths than UV rays, so this is why you have to wear that crazy vest of steel when near a working x-ray machine.
However, in a mysterious twist of fate, studies indicate that human cell’s respond positively to longer wavelengths, especially those of red and near-infrared light.
But how? And why?
Red Light: How and Why it Works
Back in the 1990s, a NASA-led study discovered that the wavelengths of red and near-infrared light could stimulate plant growth in space. Because the space shuttle needed houseplants I guess. Regardless, some smart person decided that maybe, just maybe, this same type of light could benefit astronauts too (apparently enduring a weightless state for a lengthy period of time wreaks havoc on bones and muscle tissue, who knew?). So back to the lab they went and bada boom bada bing, it worked!
And red light therapy was born.
Disclaimer: Scientists and healthcare professionals refer to the therapeutic use of red light as “low level light therapy” or “LLLT.” That’s because the wavelengths of beneficial light start with red and extend just a smidge beyond into the near-infrared range. However, infrared is invisible to the human eye, so light emitted during LLLT is red in color. That’s why I choose to call it “red light therapy.” And because it’s just plain easier to say.
Today, the FDA recognizes the benefits of red light therapy for a variety of skin conditions and has approved various devices for this purpose. However, many claim that the benefits of red light extend beyond dermatology issues, also helping with joint pain, accelerated healing, and muscle recovery.
How, you ask?
Well, according to Asheesh Gupta, PhD, Daniela Vecchio, PhD, Magesh Sadasivam, MTech, and a whole list of others names I can’t begin to pronounce, it’s because:
“The photons are absorbed by mitochondrial chromophores in skin cells. Consequently electron transport, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) nitric oxide release, blood flow, reactive oxygen species increase and diverse signaling pathways get activated. Stem cells can be activated allowing increased tissue repair and healing.”
While that explanation couldn’t be clearer, I’ll restate it in English.
Apparently red and near-infrared light can penetrate human tissue more deeply than other light wavelengths. In doing so, red light stimulates the mitochondria – the energy producers inside each of our cells – which results in improved cellular health and functioning. Thus, improved cellular performance = improved healing in humans.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy
One of my favorite red lights, the Joovv at joovv.com states this:
- Improved skin tone and complexion
- Enhanced muscle recovery
- Reduced acne, rosacea, and eczema
- Improved appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, scars, and stretch marks
- Enhanced circulation
- Quicker healing of wounds and injuries
- Reduced pain and inflammation
- Increased circulation, via the formation of new capillaries, is responsible for some benefits. Or, in other words, more blood and oxygen helps deliver proper nutrients to damaged areas in the body.
- Enhanced activity within your lymph system leads to a reduction in swelling and inflammation.
- Increased collagen production, which directly relates to the elasticity, firmness, and fullness of your skin.
So Can I Just Buy a Red Lightbulb at Walmart Then?
No. Remember waaaayyyy back at the start of this article I mentioned that the wavelength of red and near-infrared light was around 600 – 900 nm? Here’s where that number becomes important.
For a red light device to work, it must utilize the correct wavelength. This number should be somewhere around that 600 – 900 nm range. Outside of this, the benefits of red light are reduced or non-existent.
But that’s not all. There are a whole lot of other factors like joules and photo flux that determine how effective red light can be.
If buying your own red light unit feels a little intimidating, don’t worry; some dermatologists offer red light therapy, as do some spas and natural health clinics. Knowing the wavelength and energy output of their equipment is more of a mystery, but if you find a provider who utilizes an FDA approved unit, you’re golden. Or actually red. But whatever.
Red Light Therapy: Did It Work for Me?
I purchased the GembaRed light for $299. If that makes you cough, you are not going to like the cost of other reputable red lights on the market. The Joovv light, for a similar sized unit is $695. And the cost only goes up from there.
The GembaRed puts out red light at wave lengths of 75 Red 630nm, 75 Deep Red 660nm, and 75 Near Infrared 850nm* (those important ranges remember).
I have been using mine for about 5 months. I will usually set it up on my desk while I work in my sports bra at home or I will hold it near my face, chest and over my bum biceps tendon while hanging upside down on my inversion table. No, you don’t need to be hanging upside down while undergoing this red light :D. It’s just my self care time. And what better thing do I have to do while my ankles are strapped in my Teeter.
What I have seen over the last 5 months is a noticeable difference in scars on my face from acne as well as significant improvement in breakouts. Last winter I would break out in small areas of my face with those giant painful zits. After having used my red light regularly, breaks outs have decreased to nearly nothing and if those nasty zits do try to come in, they don’t last very long. I don’t feel the need to even wear make-up most days right now. Keep in mind there are a host of factors that cause acne including diet and hormones. I do like to stick to a paleo type diet and undergo blood and hormone testing regularly to make sure all is in optimal ranges… and I would still break out.
As far as my bicep tendon goes, I have been struggling with an inflamed and dysfunctional bicep tendon for two years. I have had an MRI done, physical therapy, massage, RPR (reflexive performance reset), scraping and a cortisone shot with very little improvement. And that goes for the red light therapy as well. Even though there is research and reports showing red light helping with inflammation and many types of joint issues, I haven’t seen those results as of yet.
In the mean time, I will be fighting off those wrinkles, acne and scars with my GembaRed! Want to buy your own with a little discount? Enter GetFit10 at checkout.