Visit any aesthetic skin salon or spa and you’ll see Infrared Therapy incorporated somewhere on their service menu. But Infrared therapy is no longer reserved for skin professionals at salon prices. Devices are popping up making it possible to reap the benefits of Infrared light therapy in the comfort of your home. But what is it and what does it actually do? Let us explain.
We first delved into Infrared light therapy when we tried out the Infrared Sauna at Skinsense day spa. We then experienced red light therapy in the form of their PDT therapy sessions. Recently, we saw red light incorporated in the Laser Boutique’s FaceFit sessions. Since our initial exposure, our interest in Infrared Light Therapy has grown substantially. So much so that we purchased a fairly pricey lamp in February and have been incorporating Infrared light therapy sessions in our daily routines.
What is Infrared Light Therapy?
Infrared light therapy is when a device emitting a red light is shone onto a surface of your body. This treatment – either with red light or near-infrared, is referred to as either photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT).
What makes red light different to other lights is its wavelength. Most other lights (green, blue, ultraviolet) don’t penetrate the skin. Instead they are absorbed by the outer layers. By being able to penetrate deeper, red has the ability to affect tissues at a cellular level.
What does Infrared Light Therapy Do?
By affecting tissues at a cellular level, it improves the energy metabolism of cells. It also has anti-inflammatory affects. Energy metabolism of cells may sound like a foreign concept, but it is a huge deal in how well our bodies function. Most chronic diseases are linked to disturbed energy metabolism and it is well known how bad inflammation is too.
Infrared light therapy has been tested (on humans) to treat a wide range of ailments. These range from the superficial (acne and burn scars), to the deeper (muscle pain, bone fractures), and even to the cognitive (depression, Alzheimer’s disease). The range of what a red-light emitting device can treat boils down to the type of light it emits and the wavelength that light can produce. The wavelength correlates with the depth the light can penetrate into the body.
For example, there is a difference between red light and near-infrared light. Infrared penetrates deeper making it effective for treating muscles, joints and glands. Whereas visible red light would be used to treat superficial skin issues.
This article is a great resource showing the common wavelengths used, what they have been used to treat, treatment sessions and duration.
How does Infrared Light Therapy work?
This is where it gets technical.
Red light improves mitochondrial function by activating an enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase (cox). This enzyme is involved in mitochondrial energy production. It contributes the energy required to form ATP. ATP is the cell’s energy currency. Without this energy, cells cannot function optimally, repair and grow.
Cox’s role in energy creation can be disrupted by certain molecules (like nitric oxide) displacing oxygen. When too much oxygen is displaced, cells die. Nitric oxide is generated by cells when under stress (think injury, lack of rest/ nutrition). This happens because nitric oxide can support cellular health under stressful conditions to a point. But, as a side effect it binds to cox which disrupts mitochondrial respiration.
This is where red or near infrared light comes in to work its magic. It photodissociates Nitric oxide from Cox. By activating this enzyme, energy creation is improved, allowing the cell to function optimally.
Infrared Light Therapy at home
Before you invest in a device, it’s important to know what you are going to be using it for. Once you know that, you’ll need to research that the device you want to buy has the correct light source and is able to achieve your desired wavelength.
Options in South Africa are limited. Although Takealot does list a Beurer Infrared lamp – the description does not specify light type or wavelength. The lamp we purchased was from a US Based company called the Life Giving Store. Their products are built specifically with health in mind. Their tagline is “Delivering Energy To Your Life”. Not only do they provide full specs on each device but they also have a buyer’s guide on their website. This helps you choose the right product for you. We purchased it while in the US, but they do ship internationally and ship to South Africa often. The lamps accept worldwide voltages and when you are selecting your lamp, you choose from a range of 6 plug attachments (Our 2 pins are European).The shipping costs would be around $23 for the handheld lamps and $200 for the body lights.
Our lamp combines orange light (620nm wavelength), red light (670nm wavelength), and infrared light (830nm wavelength). I have focused my therapy sessions on superficial skin issues like acne as well as post exercise recovery – especially when I find myself with training related niggles.
Does Infrared Light Therapy work?
Firstly, it is important to note that infrared light therapy is an area that is still being researched – one can classify it as experimental. An important parameter that affects its effectiveness is the dose (time of session). Both too little, as well as too much results in little to no affect. It has to be just right, making it a very goldilocks type treatment method.
For 6 months I have used it fairly consistently (1-5 times a week), with 30-60 second activations on the chosen area. I have found that it has not been effective on superficial skin conditions, specifically acne flare ups but that it has been almost magical on post-exercise niggles. I’m talking within few sessions, the niggle has cleared.
Interestingly when I went back into this article, I rediscovered that the author had created a table where he compared systematic reviews from controlled trials of near infrared light therapy. He found that there was moderate evidence to support that infrared light therapy improved exercise performance and recovery afterwards and from my experience, I’d say it’s true.
Feige is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to code things, design things, and all things beauty.