Red light therapy & weight loss, is it effective?

by | May 18, 2020 | Articles

Looking towards red light therapy for boosting fat loss? This article covers the what, why, and how of using red light therapy to assist weight and fat loss efforts—the effects of light on adipose tissue, how exactly it works, the two types of adipose fat in the body.

Red light therapy has gained a lot of traction lately for the numerous health benefits associated with regular use. By enhancing mitochondrial function, red light works to decrease inflammation, improve the appearance of the skin, reduce scarring, detoxify the body, and increase hair growth among others.

If you’re one of those people who have tried every diet in the book, hit the gym regularly, and still can’t seem to lose the weight, red light therapy may be something to consider. Not only does it have all the benefits listed above and more, but it’s also been proven effective for increasing fat loss while doing exercise.

Red light therapy effect on adipose tissue

Existing research shows that wavelengths of 635nm and higher can have a great benefit for reducing the circumference of different regions of the body, including the waist, thighs, arms, and hips.

For cellulite: Red light therapy has been proven highly effective for reducing cellulite. Cellulite develops as a result of two things: fat cells become too large and the connective tissue surrounding them does not stretch, which causes a dimple appearance, or an accumulation of toxins, swelling, and lack of circulation lead to the connective tissue becoming stiff and inflexible, also resulting in a dimpled appearance. One specific study of participants treated with a combination of 660nm and 950nm light wavelength and an active gel twice daily for three months showed significant improvements in the appearance of cellulite [1]. However, it’s important to note that most available studies do not use LLLT as a standalone treatment for cellulite.

For thighs, waist, and hips: Using a wavelength between 635 and 680nm can act as a non-invasive method for body contouring. One study, specifically, looked at LLLT for reducing girth using repeated treatments over a period of four weeks with eight treatments. Each treatment produced a 0.4–0.5 cm loss in waist girth, with a cumulative girth loss of −2.15 cm after four weeks [2]. Another study using LLLT at 635nm showed significant circumferential changes in measurements of the waist, hips, and thighs in a two week period [3]. As such, LLLT is a plausible method for mobilizing subcutaneous fat for body contouring.

For abdominal fat: Studies show that PBM may have the ability to reduce abdominal adipose tissue. The mechanism though to be behind this is through a reduction in glycemic levels by increasing mitochondrial metabolic rate from abdominal muscles [4].

For obesity: A study of 64 obese women undergoing phototherapy and exercise found that it enhances the effects of physical exercise in obese women undergoing weight-loss treatment and promotes significant positive changes in metabolic profile [5].

How Red & NIR works

Near-infrared light and red light have been said to aid in weight and fat loss by increasing the release of fat stores into the bloodstream to be burned for energy. This happens because red light causes disruption to the adipocyte’s membrane, which enables the liberation of stored fatty material. As such, this prompts the collapse of the adipocyte. In a study where fat cells underwent 6 minutes of laser irradiation, results showed less defined superficial adipose layer, less defined septae, and a much more coalescent adipose tissue, which confirmed a change in fat density and organization of both superficial and deep fat. This study concluded that low-level laser of an appropriate wavelength applied three times per week for two weeks can significantly reduce circumference at a certain targeted tissue site due through a reduction in adipose (fat) layer [6] It’s important to note, however, that the ability to modulate cellular metabolism and provoke a biological response is highly dependant on the intensity, wavelength, and frequency of the light being applied. These parameters are important for the emulsification of adipocytes; greater intensities of laser light did not achieve the same biological response that lower energy output devices did, so choosing the appropriate intensity is crucial to achieving optimal effects.

One of the proposed mechanisms behind this is attributed to the formation of transitory pores in the cell membrane when a 635nm wavelength of light is applied. These pores allow the release of intracellular lipids from fat cells, thus causing complete deflation of the adipocyte [7, 8]. Another possible mechanism for reducing adipose tissue is through the stimulation of mitochondria in adipocytes, which increases the synthesis of ATP and upregulates cyclic-AMP (cAMP). An increase in cAMP subsequently activates protein kinases that stimulate enzymes that convert triglycerides to fatty acids and glycerol, both of which can pass through the pores of cell membranes, thus reducing the size of adipocytes [9].


Light up your health with our RED & NIR light panel


MOJO 100

Light up your health with our Red Mojo


Brown fat tissue vs. white fat tissue

Most people are unaware that the body contains two types of fat: brown adipose tissue and white adipose tissue.

White fat cells store energy in a large, oily drop but other than storage, they are relatively inert. It originates from connective tissue and is the type of fat found in most places in the body. However, white-yellow fat serves as the largest energy reserve in the body. It acts as a protectant from trauma and insulation for our organs, produces important hormones (estrogen and leptin), and also has receptors for insulin, growth hormone, adrenaline, and cortisol.

Brown fat, on the other hand, contains many smaller oily droplets that contain mitochondria. While white fat appears relatively useless, brown fat assists with regulating energy expenditure through thermogenesis [10]. But that’s not all. Recent studies have also found that brown fat can draw sugar molecules from the bloodstream, thus lowering blood sugar and decreasing the risk of developing diabetes. Despite having minimal amounts of brown fat, it’s usually found on the front and back of the neck, as well as the upper back. However, brown adipose tissue is generally not present in adults unless there is some physiological relevance.

Studies show that individuals with higher amounts of brown adipose tissue tend to have lower BMI [12]. Thus, findings methods to stimulate generation and activation of adipose brown tissue may lead to new methods for weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity.

With respect to white adipose tissue, research shows that men exhibit great amounts of intraabdominal white tissue, whereas women exhibit more subcutaneous white adipose tissue on the thighs and hips [13].

So how do you decrease white fat and increase brown fat?

It’s not quite as simple as you may think. Frequent cold exposure is one of the most commonly studied methods of increasing brown adipose tissue, but not everyone is super keen on sitting in an icebox. Exercise, however, has also been shown effective in increasing amounts of brown fat in the body. Researchers seem to agree that cold temperatures upregulate a gene called UCP1, which is responsible for the conversion of white fat into beige fat. Working off this premise, two studies conducted in 2012 found that irisin, a hormone that is released after exercise, coaxes white fat to behave much like brown fat. Exercise was also shown to upregulated UCP1 activity, making brown fat more active [14].

Most changes were restricted to the brown adipose tissue, with yellow adipose tissue remaining largely unaltered with no signs of lipolysis [15].

Can red light therapy alone help with weight loss?

As mentioned, most available research does not use red light therapy as a standalone treatment for weight and fat loss. At a wavelength of 635nm, red light is not effective at penetrating below the skin’s surface and into subdermal tissue. It’s known that penetration depth is dependent on three variables: wavelength, power output, and biological parameters of the target tissue [16]. In order to elicit a beneficial effect on fat cells, these parameters must be manipulated.

Research has shown that visceral fat accumulation is implicated in the development of metabolic alterations that can lead to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. One particular study looking at the efficacy of PBM (photobiomodulation) combined with physical exercise to improve insulin resistance demonstrated that infrared PBM therapy at a wavelength of 780 nm promoted more beneficial effects on fat accumulation, glucose metabolism, and insulin signaling than PBM or exercise alone [17].

As a general consensus, research suggests that LLLT or PBM is more effective at eliciting results when combined with exercise [18].

How to dose red light therapy for fat loss

 Most benefical studies have been done with a dose range from 4-16J/cm2 with a pre-workout exposure and post workout exposure. 

With Mojo Play you can achaive that dose range from 1-3 minutes 12 inch away from the device. 

What science says about red light therapy and fat loss?

Studies show that red light therapy doesn’t inherently induce lipolysis within the human body, but rather with an application of 635nm at an output intensity between 7 and 20mW the light-induced the formation of transitory pores in adipocyte membranes that aid in the release of their contents, thus lowering the amount of fat accumulation within cells or provoking their collapse [19].

While red light therapy does help to significantly reduce fat mass on its own, research supports it as an adjuvant therapy with exercise to reap the most benefits. As well, science does not support the position of targeted fat loss through increasing contraction of specific muscles (i.e. working your abdominal muscles more to decrease abdominal fat mass). This is because there is no connection between the muscle layer and the fat layer. Working specific muscles will strengthen the muscle itself, but it does nothing to reduce the adipose layer. As well, muscle cells cannot directly use triglycerides, which is what fat is stored as; the must first be broken down into free fatty acids and glycerol in order to be utilized. In order to reduce fat in “stubborn area”, you need to either enhance blood flow to the specific area or release the free fatty acids to be burned for fuel. The best part is, red light and infrared light therapy do both!


With all of that said, red light and near-infrared therapy are great choices if you’re looking to enhance fat loss in specific regions or reduce the appearance of cellulite. However, science shows that it’s increasingly more beneficial when combined with regular exercises such as endurance or resistance training.


Light up your health with our RED & NIR light panel


MOJO 100

Light up your health with our Red Mojo