Sunlight VS Red Light Therapy: Which is better for healthier skin?

The Healing Power of Natural Light

Exposure to sunlight is essential for our health and well-being. The health benefits of sunlight include:

  • Boosting vitamin D production, which is crucial for our skeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, and immune systems to protect against disease and optimize physical performance
  • Improving sleep quality, by regulating our circadian rhythms and melatonin levels
  • Improving our mental health by increasing serotonin production, which is a hormone associated with helping keep a person feel calm, positive, and focused
  • Lowering blood pressure and improving heart health by releasing nitric oxide into the blood

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.[1]

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.”[2]

What Happens When Get Too Much Sunlight

While there are many benefits to getting sunlight, the sun does emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation which can penetrate the skin and cause DNA damage. This can lead to sunburn, eye damage, and even skin cancer.

Researchers believe that excess sun exposure causes the three primary types of skin cancer, namely: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Researchers aren’t always clear on how long you should be outside to receive the benefits of sunlight. However, determining how much sun exposure is too much depends on your skin type and how direct the sun’s rays are.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how long you should stay outside in order to receive the benefits of sunlight since this is dependent on your skin type and how direct the sun’s rays are.

Generally, people with fair skin are more likely to get a sunburn than those with darker skin. You’re also more prone to get sunburn when the sun’s rays are more direct, which usually occurs around 10 AM and 4 PM.

According to the World Health Organization, getting between 5-15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face 2-3 times a week is sufficient to reap the sun’s benefit of boosting vitamin D. Note that the sun must be able to penetrate the skin. Wearing sunscreen or clothing over your skin will not result in vitamin D production.

However, if you’re going to be outside for more than 15 minutes, it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

How Much Sunlight is Enough?

This varies from person to person. It all depends on your skin tone, age, medical history, diet, and location.

In general, scientists believe that between 5-15 minutes is the optimal amount of time to maximize the sun’s benefits without causing any health risks, and up to 30 minutes if you’re darker-skinned. If you apply sunscreen, you can stay out longer and yet have the same effect. We recommend consulting your doctor to determine what is best for you.

Red Light Therapy as an Alternative to Sunlight

While it is clear that natural sunlight offers massive benefits, excess exposure to sunlight is associated with sunburns, skin cancer, eye damage, and aging. This is where red light therapy comes in.

In recent years, red light therapy (photobiomodulation) has gained popularity as an alternative to sunlight, because of the amount of convenience and control it offers (to set the intensity and wavelength). However, while red light is helpful for improving skin health, increasing energy, optimizing sleep, and relieving minor pain, IT IS NOT a substitute for natural full-spectrum sunlight.

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.

However, since getting regular doses of sunlight might not be possible for everyone (due to location, season, schedule, disability, or lifestyle), then red light therapy is a great and convenient alternative to make up for the low amount of natural light available from the comfort of our homes.

Red Light Therapy vs. Natural Sunlight

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 are 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 to Boost Skin Health

Red light therapy is not a quick fix that only treats the surface layers of the skin. While it does promote skin health, more importantly, it stimulates the start of several biological processes and improves your health from a cellular level.

RLT improves skin health and appearance by helping your cells rejuvenate and heal. Studies have also found an increase in circulation after a session, which indicate that tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients important for healing.[3] RLT also has a proven anti-inflammatory effect and can boost your own natural collagen levels.

Several studies confirm the potential for using red light therapy as a way to rejuvenate the skin by:[4]

  • increasing collagen production in the skin which gives the skin its elasticity[5]
  • increasing fibroblast production which helps produce collagen and other tissue fibers
  • increasing circulation between blood and tissue cells
  • protecting cells from damage
  • increasing mRNA in the cells which helps stimulate the cell
  • improving facial texture
  • reducing fine lines
  • reducing wrinkle severity

Red Light Therapy to Treat Sun Damage on the Skin

Excess sun exposure can damage skin and make us look older, with more wrinkles and fine lines. In one study of RLT’s effects on facial sunburn damage, researchers found that 91% of participants reported improved skin tone and 82% reported enhanced smoothness of their facial skin. Red light therapy was found to be especially effective for wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes.[7]

Red light therapy can also increase collagen in improving skin roughness and wrinkles, effectively treat melasma[2] and reduce hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin synthesis.[8]

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.

In essence, 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.

How To Use Red Light Therapy To Treat Skin Issues

There is no hard and fast rule for the duration of sessions. For some, 5 minutes is enough, while others may need longer sessions. As a rule of thumb, 10 minutes per day is a good amount of time to treat skin issues.

Generally, the closer you are to the light source, the deeper the light penetrates. For skin and other surface issues like hair growth and eye health, it’s best to position yourself a little further from your device, ideally 12-18 inches away. For deeper issues, a distance of 6 inches will be more effective. 

As to the frequency, red light therapy is safe to use every day. In fact, many people like to incorporate it into their daily routine. For the best results, we recommend having 3 sessions per week.

The key to success is consistency and patience. It’s important to remember that red light therapy is an inside-out approach that treats the root cause of skin conditions. Skin cells take about a month to regenerate and they don’t all regenerate at once, so you can expect to see results after around 1-4 months of consistent use.

How to Use RLT to Treat Sunburn

Device: Model1 Pro

Duration: 5-7 minutes

Distance: We recommend positioning the device 3 inches away from the illuminated area

Wavelength: For optimal results, we recommend 660nm (red light).

Summary

From treating skin conditions to improving mood, natural sunlight has many benefits. However, excess 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.⁠
⁠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 as well as several skin health benefits.

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

Sources

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

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

[3] Emília de Abreu Chaves M, Rodrigues de Araújo A, Piancastelli ACC, and Pinotti M. “Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED.” An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jul-Aug; 89(4): 616–623.

[4] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325884#skin-health

[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262881

[6] Baez F, Reilly LR. The use of light-emitting diode therapy in the treatment of photoaged skin. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2007 Sep.

[7] http://article.sapub.org/10.5923.j.ajdv.20140303.01.html

[8] https://www.medicaljournals.se/acta/content/html/10.2340/00015555-1319