Here’s Why Red Light Therapy might be the best solution for soothing Anxiety and Depression

Red Light Therapy and How It Affects the Brain

Red light therapy (RLT), also known as photobiomodulation (PMB), is an innovative biohacking treatment that uses red and near-infrared (NIR) light to supercharge your cells and, as a result, boost overall health and wellness.

When red and NIR wavelengths of light are absorbed into the skin, it affects the body’s cellular health, improving an individual’s health and longevity from the cellular level. These wavelengths of light have been shown to have significant benefits on the body since they are able to penetrate into the skin much deeper.

As a natural, non-invasive option for mental health, NIR wavelengths may be more effective in near-infrared wavelengths are scientifically proven to effectively aid in depression, because they can reach deeper into body tissues than red light to reach the brain and affect brain cells directly.[1]

Once red and NIR wavelengths are absorbed into your body, it essentially stimulates your cells to increase energy production and anti-inflammatory responses. Red light therapy increases the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the mitochondria, which is used to fuel every bodily function.

According to modern research on depression, when red light is absorbed by the mitochondria, this kickstarts a natural process that results in boosting cerebral metabolism, improving neuroplasticity, and decreasing inflammation.[2] More natural light for your brain cells has also been shown to improve the metabolic capacity of your neurons, increase oxygen consumption, and promote ATP production in cells. [3]

Red Light Therapy for Mental Health

In a recent study, researchers found that red light therapy offers a promising treatment for major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury. Red light therapy is also effective for dealing with day-to-day stress and anxiety[4].

Other significant benefits include[5]:

  • Can help soothe depression
  • Can reduce chronic stress and anxiety
  • Remission of despair
  • Might improve mental health

General Anxiety and Depression

To better understand how red light therapy can affect mental health issues like depression, we must first understand how the brain in relation to depression and anxiety.

These are three factors that can happen in the brain to cause or increase depression levels:

  1. Neurotransmitter (chemical) imbalance
  2. Decreased cell energy
  3. Reduced blood flow to the brain

All of these factors can have the potential to harm brain cells. Since damage to brain cells plays a big role in depression, it is reasonable to assume that by increasing blood flow to the brain, damaged brain cells would get repaired and healthy blood cells would replace the damaged ones, resulting in an improved mental state.

Increasing blood flow to the brain is one of the many amazing benefits of red light therapy, which is why red light therapy is an extremely promising natural, non-invasive option for both depression and anxiety.

Red light therapy has been proven to have the following direct and systemic effects that result in reducing anxiety and improving one’s mood:

  • Increased energy
  • Balancing circadian rhythms
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Reducing oxidative stress
  • Improving neurogenesis and synaptogenesis

Current Research on Treating Depression and Anxiety with Red Light Therapy

Several studies show that red light therapy has significant therapeutic effects on people suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Here are a few:

A 2009 study was conducted on the brains of stroke patients with major depression. Patients received, in random order, 4 minutes of treatment to the left forehead and right forehead as well as placebo treatment to the same areas. Depression and anxiety symptoms were measured immediately after each treatment, and again after 2 and 4 weeks.

Participants showed significant improvement on the positive and negative affect scale (PANAS) immediately after exposure to treatment, but not after exposure to placebo. Six out of 10 patients were in remission two weeks post-treatment.[6]

In a 2015 study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of red light therapy on traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms. A single patient received 20 near-infrared light treatments over 2 months. Symptoms were measured using clinical examination and a patient diary system. The patient showed significant improvements in depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and cognition and quality of life were improved as well.[7]

Another 2019 study showed that transcranial photobiomodulation improves depression and anxiety symptoms by increasing serotonin levels and decreasing both cortisol and nitric oxide in the brain[8].

In 2018, a team of mental health researchers conducted a study to test the effects of “transcranial near-infrared light therapy,” which is the natural light that’s shined on a person’s head. People with depression responded extremely well to 8 weeks of natural light treatments. The researchers found that (1) light therapy applied directly to patients’ heads demonstrated antidepressant properties in patients with major depressive disorder, and (2) natural light treatments were well tolerated by patients, with no serious side effects or negative reactions[9].

Another research in 2016 focused on studies examining the link between MDD and certain biological processes, namely brain metabolism, inflammation, neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons), and oxidative stress. The researchers concluded that red light therapy offers a “promising treatment” for major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury.[10]

Even Dr. Marc Schoen of UCLA Medical School, who has over 25 years of experience treating mental health disorders, said, “In tandem with psychotherapy, using red light therapy appears to catapult patients out of an acute depressive state faster than any other modality.”

“Using pharmaceutical interventions, along with psychotherapy and/or hypnosis, for patients with acute, recurrent major depressive episodes requires extended periods of time for results to materialize,” said Dr. Schoen. “Adding red and NIR light therapy appears to significantly speed up the healing process.”

More and larger clinical studies will be required in the coming years regarding the effectiveness of red light therapy for mental health issues. However, for now, there is enough supporting evidence to suggest it can produce significant antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in the brain, as already discussed.

Showering the Brain at Home with Red Light Therapy

Based on the studies mentioned above, red light therapy appears to be a promising new, drug-free alternative for both anxiety and depression.

While red light therapy should not be used as a replacement to talk therapy and prescribed medication, it does offer an alternative for dealing with anxiety and depression that is safe and easy to use at home for optimal self-care.

Sample Application: How to Use RLT for Depression

  • Device to use
    • Our Model 1 Pro is the ideal device to use, because of its size and coverage area. Shop the Model1 Pro and our other RLT devices here.
  • Duration
    • 13 minutes is the optimal duration
  • Distance
    • We recommend positioning the device 2 inches away from your face.
  • Wavelength:
    • For optimal results, we recommend 850nm (NIR light).
Use Case Depression by Luminousred

Try Red-Light Therapy Today

If you’re interested in trying out red light therapy, try out our red light therapy devices.

To get the most out of your red light therapy device, use it on other parts of the body. Browse through the articles on our blog to discover the many whole-body applications for red light therapy.


[1] MECHANISMS OF LOW-LEVEL LIGHT THERAPY. Hamblin. 2008

[2] Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial. Cassano, P. et. al. 2018

[3] The potential of transcranial photobiomodulation therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Salehpour, F. & Hossein Rasta, S. 2017

[4] Improvement in Depression Scores After 1 Hour of Light Therapy Treatment in Patients With Seasonal Affective Disorder. Reeves. M. G. et. al. 2017

[5] Improvement in Depression Scores After 1 Hour of Light Therapy Treatment in Patients With Seasonal Affective Disorder. Reeves. M. G. et. al. 2017

[6] Psychological benefits 2 and 4 weeks after a single treatment with near-infrared light to the forehead: a pilot study of 10 patients with major depression and anxiety. Schiffer, F. et. al. 2009

[7] SPECT Perfusion Imaging Demonstrates Improvement of Traumatic Brain Injury With Transcranial Near-infrared Laser Phototherapy. Henderson, F. A. & Morries, L. D. 2015

[8] Transcranial photobiomodulation prevents anxiety and depression via changing serotonin and nitric oxide levels in the brain of depression model mice: A study of three different doses of 810 nm laser. Eshaghi, E. et. al. 2019

[9] Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial. Cassano, P. et. al. 2018

[10] Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis. Cassano, P. et. al. 2016