Red Light Therapy: Benefits, Uses, and Effectiveness

Red Light Therapy: Benefits, Uses, and Effectiveness

Medically Reviewed by | Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, PCCN

Red light devices are popping up everywhere, from your favorite social media influencer’s feed to your doctor’s office. You want to know, are they hero or hype? We’ve got the answers, including what they are, how they work, whether they are a reliable treatment option for certain conditions, and how you can use them in your day-to-day life. 

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is part of a system of photomedicine that uses different wavelengths of light to restore the body, rejuvenate the skin, treat physical ailments, address chronic pain, speed workout recovery, improve and deepen sleep, and even help reverse the aging process. This type of treatment goes by other names, including photobiomodulation, LED light therapy, phototherapy, and near-infrared light therapy. 

Red light and near-infrared light (NIR light) are part of the electromagnetic spectrum of light emitted by the sun. Red light is visible, NIR light is invisible. These light waves are capable of penetrating the skin, reaching soft tissue and hard tissue

At this level, red light and NIR light can stimulate tissues and change how they behave, and that is where the red magic happens.

How Does Red Light Therapy Impact Cells?

No, it’s not magic. It’s science. If you remember studying cells in junior high, you might remember learning about the powerhouses inside our cells known as mitochondria. The mitochondria in our cells are responsible for giving the cells their energy, which cells then use to carry out cellular function. 

That might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but when you consider the fact that our cells are the foundation of every tissue, organ, and system in our bodies, the humble cell suddenly becomes more important. When our cells are healthy and thriving, we experience deeper levels of wellness, from our hair growth to our skin conditions, and even our athletic performance. Everything is affected by how well our cells are functioning. 

The Cell Breakdown

Unfortunately, changes in our cells that cause them to experience declining function are somewhat inevitable. One might say that this is due to age, but researchers studying longevity and healthy aging say differently. They surmise that changes within the cell are the precursor to aging. In other words, the subtle changes in our cells cause our bodies to age. 

A set of 12 specific cellular changes, known as the hallmarks of aging, are now thought to underlie all kinds of age-related illnesses and conditions. 

Mitochondria Blues

Back to the mitochondria. One of the hallmarks of aging is mitochondrial dysfunction. This leads to less cellular energy, less cellular performance, and as you may have already guessed, an overall decline in our human performance and abilities system-wide. 

Mitochondria have two big roles in our cells: to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and to release reactive oxygen species (ROS). ATP is good, it's the energy currency our cells use to carry out their functions. ROS is a necessary byproduct of ATP production, but ROS isn’t good for our cells. The problem is that when mitochondria begin to lose function, they produce less ATP (the good guys) and more ROS (the bad guys). 

The results? Our cells become sick and damaged, and eventually, they may lose function altogether. It might sound like you’re piloting a sinking vessel, but thankfully, there are ways to heed the SOS call of your cells. 

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy works by stimulating the mitochondria in your cells, specifically enabling them to produce ATP more efficiently. The process by which ATP is created can get a little complicated. 

The simplified version goes something like this:

  1. You eat food.
  2. Food is broken down into glucose.
  3. Glucose gets sent to the cells that need it for energy, but it’s too big for the tiny organelles inside the cells to use.
  4. Mitochondria, through the Krebs Cycle, change the glucose into molecules that are much smaller.
  5. These smaller molecules get shuttled down the electron transport chain (ETC), which is a series of gradients that chemically (read: magically) turn them into ATP.
  6. ATP gets shuttled to the organelles in the cells to be used for energy.
  7. Cells are happy, your body is happy, and you are happy.

Red light therapy works by ensuring the 5th step is efficient and fast. Specifically, a molecule known as cytochrome c oxidase (one of the molecules that live in the ETC gradient) is able to absorb this light, and when it does, it gets really excited and works harder. Think of it like an energy boost button. This molecule makes the shuttling of molecules through the ETC gradient fast and effective, resulting in better efficiency and speed in the ATP production process. 

Bottom line: Red light therapy works by stepping in to supercharge the way your cells produce energy, and that translates to more optimal performance throughout your entire body. 

Can’t Other Wavelengths of Light Do the Same Thing?

No. Red light and NIR work because they reach into deeper layers of your skin and body than other wavelengths. Consider UV rays, for instance. These are high-energy wavelengths that are incredibly powerful, but they can only penetrate the skin, and after a short (for some people very short) period of time, they become harmful and burn, and can even result in skin cancer. 

Red light and NIR have long wavelengths that are able to penetrate more deeply, without damage, and while actually delivering benefits. 

What Are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?

The benefits of red light therapy are immense, and that makes sense. This technology has been around for decades. It was originally developed by NASA, as a way to manage wound healing of astronauts while they were in orbit. 

Now, we have access to this literal rocket science to address numerous issues like:

  • Skin-related conditions
  • Hair loss and restoration 
  • Pain management
  • Sleep quality
  • Physical performance

Let’s dig a little deeper and learn just how red light therapy can benefit the body in these specific ways.

Skin Issues

Your dermatologist knows that your skin, being the largest and most external organ of your body, takes a beating. External stressors, our own lifestyle habits, and genetics can alter how our skin cells act. As we get older, the skin starts to show the aging process. Fine lines, deep-set wrinkles, and a gradual decline in the production of collagen and elastin are changes most of us aren’t necessarily excited to see. 

If you think you’re too young, guess again. Collagen production slows starting at age 20, with a loss of about 1% per year. Less collagen means less firmness in your skin, which can lead to wrinkles and skin sagging. 

While anti-aging skincare products can target the superficial layers of the skin and work to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, red light therapy can target cells in the skin called fibroblasts. “Fibroblasts secrete collagen proteins that help maintain the structural framework of tissues,” notes Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, Registered Nurse. Since these cells are responsible for making collagen, stimulating them may support healthy skin cell production, and may help your body produce more of this essential, skin-plumping protein. 

In addition, phototherapy is also used to help support dermatological issues like psoriasis, a condition that causes skin cells to grow faster than they should. 

Some medical spas offer red light therapy, but for the highest-quality, independently tested red light therapy devices that deliver proven, documented results, Mito Red Light at-home devices are the superior choice. Our mobile devices make excellent options for treating smaller areas of the body, including the face and neck. With these devices, you can focus on targeting your skin’s appearance with a non-invasive skin rejuvenation method that is research-backed and effective. “It helps to have a device you can use at home on a regular basis, as consistency is often key in supporting healthy cell function,” notes Wright. 

Hair Loss and Restoration Benefits

Losing your hair can be a frustrating experience, especially if you’ve tried over-the-counter and/or prescription hair loss products that either didn’t work, produced unwanted side effects, or both. 

Red light therapy can help. By stimulating cell turnover, which causes new cells to be created faster, red light therapy can help encourage and support hair growth. Increased blood flow to the hair follicles is also one of the effects of red light therapy. 

So how do you get red light to your scalp? With a Mito Red Light helmet. Our helmets are FDA-cleared as a non-invasive option to help promote hair growth. They’re designed to allow you to move freely while you wear them, so you can get the treatment you want, when you want it. Our Mito Red Light Therapy Laser/LED Helmet contains 30 low-level laser therapy diodes as well as 26 light-emitting diodes. 

Pain Management

Living with any type of pain can be debilitating, whether that pain is chronic or acute. Your healthcare provider can treat underlying causes for your pain, but if the pain persists, you may be left to chronically rely on anti-inflammatory medications or other therapies you’d rather not use. 

A promising benefit of red light therapy is its ability to modulate pain in both muscles and joints. Because of red light’s ability to penetrate deeply into the body, it may be able to reach areas that are inflamed and irritated and help reduce this inflammation at the source.

Additionally, red light therapy can stimulate blood flow and increase circulation in the muscles and joints, helping promote faster recovery from injuries and keeping these areas oxygenated. 

Sleep Quality

How’d you sleep? If you’re like most Americans (one in three, to be exact), probably not that well. 

As a society, our sleep quality is on the downtrend. We can blame busy schedules, mounting stress, pandemics, and lifestyles, but regardless of the cause, we need a solution that works. 

Unlike blue light, which can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm and cause it to stay awake longer, red light has been shown to support the circadian rhythm and enhance sleep quality. This means that exposure to red light before bed (instead of the blue light emitted from sources like your smartphone, tablet, or LED television) can help your body relax and prepare for sleep. Adding a Mito Red Light Therapy Panel to your bedroom can become an integral part of your sleep hygiene, and help you get the rest you need. 

By the way, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, depending on activity level. If you’re missing that metric by a long shot, consider the benefits of low-level light therapy to help you ease into a comfortable night of rest. 

Physical Performance

Whether you get your recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day at the gym, at home, or outdoors, you probably wouldn’t say no to the possibility of increased athletic ability. One of the red light therapy uses enjoyed by both professional athletes and weekend warriors alike is that of increased physical performance.

In randomized controlled trials, exposure to red light immediately after a workout can help support muscle recovery and blood flow. This means feeling better after a workout, getting back to your sport or gym faster, going harder, and being able to last longer during cardiovascular exercises. These findings support a better level of athletic endurance and overall fitness. 

Try Red Light Therapy

Light treatment isn’t new, it’s a decades-old technology with new uses. The health benefits available from red light therapy are well researched, and clinical trials are ongoing to determine additional benefits of red light on other health conditions. 

Red light therapy is safe, effective, and beneficial. Is it for you? A better question is why wouldn’t it be? The best part is that you don’t have to visit a medspa or a doctor’s office to get the same, high-quality, medical-grade exposure. Mito Red Light gives you access to the highest quality, third-party-tested RLT equipment available for use in your own home. 

Make a choice to optimize your health from the cells up, and enjoy the benefits of living the red light life. 

DISCLAIMERMito Red Light devices are not clinically proven to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. Mito Red Light devices are Class II general wellness devices aimed at affecting the body through topical heating and supporting cellular function. The scientific studies referenced in this article are for informational purposes only. To see a list of precautionary warnings and contraindications, click here.


Transcranial near-infrared light in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases |

Hallmarks of aging: An expanding universe | PubMed

Why does skin wrinkle with age? What is the best way to slow or prevent this process? | Scientific American

Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring | PMC

What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? | NHLBI, NIH

Red Light and the Sleep Quality and Endurance Performance of Chinese Female Basketball Players | PMC

Photobiomodulation in human muscle tissue: an advantage in sports performance? | PMC