Are Infrared Therapy and Red Light Therapy Different?

December 12, 2016 by Kara Willingham

Each day we are surrounded by light energy, sometimes we see it, and sometimes we don’t. For centuries, great minds have theorized what it is, how it travels and how it affects life on our planet. Ancient cultures, researchers and philosophers came up with many concepts, but sometime in the 1860’s James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist proposed the concept of electromagnetism.  He concluded, because light moves in waves and does not need a medium to travel through light must be made up of both electric and magnetic fields. This led to the discovery of electromagnetic radiation, the electromagnetic spectrum and a way to measure light with its frequency and wavelength. The electromagnetic spectrum starts with safe radiation like radio, microwave, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet and ends with the not-as-safe x-ray and gamma rays. 

This is where it gets a little tricky. The human eye can see wavelengths of light that range from 400- 700 nanometers (don’t worry, we’ll explain) but the human body can feel parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that cannot be seen, such as infrared heat! 

There are many wellness services that employ light or heat therapy, two of the most popular are red light therapy and infrared heat. But, are infrared and red light part of the same family? Cousins? Both infrared heat and red light therapy are becoming progressively popular in the spa, wellness and beauty realms and are often confused, but they are different and they do provide different benefits. We know both deliver amazing results, we see it all the time. So, we have assembled the information you need to know about each, how they compare to each other and which benefits they provide.

Both Infrared Therapy and Red Light Therapy provide excellent benefits!

The Science of Light Therapy

For ideal health, we humans require regular exposure to light! A great example is Vitamin D which comes from sunlight. The suns output contains ultraviolet light and more than half of its output is infrared. When it comes to visible light, violet produces the most energy and red light produces the least.

As mentioned above, this spectrum classifies each form of energy by nanometers and its effect on the human physique. Nanometers are a unit of length equivalent to a billionth of a meter and they are used to measure the wavelength of light. Since we’re comparing red light to infrared, it’s important to note their order on the spectrum.

  • Red light is visible and is most effective for use on the surface of the skin. Red light occupies the “long end” of the visible spectrum with wavelengths of 630nm-700nm.
  • Infrared light is invisible and is effective for use on the surface of the skin as well as penetration of about 1.5 inches into the body. Infrared sits right next to red light on the electromagnetic spectrum at 800nm to 1millimeter.

The wavelength infrared puts out is longer than the wavelength of red light, this allows infrared to penetrate more deeply into the body. Thus, the reason infrared provides some similar, but some completely different benefits than red light. The science behind these concepts has been around for centuries. In the 1800-1900’s Niels Ryberg Finsen a physician and scientist researched and successfully used light therapy as a smallpox treatment later winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology 1903 for his work. In 1910 John Harvey Kellogg also researched and wrote about the benefits of red light and infrared heat is his book “Light Therapeutics”. NASA then utilized red LED lights for plant growth on trips to space and noticed the astronauts also received a positive effect on their mood, healing and wound treatment. NASA also used infrared heat to provide the astronauts with cardiovascular conditioning and since then both have become available as effective wellness services.

The Benefits of Infrared Heat

Although infrared is classified as light energy we don’t see it, we feel it as warmth. Because all humans produce infrared, it’s safe, natural and easily absorbed by the tissue. During and after absorption participants notice effects such as pain relief, increased circulation and blood flow, weight loss, detoxification, skin rejuvenation, relaxation, improved sleep and more, but those are just a few of the benefits! For millennia, people all over the world have used infrared to improve their health and assist with boosting the metabolism, reducing inflammation, lowering side effects of diabetes, reducing allergy symptoms improving heart function and bettering their quality of life. How does infrared do it? When it enters the body, it breaks up fats and toxins that are trapped in water molecules, it makes us sweat to let them out and therefore an infrared session is one of the best ways you can naturally detox your body!

Tissues that don’t receive great circulation because they have been injured can also benefit greatly as infrared heat can provide healing and skin regeneration. Infrared heat promotes the rebuilding of injured tissue by having a positive effect on the fibroblasts (connective tissue cells necessary for repair) and increasing the growth of cells, DNA and protein synthesis necessary during tissue repair and regeneration. This increased circulation, along with an increased blood flow can also provide relief for those experiencing chronic pain and other conditions.

The Benefits of Red Light

Residing right next to near infrared on the spectrum red light can (obviously) be seen! Many red-light therapy systems use small amounts of infrared along with red LED lights, and as we’ve uncovered infrared penetrates deeply while red light works on the surface of the skin. While penetrating the surface, this light energy works on rejuvenating facial skin, smoothing skin tone, building collagen, reducing wrinkles and repairing sun damage. Experts say it can also assist with activating the lymphatic system, decreasing inflammation, fading scars, stretch marks and it may also assist with hair growth or loss prevention. How, you ask? Red light has been known to stimulate cellular processes in the skin and positively affect them by regenerating fibroblasts, keratinocytes and skin tissue.

Red Light Therapy is especially popular for stimulating the production of collagen as the nanometers needed for collagen production are in the 700nm range. Because of its ability to assist with collagen production those with arthritis may greatly benefit. Red light facials or body treatments are offered in salons, spas and wellness center to beautify the skin, relieve pain, increase immunity and stimulate feelings of positivity.

How They Work Together

As you’ve noticed there are similarities between infrared and red light. They are both natural, drug and chemical free, non-invasive, effortless, safe, and users have reported no adverse short or long term side effects. Actually, users report AMAZING effects! While both therapies are beneficial the type you should choose depends on the outcome you desire. If you want to treat skin conditions on the surface a red light session may be effective, but if the skin condition is due to high toxicity in the body an infrared session may be required for toxin removal.

An infrared session is going to be a more holistic solution to wellness because it can provide skin rejuvenating benefits (like those of red light), but it can also help you burn calories, release toxins, ease pain and put you in a state of utter relaxation.

To wrap it up, red light and infrared therapy each provide diverse benefits, and provide us with different wavelengths of electromagnetic energy. Many people will utilize both and many wellness centers will offer both types of treatments. We say, test them both out to enjoy the benefits of light and heat therapy.


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