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What Is the Difference Between Infrared and Red Light Therapy

woman using red and infrared light therapy

You’ve probably heard of red light  and infrared light therapy and wondered what they actually do? Despite their similar appearance with red glowing lights and their shared use of light for therapeutic purposes, these treatments are distinct. As these treatments gain popularity, many are left wondering about their true benefits and safety. If you’re one of the many intrigued by these glowing devices, let’s break down what sets red light and infrared light therapies apart and find out if they are really worth adding to your recovery tools.


Understanding Light Therapy and the Spectrum

Humans have been tapping into the power of light for wellness since ancient times. Greeks and Egyptians used sunlight for its healing properties, and today, we’ve advanced to using specific wavelengths for targeted benefits. This light therapy, or phototherapy, basically helps cells work better and heal without any invasive procedures.


The light spectrum is like a rainbow of light waves, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays. Visible light, which we can see, is just a small part of this spectrum. Red light therapy uses wavelengths in the visible red range (around 620-750 nm), while infrared therapy uses longer wavelengths (around 700 nm to 1 mm), which are invisible to the human eye. Red light occupies the “long end” of the visible spectrum, and infrared sits right next to it on the electromagnetic spectrum. The longer the wavelength, the deeper the penetration, thus explaining why infrared light can provide some similar, but also different benefits compared to red light.


Benefits of Red Light Therapy

The specific wavelength of red light is uniquely beneficial to skin rejuvenation. This light targets the mitochondria, often referred to as the “power plants” of cells, within the body. By stimulating these mitochondria, red light enhances energy production, enabling other cells to perform their functions more efficiently. As a result, skin repair, new cell growth, and overall skin rejuvenation are significantly improved. Specific cells in the body absorb these light wavelengths, which then act as a catalyst for enhanced cellular activity and rejuvenation. 


Here are the key benefits:

  • Improves Skin Health: Boosts collagen production, improving skin texture, and reducing wrinkles,  stretch marks, and age spots.
  • Enhances Healing: Accelerates wound healing and reduces inflammation.
  • Increases Circulation: Enhances blood flow, promoting overall health and recovery.


How to Get Red Light

You can get some red light from the sun, especially at dawn and dusk. However, you’re also exposed to other wavelengths like UV, which can counteract the benefits of red light. To get targeted red light therapy, you can visit wellness centers, dermatologists, or gyms and fitness centers that offer these services.


Red Light Therapy Devices for Home:

  • Red Light Panels: Provide broad coverage for whole-body treatment.
  • Handheld Devices: Portable and easy to target specific areas.
  • Light Therapy Masks: Specifically designed for facial treatments.


Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy

Although we can’t see it, we feel infrared light in the warmth of the sun. And unlike red light therapies, it goes deep—2 to 7 centimeters under your skin, hitting muscles, nerves, and bones. 


With wavelengths of 700 to 1,000 nanometers, infrared light is absorbed by our photoreceptors in cells, kickstarting metabolic processes on a cellular level and increasing the production of nitric oxide, a gas vital for heart health. This all helps to improve blood circulation and deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues.


Here are the key benefits:

  • Muscle and Deep Tissue Recovery: Penetrates about 1.5 inches into the body, promoting muscle recovery and reducing joint pain.
  • Improved Circulation: Enhances blood flow, aiding in faster healing and overall health.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Increases production of nitric oxide, relaxing arteries, preventing blood clots, combating free radicals, and regulating blood pressure.
  • Pain Relief: Alleviates chronic pain conditions, making it ideal for long-term relief.
  • Detoxification: Promotes sweating, which helps detoxify the body and improve skin health.


How to Get Infrared Light

Like red light, we do get some infrared light from the sun, but for targeted therapy, controlled sources are more effective. Many spas, wellness centers, clinics, and even some fitness centers offer infrared light therapy sessions, providing professional guidance and top-notch equipment.


Infrared Light Therapy Devices for Home:

  • Infrared Light Panels: Broad coverage for whole-body treatment.
  • Infrared Saunas: Combines heat and light therapy for deep relaxation and detoxification.
  • Handheld Devices: Portable and easy to target specific areas of the body.


Are Red Light and Infrared Light Therapy Safe?

Generally, both red light and infrared light therapies are safe when used properly. Red light therapy is especially effective when performed by healthcare professionals who can use higher-intensity lights. While red light therapy is considered safe for short-term use, high levels of red LED light can cause skin irritation, such as blistering and redness. It’s crucial to wear protective goggles during treatment to avoid potential eye damage. Importantly, neither therapy involves ultraviolet rays, and there is no evidence linking them to cancer.


Infrared light therapy is also safe, but it’s important to follow any safety instructions provided with your device. When using an infrared sauna, be sure to stay hydrated and limit your session times to avoid overheating. Like with any therapy, adhering to guidelines will help you maximize benefits while minimizing risks. Before starting any new treatment or therapy, it’s always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider. 



Can You Combine Red Light and Infrared Light Therapy?

Absolutely, you can combine red light and infrared light therapy for enhanced benefits. Besides the sun, many devices offer both types of light therapy in one. Dual-wavelength devices emit both red and infrared light simultaneously, allowing you to target both superficial and deep tissues effectively. This combination therapy offers a comprehensive approach to healing, pain relief, and overall wellness.



Key Takeaway: Differences Between Infrared and Red Light Therapy


Wavelength and Visibility: Red light therapy uses visible red wavelengths (630-700 nm), while infrared therapy uses invisible wavelengths (800-1000 nm).


Penetration Depth: Red light penetrates the skin’s surface, ideal for superficial treatments like skin health. Infrared light penetrates deeper, reaching muscles, nerves, and bones, making it effective for deeper tissue healing and pain relief.


Applications: Red light is best for skincare and minor pain relief, whereas infrared is suited for muscle recovery, joint pain, and overall circulation improvement.


Benefits: Red light enhances collagen production and reduces inflammation on the skin’s surface. Infrared boosts blood flow, reduces chronic pain, and promotes deep tissue healing.




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