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What is red light therapy? The Science and History of Red Light Therapy (Photobiomodulation)


Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), is a non-invasive treatment that utilizes specific wavelengths of light to stimulate cellular processes in the body. With origins dating back to ancient civilizations, this therapy has evolved into a scientifically-backed medical technique that shows promise in a variety of applications. In this article, we explore the history of red light therapy and delve into the science behind its beneficial effects on human health.

Ancient Origins:

The roots of red light therapy can be traced back to ancient civilizations that recognized the healing properties of sunlight. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans utilized sunlight to treat various ailments, understanding that exposure to specific wavelengths of light had therapeutic effects on the body. Even in traditional Chinese medicine, sunlight was used to stimulate energy flow in the body and promote overall well-being.

The Advent of Modern Phototherapy:

The 20th century saw significant advancements in phototherapy, leading to the development of red light therapy as we know it today. In the 1960s, Hungarian-born scientist, Endre Mester, accidentally discovered the potential of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) when investigating the effects of lasers on cancer cells. Mester observed that low-intensity laser light not only didn't harm the cells but also accelerated their growth. This marked the birth of modern photobiomodulation.

Understanding Photobiomodulation:

Red light therapy, or photobiomodulation, involves the exposure of the body to specific wavelengths of light, typically in the red or near-infrared spectrum (600 to 1000 nm). These wavelengths penetrate the skin and are absorbed by the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, where they promote various cellular processes.

The Science Behind Red Light Therapy:

1. ATP Production: Photons of light interact with cytochrome c oxidase, a key enzyme in the mitochondria, stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - the primary energy source for cellular processes. 2. Reducing Oxidative Stress: Red light therapy helps reduce oxidative stress by increasing the activity of antioxidants in cells, thus preventing damage caused by free radicals. 3. Inflammation Reduction: Light therapy triggers anti-inflammatory responses, leading to decreased inflammation and pain relief in various conditions. 4. Collagen Production: By stimulating fibroblasts, red light therapy enhances collagen synthesis, promoting skin rejuvenation and wound healing.

Applications of Red Light Therapy:

1. Skin Health: Red light therapy is used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, wrinkles, and scars, promoting smoother and healthier skin. 2. Pain Management: PBM has shown promising results in relieving chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, muscle soreness, and joint pain. 3. Wound Healing: Its ability to accelerate tissue repair makes red light therapy effective in wound healing and post-surgical recovery. 4. Mental Health: Some studies suggest that photobiomodulation may have a positive impact on mood and help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.


Red light therapy, or photobiomodulation, is a science-backed treatment with ancient roots that harnesses the healing power of specific light wavelengths. With its diverse range of applications and potential therapeutic benefits, it continues to be an area of ongoing research and innovation in the medical field. As our understanding of cellular biology and light interaction advances, the future of red light therapy holds great promise in improving human health and well-being.

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