Photobiomodulation and cold exposure. Two very powerful biohacking tools on their own – but when combined, they enhance one another even more. In this article we’ll inform you on all you need to know about cold exposure, how it benefits photobiomodulation and how to combine them for the maximum beneficial outcome!
What is cold exposure?
Let’s deep-dive straight into the ice-cold topic of cold exposure and red light technology. Both red light technology and cold exposure are great tools in the biohacking community to enhance both your mental and physical wellbeing, therefore extending the healthspan and increasing longevity. (1)
We write quite a lot about red light, red light technology and all the countless benefits that come with them both, but today we’ll explain how to widen your biohacking-bubble. Today we’re not talking about the different components and gadgets from the biohacking toolkit, but how you can combine them for even more effective and efficient results.
Cold exposure is most commonly known in the field of sports and used mostly for and by sports professionals. However, cold exposure is becoming more and more mainstream and popular. Simultaneously the number of research being published on the positive benefits of cold exposure is increasing day by day.
So what exactly is cold exposure? While the term “cold exposure” may sound like jumping into an icy cold and close-to frozen lake, there is a wide range of different techniques and methods out there to get started: Such as the Kneipp therapy, cryotherapy tanks, or most commonly under starters: cold showers at home. When we speak about the context of cold exposure in combination with photobiomodulation, we are talking about a full-body immersion in water below 10 degrees. If you’re considering trying out cold exposure, as always when it comes to trying out something new to you: start slow, gradually decrease the temperature and gradually increase the duration, to give your body enough time to adapt. (2)
The benefits of cold exposure:
You might however think to yourself “Why should I endure this torture? What possible benefits could this have on me?” – when it comes to cold exposure, it’s really most of all a challenge between silencing the mind and doing good for and to your body. The benefits cold exposure has on the body are more commonly presented in newspapers, blogs, etc. as they are more objective, meaning the difference between individuals isn’t as great. Benefits for our mind are more subjective. (3)
What are these benefits we’re talking about so much?
- Increasing energy and focus- Building mental and physical resilience
- Boosting the mood by releasing dopamine
- Increasing metabolism
- Supporting muscle recovery and reducing muscle soreness
… just to name a few! (4), (5)
As you can see, cold exposure is a great tool in the biohacking kit, becoming more and more popular. But it doesn’t stop there – one of the greatest things about the biohacking toolbox: they all complement and benefit each other! Meaning that you get even more out of them all.
How cold exposure affects and benefits the outcome of red light usage
Before we get started on this section, we want to point out that when we talk about photobiomodulation, we mean specific wavelengths of red light, reaching from 600nm up to 900nm. When talking about photobiomodulation, people often think of infrared saunas or compare PBM to infrared saunas, as the proposed working method seems similar – as both devices (red light panels like ours, and infrared saunas) use wavelengths of light to irradiate the body. However, the method of action is inherently different in infrared saunas than in photobiomodulation devices that use red and near-infrared light – the most obvious one being that infrared saunas convert to heat when reaching the body. These wavelengths however do not travel through the layers of the skin, or even deeper to the mitochondria, as red- and NIR light waves do. But what does this have to do with cold exposure? Well, when using red- or NIR light, cold exposure before a session can multiply the benefits of photobiomodulation! To be more precise: the temperature of the skin has an impact on the result of your red-light session, with colder temperatures enhancing the benefits and warmer temperatures limiting the results.
Cold exposure allows the light to penetrate even deeper into the skin – means, even more benefits!
So, to get even more out of the red-light, why not take a cold shower beforehand?
Why temperature impact the effects of red light?
When we take a look at scientific research in the recent past, a few exciting findings on the correlation between photobiomodulation and temperature came to show. These findings show that heat might harm the effectiveness of photobiomodulation, as it alters/blocks its working mechanism.
On the contrary, other research papers have explored the intersection of photobiomodulation and cold exposure. This area of research is still relatively new, so there are still a lot of experiments to be conducted. However, a group of researchers has found that after cold exposure the effectiveness of red light had bettered and that the wavelengths had penetrated deeper into the skin than without cold exposure. (6)
But why does temperature have such an impact on the effectiveness of red light?
One possible explanation or hypothesis might be the body’s ability to adapt to the cold. The blood vessels’ vasoconstriction protects the main organs such as heart and lungs. When the body cools down, it tries to retain the warm blood in the core, a mechanism to ensure survival by cutting off the blood supply to external (and “not crucial for survival”) areas, such as the arms and legs. When these exterior areas are compressed, most of your blood comes back to your core. As soon as the the danger of the cold is over and the brain feels safe again, the compression is released and the blood rushes through the entire body in an increased blood flow and circulation, reaching even the tiniest blood vessels of the skin – you can see this as the skin turns red.
In this phase – when the blood comes rushing back – the body seems to be more susceptible to the light by “turning inside out” and rushing blood to all parts of the body and upping circulation. This could also lead to the possibility of red and near-infrared light during photobiomodulation to reach the free-flowing mitochondria within your blood more effortlessly. (7)
How to include cold exposure in your daily routine,
together with red light technology
– Cold Showers
There are many options to include a little cold exposure into your daily routine. The most common and popular one being a cold shower. Taking cold showers already comes with many benefits of cold exposure, such as boosting your immune system and metabolism, increasing endorphins, helping in muscle recovery or as we’ve mentioned above already; increased blood circulation. (8), (9)
How to cold shower correctly? Temperatures have to be 70°F / 21°C or lower to be considered “cold showers”. It is often recommended to have a cold shower 2-3 times per week, at around 5 minutes each. However, if you’re only now getting started, it’s important to listen to your body and to start slow!
After your shower, start your Luminousred machine (at best with as much exposed skin as possible) and fuel your cells. There is also the option of shining the red light on you while still in the shower – just make sure that the water doesn’t get too close to the panels.
If you want to switch things up a bit and try out new things
Cryotherapy – which literally means “cold therapy” – is a technique where the body is exposed to extreme cold temperatures during a longer timespan. It is most commonly applied to the whole body, where you stand in a chamber (with an opening on the top for your head), but cryotherapy can also be delivered to single areas by using ice packs, ice massages, cooling sprays or ice baths for single body parts. (10)
Mostly known in the medical field, cryotherapy can only be applied with and through a medical or healthcare provider. When using cryotherapy in a cooling chamber, as it is most commonly applied, the enclosure drops to between – 200~300°F (up to -170°C). However, as cold exposure is flowing more and more into the area of wellness and well-being, it is also becoming more mainstream and accessible to all. To create this severe cold, substances such as liquid nitrogen or argon gas are used. The individual will stay in this ultra-low temperature for between two and four minutes. You may think “but how can these extremely low temperatures be GOOD for me?!”. The human body cools down much faster in cold water than in cold air, meaning that your body’s temperature won’t drop immediately. Since the air is also very dry with close to no moisture, it’s a different kind of cold. People usually describe their experience during cryotherapy as “very cold, but absolutely durable”. (11), (12)
Usually you experience the benefits of cold exposure after just one cryotherapy-session, however, cryotherapy is most effective when used on a regular basis.
– Coachings and Workshops
If you want to go even deeper into the topic, a next step would be to try out workshops on cold exposure. Again, jumping into freezing cold lakes is an extreme procedure that you should not do on your own. It is crucial to have an expert by your side or another person that can help you out when you need it. How do you get started? Thankfully, experts like Rolf Duda, host workshops and seminars on a regular basis to help train and prepare you for the experience both mentally and physically. We’ve gotten more in depth on cold exposure-expert Rolf in one of our earliest blogposts. His courses are built after the “WimHof method”, focussing on breathwork, cold-training and mindset. The courses vary from beginner to expert, so you’re sure to find your perfect match.
Conclusion of the Article
To conclude, cold exposure is a biohacking tool worth trying – as it has countless positive benefits to give. However, it’s not called “cold exposure” for nothing and should be used and applied correctly. So before you jump head first into a freezing cold lake, it’s better to start by taking a cold shower at home every now and then to get your body used to temperatures it’s usually not exposed to.
As another benefit, taking a cold shower before your red-light session has been shown to increase the benefits of photobiomodulation as well, by allowing the light waves to penetrate even deeper into the skin. So, before you start your next session with Luminousred, why not take a short, cold shower before?
(1), (2): Therapeutic hypothermia and controlled normothermia in the intensive care unit: practical considerations, side effects, and cooling methods. Mar 2009
(3) Rapid habituation of the cold shock response. Sep 2015
(7) Blood contains circulating cell‐free respiratory competent mitochondria. Jan 2020