Red and near-infrared light are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and more specifically, part of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun. These wavelengths of light are “bioactive” in humans.
Below is a chart outlining the electromagnetic spectrum:
Electromagnetic waves range from 0.0001 nanometers (gamma waves) all the way to over meters (radio waves).
If you remember high school physics, when you pass white light through a prism it separates out the different colors based on their wavelengths (ROYGBIV). Only a tiny part of this spectrum (roughly 400nm to 700nm) is actually visible to the human eye.
At the highest end of the visible light spectrum is red light, which goes from a little over 600nm to approximately 700nm. Above the visible light spectrum is near-infrared (NIR) from about 700nm to a little over 1,100nm.
It is specifically these red and near-infrared wavelengths that have amazing effects on our bodies. Most research shows the benefits of red light and near-infrared light have used wavelengths in the ranges of 630-680nm and 800-880nm.
There have now been literally thousands of studies done on both animals and humans. Overall, red and near-infrared light has been repeatedly shown to have positive effects on cell function in animal and human studies and aid in improving a wide range of conditions.
Near-infrared (NIR) and red light therapy devices have been FDA-approved for several purposes so far, including hair-loss reversal, anti-aging, acne, wound healing, pain relief, fat loss, and more! This is worth noting because it proves the abundance of research demonstrating benefits – the therapy has to be proven safe and effective in numerous trials in order to gain FDA approval.
It's all about PENETRATION
Most wavelengths of light (UV, blue, green, yellow, etc.) cannot penetrate into the body - instead, they stay in the layers of the skin.
The benefits of red light: Red light between 600-700nm offers benefits for skin texture and tone, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, promoting collagen production, and generally rejuvenating the appearance of skin and hair.
The benefits of near-infrared light: Near-infrared light (NIR) 700nm - 1100nm. penetrates deeper into the tissues to assist with wound healing, muscle recovery, nerve injury, and joint pain.
How does Red Light Therapy Work?
RED LIGHT BOOSTS CELLULAR ENERGY PRODUCTION
The most well-studied mechanism of action surrounding red and near-infrared light therapy is increased MITOchondrial energy production in the cells. MITOchondria are tiny organelles that are the energy power plants of all the cells in our body. Red and near-infrared light therapy help the MITOchondria create more of that energy.
The specific photons found in red and near-infrared light interact with photoreceptors within our cells called cytochrome c oxidase. This interaction stimulates the mitochondria in our cells to use oxygen more efficiently, which allows the mitochondria to produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Adenosine triphosphate is a complex organic chemical that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells, e.g. muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, and chemical synthesis. Found in all forms of life, ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. When our cells have more energy, they simply perform better and the body follows suit!
The Proven Benefits of Red and Near-Infrared Light Therapy
We'll dive deeper into each of these in future articles, but the proven benefits of red and near-infrared light therapy include:
- Promotes wound healing and tissue repair
- Supports collagen production / anti-aging
- Reduces swelling and inflammation (pain)
- Improves joint health
- Improves physical performance, muscle recovery, and energy levels
Zooming back from it all it is not surprising that red and near-infrared light deliver such a myriad of benefits. Our evolutionary ancestors spent many hours each and every day outdoors receiving these beneficial wavelengths of light from the sun. Modern humans with our homes, transport, and office spaces are extremely "mal-illuminated".