How does Red Light Therapy Rejuvenate Skin?

by | May 25, 2020 | Articles

This article breaks down what red light therapy is and how it positively affects skin appearance. You’ll learn it’s role in collagen and elastin production, how it works to reduce inflammation, all of the benefits your skin will receive from regular treatment, and any safety precautions and side effects you should know about before starting your first session.

Whether it’s increased energy, decreased inflammation, better muscle recovery, or fat loss, red light therapy seems to do it all. But what’s more, frequent exposure to red light can help to improve your skin complexion and increase collagen synthesis to give you that youthful glow–no matter your age.

When compared to traditional methods of skin rejuvenation, like chemical peels, non-ablative rejuvenation–a method that works by heating up the target tissue, without causing damage–stimulates collagen production and synthesis of the extracellular matrix (ECM) reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles without damaging the overlying epidermis [1].

What is red light therapy

If you haven’t read any of the previous articles on infrared light therapy, here’s a little introduction into what exactly red light therapy is. Much like infrared saunas use heat to penetrate the skin and initiate cellular activity, red light treatment uses red low-level wavelengths of light to stimulate superficial or deeper cells through various molecular mechanisms; the use of light-emitting diodes (LED) or low-level laser therapy stimulates cellular activity to achieve therapeutic benefits through several different mechanisms at the cellular level. Studies have shown that a specific wavelength, 660nm specifically, of red light is beneficial to stimulate cells to elicit various physical and physiological effects. Compared with 880nm, 660nm is absorbed more rapidly by the skin making it ideal for cosmetic treatments.

With respect to skin rejuvenation, red light therapy may be especially beneficial to decrease inflammation–think acne, dermatitis, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, redness, and itchiness– reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, increase the speed of wound healing, and reduce the appearance of scars and discoloration.

If you’re worried about red light therapy on more delicate areas like your face, there is a minimal concern. Infrared light therapy is a painless, non-ablative, and non-invasive procedure that reports show is generally safe for all skin types with little known side-effects when used appropriately.

Red light therapy boosts collagen and elastin

One of the pitfalls of aging is that our body just doesn’t produce collagen and elastin-like it used to. In normal, healthy skin, collagen, which provides skin firmness, elastin, which supplies skin elasticity and rebound, and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which keep the skin hydrated, are all abundant. However, as a result of both intrinsic and extrinsic aging, the skin appearance becomes full, wrinkly, discolored, and may start to sag.

Intrinsic aging is a natural part of getting older. After the age of approximately 20, collagen production begins to decline by about 1% per year. As well, sweat and oil gland function begins to decline, elastin production slows, and there is less GAG formation, all resulting in the formation of wrinkles and fine lines. Extrinsic aging, on the other hand, is the result of sun and environmental damage (chemicals, pollution, etc.) [2]. A reduction of fibrillar (types I and III) collagen fibers is a characteristic feature of chronologically aged skin and is enhanced when photodamage is present. The reason why the sun damages skin so much is because enzymes that degrade collagen, called collagen-degrading matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), are up-regulated acutely in the skin by UV radiation [3]. While the destruction of existing collagen is central to aging skin, the issue comes when damaged collagen is not replaced with newly synthesized collagen, meaning the rate between collagen degradation and collagen synthesis is not balanced [3].

Reduced content of collagen may contribute to wrinkles by weakening the bond between dermis and epidermis of the skin [4]. The junction between these two layers becomes flatter, and along with reduced collagen synthesis, contributes to the formation of wrinkles [5]. As well, extrinsic aging can appear as the development of skin cancer (carcinoma and melanoma), freckle and sunspots, and an exaggerated loss of collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These processes give the skin the appearance of roughness, uneven tone, brown patches, thin skin, and wrinkles.

So how does red light therapy boost collagen and elastin production and make the skin appear younger and healthier?

The formation of collagen by fibroblasts is a process that requires a substantial amount of energy (ATP). This ATP is formed in the mitochondria of our cells [6]. Why red light is especially good for collagen synthesis is due to the fact that specific wavelengths of natural light stimulate the mitochondria in cells to increase energy production. With more efficient functioning, oxidative stress is reduced and circulation increases, which in turn enables the body to make more ATP. That increased energy allows fibroblasts to produce more collagen. Studies support the idea that increasing mitochondrial function can have a significant effect on the production of collagen [7, 8]. This increase in collagen formation is the foundation to better skin. In a 2006 paper looking at the effects of infrared laser therapy on the bone repair process, results showed that bone irradiated with infrared (IR) wavelengths showed increased osteoblastic proliferation, collagen deposition, and bone neoformation [9].

Several other studies have shown that patients treated with infrared light elicit increased collagen type 1 gene expression and thus higher levels of natural collagen [10, 11].

Red light therapy reduces inflammation of the skin

Inflammation is one of the most common underlying conditions when it comes to skin problems. Whether it’s eczema, psoriasis, acne, redness, itchiness or the like, inflammation is likely to blame to some degree.

The causes of inflammation generally aren’t attributed to one specific cause, but rather is a complex process. Clear physical causes of inflammation include things like injuries or wounds, bruises, and burns, but inflammation can also occur in response to biological factors like infection, chemical irritants, toxins, and even things like alcohol and food. What’s more, your body can also become inflamed in response to certain environmental conditions like poor sleep, poor nutrition, dehydration, and excessive exposure to blue light. Chronic inflammation generally develops in response to environmental factors rather than acute physical factors.

Red light therapy is great for improving skin conditions by helping your cells rejuvenate and heal. By increasing circulation, tissues are able to receive more oxygen and nutrients necessary for healing, while also ridding themselves of toxic metabolic byproducts [12], thereby helping to reduce inflammation levels. As well, clinical studies have shown that in addition to increasing blood flow to tissues, red light also increases the body’s antioxidant defenses. One study looking at photobiomodulation on psoriasis found that 20-minute sessions over 4-5 weeks with 48 hours between sessions provided clearance rates between 60% and 100% in 9 patients with chronic treatment-resistant psoriasis [13].


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List of skin benefits with red light therapy

With all of that said, red light therapy appears to be highly beneficial for renewing and rejuvenating the skin. It’s shown to be one of the leading natural skin treatments around and is back by a substantial body of peer-reviewed evidence.

Rejuvenates skin – Low-level laser therapy is a non-ablative method of skin rejuvenation that is shown to be effective for improving wrinkles and skin laxity. As well, it has been shown to increase blood circulation, vascular perfusion (the ability of blood to leave the circulation and enter tissues), alter platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), and inhibit cell death [14].

Counteracts signs of aging – Wrinkles and fine lines are one of the most common characteristics of aging. LLLT is shown to promote collagen formation and the synthesis of the extracellular matrix (ECM) to reverse or reduce the appearance of wrinkles without causing damage to the overlying epidermis [1].

Increases production of collagen –  Red light at a wavelength of 660nm penetrates the skin and is rapidly absorbed affecting mitochondrial production of ATP. As collagen synthesis requires significant amounts of energy, increased ATP production by mitochondria translates into increased energy for fibroblasts and therefore collagen synthesis. As well, light therapy appears to increase the effects on PDGF and fibroblast production, which function to decrease the degradation of collagen [14].

Improves skin healing from burns – Just a single dose of LLLT has been shown to accelerate the inflammatory phase involved in skin repair, accelerate the formation of new blood vessels, and stimulate leukocyte chemotaxis, which assists in the movement of leukocytes from the blood to the tissues in response to inflammatory stimuli [15].

Reduces scarring – Hypertrophic scars are benign skin tumors that result from surgery, trauma, or acne, and are incredibly difficult to eradicate. The use of low-level laser therapy as a method to alter the wound healing process to avoid or attenuate the formation of scars has been shown to be successful [14]. In one study specifically, three patients with keloids or hypertrophic scars underwent a single dose of NIR daily at a wavelength of 805nm at 30 mW/cm2 and 27 J/cm2. Results showed significant improvements in patients treated with NIR-LED light with no significant treatment-related adverse effects [16].

Decreases inflammation – By increasing circulation, tissues are able to receive more oxygen and nutrients that are necessary for healing, while also ridding themselves of toxic metabolic byproducts [10], thereby helping to reduce inflammation levels. Additionally, red light might also exert its effects by modulating cytokines, which in turn could reduce inflammation [14].

Accelerates burn healing – Low power lasers (LPL) at 660nm and 850nm have been shown to reduce the inflammatory response and oxidative stress parameters. In a rodent study looking at the effects of LPL on burn wounds, results showed that irradiations performed daily for 7 days promoted protection against oxidative stress, reduced the inflammatory response, and increased granular tissue (connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during healing) formation [17].

Are there any side effects?

As red light therapy is a natural process, it is considered a safe and painless technique, much more so than frequent exposure to UV light from the sun.

However, it’s important to exercise caution and common sense when doing red light therapy. Despite high safety, if dosed or used improperly, an injury may occur. Studies show that minimal benefits are achieved by less or more than the recommended dose, but harmful effects are practically non-existent if the length of treatment is more than what is ideal. It’s important to recognize that some cases of burns and blistering have been reported from individuals after falling asleep with the unit in close proximity to their body, or as a result of broken wires of device corrosion. There also may be a potential risk of damage to eyes, so it’s important to wear proper eye protection during treatment to prevent harm.


If you’re looking for the youthful glow you once had, or just looking to freshen up your face without paying a fortune, red light therapy may be the next best thing. By increasing collagen and elastin production, decreasing inflammation, reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and discolor, among many other things, red light therapy is an easy, painless, and highly effective method for improving the appearance of your skin. By frequenting red light, you can let both your personality and your skin shine.


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