Therapeutic Potential of Red Light Therapy on Mood

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

How photobiomodulation can enhance mood and ease anxiety

Key Points:

Let Light Guide You Out of the Winter Blues: Exploring different types of photobiomodulation

Sunlight deprivation is a modern malaise, leaving us feeling sluggish, low-spirited, and prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But before you resign yourself to hibernation, you should definitely check out photobiomodulation!

Photobiomodulation is a type of therapy that uses light (photo) to positively modify (modulate) or change the activity of your body (bio). Maybe you’ve heard of Happy Lights or blue lights? Those are examples of devices that use light to help improve mood, energy, and regulate sleep.

While research suggests the optimal wavelength for depression and anxiety may lie between 800-830 nm, you may benefit from several different wavelengths of light in order to improve your mood, energy, concentration, and chase away those seasonal blues.

In this article we are going to explore some of the most common types of photobiomodulation including: red light therapy, near-infrared, far-infrared light, ultraviolet light as they pertain to physical and emotional well being.

Red Light to the Rescue: A Cellular Spotlight on Happiness

Red light therapy utilizes wavelengths between 630 and 700 nanometers (nm), and gently penetrates 8 mm deep into the skin and tissues. It can be especially effective at targeting your cells’ mitochondria, which you may remember from high school biology as the Powerhouse of the Cell. The benefits of red light stimulation on your mitochondria powerhouses are many, such as:

However, red light therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’ve tried it without feeling the benefits, consider exploring other forms of photobiomodulation therapy.

Near-Infrared Light: Penetrating Deeper for Cellular Effects

NIR light penetrates deeper than red light, reaching up to 5 centimeters below the surface. NIR, with wavelengths between 700 and 1,000 nanometers (nm), offers a safe and natural way to tap into the power of light at a deeper cellular level. This allows it to directly interact with your cells and nerves, offering a unique set of benefits.

Research suggests that NIR light may be effective at tackling many of the symptoms of SAD which include: oversleeping, extreme fatigue, increased carbohydrate craving, overeating, and weight gain.

For example, a 2019 study published in the journal Cochrane Database Systematic Review examined phototherapy as a potential drug-free treatment for SAD. They found that “bright white light” (2500 lux)– the type of light commonly emitted by a Happy Light– and infrared light both reduced the incidence of SAD as compared to no light therapy. Overall study participants had better results using infrared light as opposed to bright light, and infrared light reduced the risk of SAD by 50%.

In 2023 researchers published the results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in the journal Biology that exposure to NIR light just five days a week for four weeks during the winter could bring positive changes to a person’s well-being, sleep patterns, and overall health.

Another study published in the journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine, and Laser Surgery, explored the potential of near-infrared light therapy for calming anxiety. Researchers treated people with generalized anxiety disorder to 20-minute daily sessions of transcranial photobiomodulation (shining the light through the skull) for 8 weeks. The results were promising: participants experienced statistically significant reductions in anxiety symptoms alongside improvements in sleep quality.

These articles and many more, support the suggestion that near-infrared light therapy might offer a safe, non-invasive approach to managing anxiety, potentially complementing traditional treatments.

UV Light: A Double-Edged Sword

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun, and man-made sources such as tanning beds and black-light lamps. UV light emits light wavelengths between 200 and 400 nanometers (nm) and is commonly used in tanning beds because it can cause a darkening of the skin.

UV light may have positive benefits for mood. Researchers published a 2018 literature analysis in the journal Photodermatology Photoimmunol Photomed examining ultraviolet light on mood, depressive disorders and emotional well being. They said that of the seven studies analyzed, six supported a positive effect of UV light on mood.

While some studies suggest that limited exposure to UV light can improve mood, consideration should be taken regarding the risks of excessive exposure leading to skin damage and increased risk of skin cancer.

While we’re on the topic of tanning beds, let’s expand just a bit on the types of tanning bed bulbs, their type of light emitted and how to pick the right kind of tanning bed for your phototherapy.

Are Tanning Beds a Good Source of Phototherapy?

While tanning beds are mostly recognized for their UV bulbs that result in tanning of the skin, there are actually three different types of sunbeds with different bulbs and effects: UV sunbeds, red light sunbeds, and collagen sunbeds.

Red Light Sunbed Therapy is a popular and emerging trend, which is where you lay in a tanning bed with the object of emotional and physical healing as opposed to getting a tan.

When looking for Red Light Sunbeds you have to be very careful. Unfortunately many companies advertise that their beds are Red Lights, when they do not contain red light bulbs, but can be any other type of bulb such as red painted halogen bulbs, or red painted fluorescent lights.

This is important for you to know, because if it’s not a red light bulb, you are not going to get the red light benefits you are looking for. Moreover, these other types of bulbs can come with health risks. For example, fluorescent bulbs and tungsten halogen lights can produce significant levels of UV light, with fluorescent bulbs doing so by exciting toxic mercury vapors.

A key takeaway is that if your Red Light Sunbed has fluorescent lights, stay away.

Now, let’s get back to the other wavelengths of light!

Far-Infrared Light: Promoting Relaxation and Circulation

Far-infrared (FIR) light, with its long wavelengths (3,000 nm – 1 mm), lies at the invisible end of the infrared spectrum. This gentle warmth, absorbed by the body, unlocks a cascade of positive effects:

As research continues to unfold, FIR light therapy offers a natural and potentially effective approach for promoting relaxation, improving circulation, and enhancing overall well-being. This gentle light may prove to be a valuable tool for individuals seeking to manage stress, alleviate mood imbalances, and unlock their inner peace.

Incorporating Light Therapy into Your Mental Wellness Routine

Next up, let’s look at natural hacks to enhance the benefit of phototherapy. As we’ve learned, phototherapy can improve depression, calm anxiety, promote energy, and balance sleep in many ways like improving the health of the mitochondria, reducing inflammation, boosting circulation, and calming the nervous system.

For best results, incorporate photobiomodulation into your daily health routine that emphasizes these actions.

Step 1: Identify potential energy drains, sources of stress and inflammation. You’re going to want to target these obstacles to healing so that you get the most out of your time and efforts in getting photobiomodulation treatment. Don’t know where to start in digging into the root causes of your symptoms? The Holistic Wellness Collective can help, join today to access holistic healing options, expert advice and a supportive community of like-minded members!

Step 2: Consider investing in phototherapy whether you purchase your own device or get treatment with your trusted and experienced clinician. If you opt for light therapy, be sure that the device you’re going to use is FDA approved and 3rd party tested.

We had a big conversation about light therapy in the membership group and one of the members suggested Scott Kennedy and Jack Rouse as great resources for light therapy. Do dig into the conversation more definitely jump into the group!

Step 3: Build your inflammation-reducing, brain building natural supplement protocol. There are a lot of options out there and it can be overwhelming. I have a ton of free information about herbs and supplements for brain health, reducing inflammation, improving mood, and even supporting sleep. If you need more support you can find that in the Holistic Wellness Collective, too!

Concluding remarks

Ready to unlock the power of light for your mental well-being? Take the first step! Identify your energy drains, explore phototherapy options, and build your personalized supplement protocol. Join the Holistic Wellness Collective today and access holistic ways to heal, expert resources, and supportive community. Let’s brighten your path to mental wellness, together

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.