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Does Light Therapy Actually Work?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about light therapy—specifically red light and near-infrared light, including infrared saunas. Celebrities are all over the relaxation and detoxification trend—even quarterback Tom Brady is on board, endorsing infrared pajamas (nope, not a joke!) that are said to help you recover from sports-related injuries while you sleep.

But does light therapy truly have legit health benefits? Let’s start from the beginning.

What Are Light Therapy Saunas?

Firstly, there are several types of light therapy. You probably have heard about red light, which hits the surface of the skin. And then there’s near-infrared light, which penetrates deeper into your skin. 

According to Dr. Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and worldwide expert on light therapy, infrared light works sort of like the sun does to stimulate plant growth—only, in this case, humans are the plant.

Related: The Best Skin-Care Tips And Products For Your 20s, 30s, And 40s

Light therapy saunas actually heat and penetrate your skin (not the room, like a regular sauna) and convert the light to cellular energy.

What Can Light Therapy Do For You?

According to a study in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering, red light and near-infrared light therapy offer a host of rejuvenating benefits at the cellular level, including activating the lymphatic system, increasing circulation, forming new capillaries, and repairing tissue.

So, when certain wavelengths of light hit the skin, one might experience a reduction in inflammation, wound healing, and skin rejuvenation, among other potential benefits, according to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. And, according to a study done by the journal Canadian Family Physician, it may even promote cardiovascular health, normal blood pressure, and weight loss, though more studies are warranted.

Related: Shop products to support cardiovascular health. 

Hamblin says the light has remarkable effects on the brain, as well. According to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgerybrain surgeries using LED may promote cognition and reduce the treatment cost of traumatic brain injury, since someone can apply red light therapy at home. Hamblin says hand-held light therapy devices can be used at home for sports injuries, arthritis, joint pain, skin-smoothing, and more.

Related: Shop collagen products to help promote smooth, supple skin. 

What Scientists Don’t Know

It’s important to note that the research on light therapies is still developing. Scientists don’t totally understand the molecular or cellular mechanisms responsible for turning light into energy. Also, it’s not entirely clear just how light therapy should best be used in terms of regularity, how intense the light should be, or how skin should be prepared beforehand. If that sounds too risky to you, stick with a good ol’ sweat-inducing spa sauna. 
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