Red Light Therapy; Could it be an alternative to the natural health benefits of Sunlight?

In this article, we walk you through the healing power of natural light and how to use it to enhance your health, as well as how red light therapy can be a safe and convenient alternative to “supplement” some benefits of sunlight in the comfort of our own home.

The Healing Power of Light

The sun contains a full spectrum of light. Some light is visible to the human eye, and others are not.

Visible light consists of a range of colors that travel in waves, which can be seen on the electromagnetic spectrum. Each color has a different and specific wavelength, frequency, and energy level, which affect its length and intensity.

On one side of the spectrum is red light, which has the longest wavelengths and lowest frequency; on the other is violet light, which has the shortest wavelengths and highest frequency.

The 5 Types of Bioactive Light

The different colors of light – blue, UV, red, and infrared – affect our bodies differently. They are “bioactive”, which means they affect the function of our cells. Within those colors are different wavelengths that promote unique effects, depending on their penetrability. It is important to know the specific wavelengths, because each one penetrates your body to a different degree, thereby giving a different effect.

🔵BLUE LIGHT sets the circadian rhythm in our brain, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. A lot of biohackers hack their circadian rhythm as in today’s daily life; we have an overdose of blue light (especially in our working environment through screens, mobile phones, and fluorescent lights).

🟣UV LIGHT allows us, humans, to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. It keeps bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. Also, it supports our immune system, brain, and nervous system health. UV light is also responsible for our suntans, but too much UV exposure is damaging to our tissue, resulting in sunburns.

FAR INFRARED LIGHT acts to heat up our cells which then help stimulate cell function as well as cellular changes. We often feel this as heat, and this technology is commonly used in “infrared saunas”.

🔴RED LIGHT emits wavelengths of between 620-700 nm and acts on the mitochondria to stimulate increased cellular energy, called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Visible red light within this range can penetrate the skin, offering rejuvenating and balancing outcomes for a variety of health conditions.

NEAR-INFRARED LIGHT (NIR) is invisible to the naked eye and has a wavelength of 700nm to 1400nm. NIR is similar to red light, however, it can penetrate the skin much deeper than red light, including all soft tissue, connective tissue, and bone, which allows for effective treatment of neurological disorders and deep injuries.

The Many Health Benefits of Natural Light

Sunlight Boosts Vitamin D

Vitamin D production is one of the most well-known health benefits activated by exposure to sunlight. Maintaining proper vitamin D levels is crucial for our skeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, and immune systems to protect against disease, optimize physical performance, and improve mental health.

Other health benefits of vitamin D include[1]:

  • supporting healthy bones
  • managing calcium levels
  • reducing inflammation
  • supporting the immune system and glucose metabolism
  • helping take in and utilize certain minerals, like calcium and phosphorus

Sunlight Improves Sleep Quality

Research indicates that an hour of natural light in the morning will help you sleep better. Sunlight regulates your circadian rhythms by telling your body when to increase and decrease your melatonin levels. Therefore, the more sunlight you get in the morning, the better your body will produce melatonin at night.

Sunlight is Good for Your Mental Health

Being in the sun generally makes people feel good, and there are many scientific reasons for this effect.

Sunlight helps increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, which is associated with helping keep a person feel calm, positive, and focused. Without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels can dip, which puts you at a higher risk of major depression with seasonal patterns (also known as a seasonal affective disorder or SAD).

Exposure to UVB rays also causes the human skin to produce beta-endorphins, which are hormones that reduce pain.

Other benefits of beta-endorphins include[2]:

  • promoting a sensation of well-being and improving mood
  • boosting the immune system
  • relieving pain
  • promoting relaxation
  • helping wounds heal
  • helping people feel more alert
  • increasing job satisfaction, when a person’s workplace has access to sunlight
  • reducing depression

Sunlight Lowers Blood Pressure

When sunlight is absorbed into the skin, the body releases nitric oxide into the blood, which lowers blood pressure and improves heart health. Maintaining healthy blood pressure is important for reducing your risk of cardiac disease and stroke.

What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sunlight

When we don’t get enough sunlight, we are at risk of being vitamin D deficient, which puts us at risk for cancer, weakened immune systems, bone health issues, and cardiovascular disease.[3]

In fact, one study claims that deficiency in sunlight exposure is responsible for 340,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. According to the study, “it is related to all-cause mortality, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome (diabetes and obesity), Multiple Sclerosis, and respiratory disease. In recent years, red light therapy (Photobiomodulation) has gained popularity as an alternative to sunlight. However, while red light is helpful for increasing energy, improving mood, optimizing sleep, and relieving minor pain, IT IS NOT a substitute for natural full-spectrum sunlight. For starters, RLT does not allow to produce Vitamin D. Ideally, you want to get both in your daily routine – sunlight in the morning to help you wake up, boost vitamin D levels, improve mood, etc., and red light from a red-light therapy device to boost mitochondrial function and improve your overall health and wellness.

How Red Light Therapy Works

The human body is very responsive to light. All light is beneficial to some degree, but too much can be harmful. Red light and near-infrared (NIR) light are exceptions, as confirmed by thousands of independent studies.

Red light therapy involves shining red and/or NIR light onto the body to stimulate biological processes. When the body is exposed to red light, the light wavelengths stimulate the mitochondria to produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule that produces the energy our body needs to function so that it can heal tissue, cells, and systems.

Therefore, red light works as a stimulant for cells, similar to recharging a battery. In fact, the body works similarly to a battery, and our body’s ability to receive and maintain a charge determines our overall health.

More than 4000 studies and scientific reviews have been conducted to investigate the physiological effects of red light therapy. The main areas of therapeutic benefit include collagen production, repair and recovery of muscles, and relief from symptoms of illnesses that stem from some type of inflammatory response.

When you incorporate red-light therapy into your life, along with other aspects of a healthy lifestyle such as circadian rhythm optimization, a nutritious diet, proper sleep, exercise, and stress reduction, you can keep your cellular energy production and your immune system working at an optimal level.

Natural Sunlight vs. Red Light Therapy

Natural SunlightRed Light Therapy
Not always available (weather, time of day, location, etc.)Can be used at any time of the day, including night time
Only available outdoorsCan be used indoors
Natural, freeTreatment comes with costs
Has both healthy and unhealthy spectrums of lightHealthy spectrum of light (600-700nm)
Sunscreen is essential to prevent aging and skin damageNo sunscreen or protective clothing is needed
No variation in intensityIntensity can be adjusted through controls
UV light can lead to skin damageNo harmful UV light
Helps boost vitamin D productionNo vitamin D
Gives you a tanDoes not give you a tan
Health benefits such as pain reduction and healing from certain illnessesHealth benefits such as energy production, pain reduction, and collagen production

Red light therapy is a powerful tool with several health benefits. If you live somewhere with access to a good amount of sunlight, then it would be best to get both sunlight and red light. However, if you live in a place with limited sunlight or your schedule doesn’t allow for more time in the sun, then red light therapy is a great alternative to make up for the low amount of natural light available.

Sample Application: How to Use RLT to Help Manage Seasonal Depression (SAD)

The winter season can be rough on our mood and our sleep. Many people feel sluggish and melancholic as a result of shorter daylight hours, while cold and snowy weather can leave the sky gray for days.

In fact, the shortening days have the tendency to affect people physically and mentally — triggering anxiety, fatigue, loss of pleasure, and disruptions to sleep or appetite. These symptoms are collectively referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a general feeling of discomfort caused by daylight deprivation that typically goes away when spring and summer come.

The lack of sunlight during the winter months, coupled with artificial indoor lights and blue lights from our screens, all impact our circadian rhythm, which in turn affects our energy, mood, and sleep.

Since SAD is so strongly tied to light, light therapy (especially red light therapy) is a popular solution to chase away the holiday blues. The key is to do it consistently and properly.

Device to use: Model 1+2 Pro is ideal, due to its size and coverage area. Shop here.

Duration: 25 minutes is the optimal duration

Distance: We recommend positioning the device 5 inches away

Wavelength: For optimal results, we recommend 850nm (NIR light).

Summary
Daily exposure to sunlight reaps a wide range of benefits for our minds and bodies. However, too much exposure, especially if unprotected, can lead to damage to the skin, eyes, and immune system. ⁠
Red light therapy provides a safe alternative and is the ideal solution for those who want to maximize the benefits of sunlight exposure.⁠ However, red-light alone won’t stimulate vitamin D production in the skin, which you need sunlight for.

The best approach would be to receive moderate amounts of sunlight for vitamin D benefits, combined with regular red light therapy sessions for cellular energy production.

If you’re ready to boost your health and wellness with red light therapy, check out our high-quality red light devices!

Sources

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07315724.2015.1039866

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32918212/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400257/