Light therapy is being used to improve mental and physical health — and the best part is that you can purchase devices to be used at home and easily integrate them into your daily routine.
From helping you wake up on dreary, dark mornings to improving your skin, LED light therapy has been shown to have both mental and physical health benefits. Here is how each works, and what you should know before you add one or both to your health regimen.
White light therapy
First things first: What exactly is “white light”? Contrary to its name, white light is actually composed of all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, arranged in this specific order: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
“All the colors together when they refract through the eye, they produce white light,” explains Larry Pederson, founder of RenewAlliance, a Bellevue-based nutricosmetics company and the inventor of Litebook, the first patented and clinically proven portable white LED light therapy device. “But sunlight is essentially a combination of all those colors, and that’s why it’s regarded as ‘white light’ even though technically it has all the different colors of the rainbow.”
White light works internally and studies show its primary job is to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the clock that regulates important hormones and the wake-sleep cycle. This is due to melanopsin, a receptor on the retina that tells your body whether it’s light or dark, day or night. “That’s how and why our bodies get regulated,” Pederson explains. A pulse of sunlight first thing in the morning sends your body the signal that it’s light, the sleep hormone melatonin needs to shut off, and gives your brain a boost of serotonin (the “feel good” chemical in your brain that helps you feel wide awake and go about your day).
Of course, not every morning in the Pacific Northwest (or anywhere) starts out with a pulse of sunlight that sets your body’s hormones in motion to wake up and start the day. That’s where LED light therapy comes in.
“LED light devices can, in a matter of minutes, suppress your melatonin and wake you up,” says Pederson, noting that studies show blue-enriched white LED lights are the most effective when it comes to boosting morning alertness. Although everyone can benefit from LED light therapy, it’s been shown to be particularly helpful for people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder or the milder “winter blues.” Pederson recommends using LED light therapy for 15-30 minutes every day within the first hour of waking up — and he notes that there is no shortage of devices that are small and easy to use.
“LED light devices can be as small as your iPhone,” says Pederson. “You can find one that has a battery and fits in the palm of your hand.” Multitask by positioning the device so it’s on your breakfast table while you’re eating or checking emails, and have it nearby while you’re doing your hair and makeup.
Red light therapy
While white light works internally, red light therapy is used to treat the skin — specifically, it’s been shown to boost collagen, reduce acne and heal skin.
“When you’re a baby, your body produces collagen,” says Pederson. “And that collagen is produced until you’re in your mid 20s.” Collagen is responsible for keeping your skin soft, smooth, and firm — so when your body stops producing it naturally, the skin loses elasticity and becomes prone to wrinkles and sagging. It can also make the skin more vulnerable and easily damaged.
Red light therapy is one of a number of collagen treatments that are currently available. Numerous studies have found that this form of therapy improves skin tone and complexion, speeds up the healing of any injuries, and reduces signs of aging. In short, it sounds like reaping the benefits of The Fountain of Youth without going through invasive, risky surgeries. And like white light therapy, it can be done at home.
“If you have wrinkles or fine lines on your face, the device is applied to the skin,” Pederson says. But it doesn’t break or invade the skin. Rather, it shines a panel of LED light that triggers a reaction. “The fibroblasts in the dermis layer respond to that light and start acting as collagen factories again, growing new collagen,” says Pederson.
Before buying and using a red light therapy device, it’s crucial to do your homework and ensure the product is both safe and effective. A company producing the device declaring it’s legitimate and effective isn’t enough.
“Only buy devices that have been used in a clinical trial that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal,” says Pederson. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal means the results have been reviewed by independent experts. “That’s what separates a lot of the wheat from the chaff,” says Pederson, noting that a handful of red light therapy devices have been given the stamp of approval by a peer-reviewed journal.
As you shop for a device, visit ClinicalTrials.gov and look up white or red light LED therapy. All studies are available on the site, so you’ll be able to see if the product you’re considering has been used in a clinical trial.
Make it part of a comprehensive wellness routine
Studies have shown that both white light therapy and red light therapy are effective. But Pederson notes that they shouldn’t simply be used on their own. Rather, the therapies should be integrated into a comprehensive wellness program that includes a healthy diet, exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
If you find that the therapy is helping, make it part of your routine.
“Light therapy is recommended to be a daily recurrence,” says Pederson. “Your body responds to consistency, which is why it’s suggested we go to bed at the same time every night. We’re creatures of habit for a reason: Our body performs best when we do things on a consistent basis. The same thing applies to LED therapy, white or red.”
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