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How to Get Started with Red Light Therapy at Home: Choosing the Right Device, Treatment Times and More

Light therapy expert Joe Hollins-Gibson, a.k.a. Red Light Man, explains what to look for in a light and how to use it for best results.

Imagine being able to improve every possible skin concern, from acne to wrinkles—along with hair loss, injuries and infections—with zero downtime, side effects or safety concerns.

Believe it or not, you can, with red light therapy!

In Part 1 of this interview with light expert Joe Hollins-Gibson, we talked about what red light therapy entails, and the key skin, hair and health conditions it can treat. 

Joe is the founder of Red Light Man, a retailer specializing in powerful, next-generation light devices. If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

Red Light Man sells high-powered light therapy devices for home and professional use.

So now that we know WHY to use red light, let's talk about HOW. 

At the high end of the market is the $2,000+ Déesse Pro LED Mask, used by dozens of celebrities and their estheticians (Shani Darden and Georgia Louise, for example, both sell it for home use and incorporate it into their facials).

Katy Perry wearing the Déesse Pro LED Mask.

There are also full-body LED light beds at various spas. Joanna Vargas was one of the first estheticians to invest in one, which you can lie in for $300 per 75-minute session. Not cheap either!

Joanna Vargas' full-body LED light bed. 

Then there are the hand-held light gadgets from brands such as Baby Quasar, LightStim, Silk'nSkin Inc. and NuFace, which are more affordable but time-consuming to use.

Red light devices from LightStim, Baby Quasar and Silk'n.

All of these options are good... but if you ask me, you can do even BETTER. 

I suggest looking for a red light that delivers scientifically-proven wavelengths of light; at a high power density (so that treatments take mere minutes); that you can use at home as often as you like.

That's why I'm telling you about Red Light Man. (Not sponsored, I just genuinely believe in these devices and Joe's expertise!) 

In Part 2, below, you'll find out:

  • The difference between red light and infrared light, and which one to choose
  • How red light compares to other colours of light (including blue) and IPL
  • Why most red light devices—even the Déesse!—aren't very effective
  • What to look for in a red light and the best devices to treat various skin and hair concerns
  • How to use your device at home for best results
  • How to get 10 percent off at Red Light Man!

Red Light vs. Infrared Light

Red Light Man Infrared Light Device (left) and Red Light Device (right). Note: These are older models; both now come in the square format.

You sell both Red and Infrared light devices. What's the difference?

The most obvious difference is that red light (600 to 700 nm) is visible and bright, whereas infrared or near-infrared light (700 to 900 nm) is non-visible and can only be perceived as a faint warmth on the skin.

In terms of the therapeutic properties, red light is absorbed very well by the skin, making it useful for any treatment there, as well as the treatment of the hair.

Infrared light is more penetrative. It has more potential to treat the tissue underneath the skin—joints, bones, muscles, etc.—although it is still absorbed in the skin to a significant degree and gives benefits there.

Is one better than the other?

It's not that one is better than the other, just perhaps more appropriate for certain conditions and body parts.

In theory, you can use either one for pretty much any skin condition. 

Red light seems favoured for things like sunburn, acne, hair loss, wound healing, yeast infections, general anti-aging and so on. Studies comparing the two types of light seem to show similar results, though.

Would it be beneficial to use both red and infrared lights to get maximum results?

It's definitely useful to have both available. 

It's important to know that near-infrared light penetrates much better than red light, perhaps about three times better to the deeper tissue.

If you're only interested in the skin, then you will be fine with a red light.

However, if you are interested in other benefits to deeper tissue like muscles, joints and bones, then you should consider getting an infrared light, or both.

Red Light vs. Other Colours

The Foreo Espada treats acne with blue light, which can accelerate aging.

You mentioned that red light can help with acne. But I've only ever seen blue light devices sold for that purpose (such as the Foreo Espada). Why?

Strong blue light has a sterilizing effect on bacteria, including acne.

It comes at a cost, though, as blue light harms our own cells, too. Studies show it is effective against acne in the short term, but it also increases our rate of aging and damages our eyesight, among other negative effects.

So would you suggest avoiding blue light?

I view blue light as somewhat of a health risk. It's not as harmful if used in combination with red light, or as part of sunlight, but I would not recommend an isolated source of only blue light for any at-home treatment.

Red light is proven to be effective against acne and has no negative side effects, making it a better choice.

What about other colours of light, such as green and amber? Devices like the Déesse feature all these different shades.

Green and amber are not as well studied as red and blue, and don't work on the same mechanisms, although plenty of data exists. They have a broad range of effects on different parts of the body due to how they react with pigments in our cells. However, they lack the energy-boosting and healing effects of red light therapy.

Melanin in our skin, for example, has a wide absorption spectrum (500 to 1,100 nm), absorbing green, yellow, orange, red and near-infrared light. So green and amber can be of use in things like hyperpigmentation—but so can red, and red penetrates better.

All of these colours are used in other therapies like colourpuncture and colour therapy, but they don't have the same direct benefits to the skin as red and infrared light.

The other wavelength range that gives direct systemic benefits is ultraviolet B (UVB), which helps vitamin D production and reduces immune responses in the skin for things like psoriasis. However, UV light can lead to skin damage.

What's your opinion on light treatments such as IPL (intense pulsed light)? Could people get comparable results at home with red light therapy?

I don't think IPL is a comparable type of treatment to red light therapy—they both use light but are very different in mechanism. But IPL is an effective treatment for things like skin pigmentation and hair removal. Red light won't remove unwanted hair.

For most other issues, IPL is quite a brute force method to achieve what red or infrared light therapy will achieve in a more natural way.

If you are on an IPL treatment course, it's good to use red or near-infrared light before and/or after the treatments to help reduce the side effects and speed healing.

How to Choose a Red Light Therapy Device

The four best "peaks" of light are 620 nm, 670 nm, 760 nm and 830 nm (+/- 15 nm). (Source: Red Light Man)

Is there an optimal wavelength range of red light that people should look for in a device?

The general range of light used in red light therapy is between 600 and 900 nm, sometimes higher. You can get benefits from any wavelength between those values.

Going by the studies on wavelength effectiveness (T. Karu et al.), our cells absorb and use 4 "peaks" of light better than the others: 620 nm, 670 nm, 760 nm and 830 nm, +/- 15 nm. Those are the wavelengths you should try to get.

Values in between those peak values, such as 645 nm or 720 nm, may be less than 50 percent as effective, although still useful. 

Close but not perfect wavelengths such as 660 nm, 810 nm and others are proven useful.

How important is the intensity of the light?

The range that seems effective in studies is between 20 to 200 mW/cm², with 100 to 200 mW/cm² being more for infrared light treatment on deeper tissue, and 20 to 100 mW/cm² for red light on the skin.

Are most light devices on the market delivering these values?

Most other light therapy products on the market just use the cheapest and most readily available wavelengths, such as 660 nm or 850 nm. Or even worse, they use less effective wavelengths like 650 nm or 880 nm.

A lot of devices I have seen are also extremely weak, with maximum power densities around the 10 mW/cm² mark or worse—meaning they might never be effective, or you have to use them for very long session times, even when pressed directly onto the skin.

What makes your Red Light Man devices better?

We're using the exact wavelengths found to be the most effective at stimulating our cells: 620 nm, 670 nm, 760 nm and 830nm.

Our devices all output up to at least 200 mW/cm², so you can just adjust the distance to vary your treatment times—further away for lower light intensity and longer sessions (covering a larger surface area).

Red Light Man Devices

Which of your devices would you recommend for someone who is just getting started with light therapy?

I think the combination lights we offer, including both red and near-infrared LEDs, are the best choice to get started. 

You can use them on pretty much any condition, be it deep in the body or only skin-deep. 

The Red-Infrared Combo Mini is our most popular product.

Red Light Man Red-Infrared Combo Mini

Red Light Man Red-Infrared Combo Mini

We also sell the Combo Light, which is more intense.

Red Light Man Red-Infrared Combo Light

Red Light Man Red-Infrared Combo Light

Would the Combo Light be as powerful as using Red and Infrared lights separately?

Our main Combo Light is pretty much the same power as our main Red or Infrared units, yes. You can see the density readings here:

Red Light Man device power density comparison. (Source: Red Light Man)

So you can see that the Combo is weaker in terms of absolutely energy output, but the tighter beam angle enables the light intensity to carry a further distance. The 200 mW/cm² is generally the top limit of power density you'll see in studies, so all of the models are easily powerful enough to match any study protocol. 

The Combo is, of course, a mix of half red and half infrared, but since it is all acting on the same mitochondrial mechanism, it all counts as the same (besides the differences in penetration). 

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

I think the higher densities are useful for that deeper penetration you need to see effects in joints, muscles, etc.

If you can afford to invest in separate Red and Infrared devices, would that be even better?

I think the Combo is the best choice if someone can only afford one light, but the separate devices are more optimal overall.