Light therapy—also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), is a natural, non-invasive therapy that delivers beneficial wavelengths of light to your skin and cells. There are many lights the human eye can see but there also many more the human eye can not see. Only a select range of red and near-infrared light is clinically therapeutic for the purposes of PBM.
When we decided to purchase red light therapy I looked at all the options out there. I was least concerned about price and most concerned with reliability and validity of the modality. You see, light therapy devices should use medical-grade LEDs to deliver clinical doses of light power to your skin, without heat, excess UV rays, drugs, chemicals, or major side effects.
A light therapy device harnesses therapeutic wavelengths of natural light and delivers it directly to your skin. The photons of red and near-infrared (NIR) react with the mitochondria in your cells to help create energy pellets called ATP.
How it works is the light at these specific wavelengths stimulate electrons during aerobic metabolism allowing increases in free Nitric Oxide (NO). NO is a vasodilator allowing for more blood flow and possible oxygenation of the cells. For more information about NO, refer to my previous post.
In addition, natural red and NIR light can help create a better oxidative environment in your cells, resulting in the activation of numerous intracellular signaling pathways, increased protein synthesis, enzyme activation, and enhanced cell cycle progression. It was recently discovered that red and NIR light can help restore healthy gut microbiome as well.
Ultimately we know certain wavelengths of light are highly beneficial and we want to maximize our exposure to these wavelengths without overexposing ourselves to harmful (UV) wavelengths. Thus having the red light with NIR in the clinic allows us to harness these benefits safely and efficiently.
Clinically-Proven Health Benefits
Light therapy has been studied in clinical trials around the world for decades. NASA started looking at the effects of light in the 1990s. Luckily, light therapy has been found safe and effective at promoting a wide range of pretty incredible health benefits.
These are some of the major areas that are backed by a large body of clinical research
Skin Health & Anti-Aging: Studies have found light therapy improves skin tone and complexion, diminishes signs of aging, speeds the healing of wounds and scars, and boosts natural collagen production. In one study, 74% of the participants reported a visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. Natural red and near-infrared light has also been found to have a positive effect on skin conditions like psoriasis, herpes, and acne.
Muscle Recovery & Physical Performance: Red light helps you recover from workouts and stimulates muscle growth was well. One study out of Europe all demonstrated increased muscle size and strength in a group that used red light with strength training.
Joint Pain & Inflammation: In 2000, a systematic review in The Journal of Rheumatology set out to see just how effective light therapy could be for arthritis. This review found significant results across thirteen randomized controlled trials. Rheumatoid arthritis appears to respond very well to red light therapy.
Healing Wounds & Burns: Red light therapy has been shown in trials to aid the healing of wounds and scars by inducing the release of cytokines and chemokines in cells. In a 2018 study of light therapy and chronic wounds in diabetes patients, researchers found that the group treated with an LED device for 8 weeks resulted in scars with a smaller mean surface area compared to the non-LED group. We love using red light after some of the ablative aesthetic treatments we do in the office to decrease the downtime of our patients.
Melatonin & Sleep: Light therapy can help regulate melatonin and improve sleep.
What to Look for in a Light Therapy Device
We have done the work to make sure we are using a quality product that gives you a therapeutic dose. But here are some items of interest and why we chose the Joovv.
1. Clinically-Proven Wavelengths
The full spectrum of light is very wide and includes several colors, as well as invisible wavelengths. But all light is not beneficial. For wavelengths to be therapeutic, they need to be between about 600 to 1,200 nanometers. Red and near-infrared light—especially between 600-950 nm—has been studied extensively and its positive effects have been well documented in clinical trials.
Red light in the mid-600 nm range and near-infrared in the mid-800 nm range appears to be the most beneficial.
2. Total Delivered Power
We wanted to make sure the exposure was enough for a therapeutic dose. So we went with 8 full panels. This allows for full-body coverage in only 10 minutes. We want to be reliable, valid and efficient!
Dr. Michael Hamblin, a leading PBM researcher with Harvard, says it best: “Total light energy is the most accurate and comprehensive way to measure the power of light therapy devices and treatments,” says Dr. Hamblin. “If you only account for irradiance—versus how much total energy a device delivers—you miss the larger picture of how light therapy positively benefits the person using it.”
So which light therapy devices deliver the greatest total power? For your reference, the 3rd-party data in the table below is from ITL (Independent Testing Laboratories), one of the most respected photo-diagnostic companies in the world. I found this comparison chart on Ben Greenfield’s blog:
Here are the key takeaways:
- Joovv delivers superior therapeutic power
3. Treatment Area Size
The total energy your body receives—which is the most important data point—is a direct function of three things:
- The quality of the source. Cheap LED devices and NIR heat lamps are extremely inefficient
- The distance you are from the device. The farther you are, the less energy dose you’ll receive
- The size of the device. If you’re after full-body light therapy (which you should be), you’ll need a full-body device.
4. Cleared by the FDA
This was the game-changer for me. Joovv was the only light therapy device cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is an important distinction for photobiomodulation devices in particular because Class II FDA clearance requires a light therapy manufacturer to pass rigorous safety & quality tests for every component part that makes up a device.
Light Therapy FAQs
Here are some answers to some of the more common question I am asked from patients:
Is light therapy safe? Are there side effects? Can you do too much?
First, with an FDA-cleared device, it’s safe and comes with little to no side effects. And I’m not the only one that thinks this. A major 2013 study by Harvard and MIT researchers praised light therapy for its “noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects.”
Regarding overuse, you can overdo just about anything that’s good for you, but it’s hard to get too much light therapy. I stick to 20-minute treatment sessions because the body of scientific literature says that particular energy dose is optimal and safe. But even if you did more, it’s hard to imagine a lot of negative effects. At a reasonable latitude, basking naked in the sun in all your glory, you’ll receive about 1 million joules of full spectrum light in about 1 hour. That’s a lot! By comparison, at a distance of about 6”, I get about 200,000 joules of red and NIR light standing in front of my Joovv for 10 minutes.
What do you do with a light therapy device and where do you use it?
You don’t have to do a whole lot. Just stand or sit in front of a high-quality device for 10-20 minutes a day (yes, you should be naked). I usually work or answer emails, but sometimes I get a little more meditative while the red and NIR light shines over my whole body.
You can do it anywhere you want. I Joovv in my office so I feel rejuvenated ahead of the work day. But there’s no wrong place to do it as long as you do it regularly. Some people hang their Joovv on a door, others mount it on a wall or use a mobile stand to get their red light wherever. A lot of people I talk to use it in their bathroom, or even in their workout area.
Is light therapy different from heat lamps?
Yes, and the answer is right in the name: heat. High-quality LED light therapy devices give off very little heat, and as I’ve written about before, heat can be bad news for your testicles and testosterone. Heat lamps simply don’t offer the clinically-proven wavelengths and total power output of a good LED light therapy device. For more specifics, check out the table and graph I included above.
Is LED flicker an issue?
Short answer: no, not with a high-quality LED light therapy device. But if you go with a bargain option, it might be.
Long answer: I’ve previously written that LED flicker can be a bad thing. But it largely comes down to these 3 factors:
- Cheap LEDs that you can pick up at the local Lowes or Home Depot may have a significant flicker rate, which can lead to eye strain, fatigue, and other uncool side effects. Stay away.
- The LEDs I mentioned above emit a lot of blue light. And if you know me, I’m not a fan of blue light after sunset. It disrupts your circadian rhythm, which impacts pretty much everything we do, especially sleep.
- If you get a cheap light therapy device without verified data and safety, all bets are off. But if you go with a high-quality light therapy product like a Joovv, you can trust that the flicker percentages are not just extremely low, but they’ve been tested by independent, 3rd-party sources.
What about EMFs?
There’s still a lot that we don’t know about EMFs and how they affect our health. But here’s my 5-second take, which I cover more in depth in the podcast “The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs: How to Fix Our Stupid Use of Technology“. Basically, less than 100 years ago, our ancestors didn’t have to deal with things like EMFs. And with modern-day technology, you can’t reasonably expect that our biological systems can adapt that fast. So obviously, I try to minimize my exposure as much as possible.
So I did my homework on the Joovv and their design. Here’s what I found:
- Every LED driver inside a Joovv is encased in aluminum, which acts as a natural shield to EMFs.
- Power cords are notorious for emitting EMFs. Joovv actually custom-designed their power cords using 3 different manufacturing techniques to proactively minimize EMFs.
- As I mentioned before, their devices are cleared by the FDA. With that, you actually have to pass EMF testing. One more reason to go with a device that’s passed the FDA sniff test.
I’m always science-first, and the clinical research on light therapy is very convincing, for both effectiveness and safety. But ultimately I talk about light therapy so much because of what I’ve felt personally, and what I’ve seen in my friends and fitness colleagues. Since I started incorporating Joovv into my daily routine, I have more energy and testosterone, I recover from workouts faster, I sleep better, my skin is healthier, I feel positive and motivated after my treatments, and I can hit the work day running. Whether you’re looking for systemic benefits like weight management, sleep, testosterone and muscle building, or just trying to rehab from an injury or get a cosmetic skin boost, I highly recommend red and near-infrared light therapy, especially the full-body kind.
I can’t recommend a Joovv more highly.
- Joovv is a science-first company that puts a huge amount of its resources towards education, service, and independent testing.
- Joovv is the only manufacturer with a modular design that lets you build a full-body system now—or over time. Coverage is key, and Joovv offers the industry’s biggest treatment area sizes at the most affordable prices.
- Joovv uses electrostatic-coated LEDs in their devices, which limits a lot of the energy loss you might see in shoddier PBM products. That means medical-grade power during shorter treatment times.
- Joovv gives me the option of switching between red and NIR light. Sometimes I like to be able to choose between the two if I’m after superficial or deep-tissue treatment.
- I trust Joovv’s manufacturing process. They’ve been cleared by the FDA, they minimize EMFs and flicker as much as possible, and I don’t feel any side effects from using it every day.
- The Joovv Go is a handy new travel device that’s just as powerful as the larger ones, but fits in the palm of your hand. It’s wireless and rechargeable too. I travel a ton, and this little guy is a game changer.
What is Red Light Therapy with Joovv?
How Red Light Therapy Works
Joovv Red Light Therapy (RLT) works by exposing the body to red and infrared light which excites the body’s electrons. Electron excitation helps to break up nitric oxide bonds and facilitate the movement of H+ ions through the cellular respiration process, expediting mitochondrial production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (Bonafim Negri, et al., 2019). ATP molecules function as cellular energy factories and storehouses. The energy created and stored by ATP molecules in cells enable cellular functioning, including reparative and generative processes.
Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy
ATP production stemming from Red Light Therapy (RLT) serves to promote healthy cellular functioning, thus improving energy levels and cellular reparative and generative functions. The stimulation of these processes improve overall physical functioning. Specifically, the benefits of RLT include promoting antioxidant production which reduce oxidative stress and increase the production of heat proteins, these functions improve cellular reparative processes. As well as improving circulation which also functions to improve cellular reparative processes by introducing more oxygen and nutrients and facilitating the expulsion of toxic byproducts. Further, the acceleration of cellular generative processes produced by RLT stimulates the production of collagen necessary for healthy hair, skin, and connective tissue. RLT also decreases cytokine levels and increases the number of immune cells, increasing the body’s anti-inflammatory capacities. Exposure to red and infrared light has also been shown to facilitate the production of melatonin which aids in regulating circadian rhythms. As well, RLT may improve the dispersion of lipids in adipocytes as well as regulating and reducing the levels of leptin and ghrelin, thus facilitating weight loss.
Scientific Studies Validating Red Light Therapy
Light therapy such as RLT is well-established in its ability to support the body’s natural processes, including the growth, proliferation, and migration of the body’s cells. RLT has been shown in one study to improve the body’s endothelial cells, such as those in the body’s vascular system (Rohringer, et al., 2017). Red light phototherapy also is known to stimulate the growth of cells to support wound healing (Anders, et al., 2019; Princess, et al., 2019). RLT may even be effective in the treatment of temporomandibular disorders (Al-Quisi, et al., 2019).
Anders, J., et al. (2019). “Light-Emitting Diode Phototherapy and Low-Level Light Therapy are Photobiomodulation Therapy.” Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine, and Laser Surgery, 37(2): 63-65.
Al-Quisi, et al. (2019). “Efficacy of the LED Red Light Therapy in the Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders: Double Blind Randomized Controlled Trial.” Pain Research and Treatment, doi: 10.1155/2019/8578703.
Bonafim Negri, L, Martins, T.J., da Silva, R.S., and Hamblin, M.R. (2019). “Photobiomodulation combined with photodynamic therapy using ruthenium phthalocyanine complexes in A375 melanoma cells: Effects of nitric oxide generation and ATP production.” Photobiology B: Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2019.111564.
Princess, M., et al. (2019). “Effectiveness of Infra Red Light Therapy and Sitzbath on Episiotomy Wound Healing Status and Level of Pain Perception among Postnatal Mothers in OBG Ward at Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences.” International Journal of Advances in Nursing Management, 7(3): 267-270.
Rohringer S, et al. (2017). “The impact of wavelengths of LED light-therapy on endothelial cells.” Nature Scientific Reports, 7:1-11.