Want to hack aging?
start using red light.
Red light therapy is one of my top biohacks and is part of my daily morning routine to hack aging, generate more energy, and overall feel more amazing every day. Read below for a breakdown of what red light therapy is, what the benefits are, how to use it, and the top 3 red light therapy device brands to consider.
I started writing this post after a 9 hour workday with 7 hours of back-to-back meetings, buying groceries and slugging through a subway and streetcar ride to get back home, cleaning my place, and finally sitting down to start typing.
And yet, I don’t feel mentally tired.
I don’t drink coffee and no, I didn’t take any nootropics today.
So, how do I still have the energy ?
A biohack: daily red light therapy.
I mean, of course, solid sleep, exercise and nutrition are fundamental. But what we don’t talk about enough is our biological need for sunlight which has a number of incredible benefits and helps regulate our circadian rhythm the 24 hour body clock which governs our physiology and affects our health.
Back to red light.
Red light therapy (also referred to as photobiomodulation) refers to using red light and near infrared light for their physical benefits.
Dr. Michael Hamblin, a Harvard Medical School Professor, believes that in the near future every home will have one or two light therapy devices. He owns several himself.
The method of light therapy has been around for a long time. The 1903 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Niels Ryberg Finsen for the application of light in the treatment of skin diseases. Leading up to this, Niels applied red light for the treatment of small-pox in 1893 and for the treatment of lupus in 1895.
Similarly to plants, humans are designed to get light from the sun. Unfortunately, we are now spending about 90% of our daily time indoors, so our modern lifestyle includes a significantly reduced exposure to natural daylight. Sunlight has been replaced by artificial indoor lighting and digital screens.
Cue red light therapy.
It allows us to supplement our light exposure with red and near infrared light wavelengths, which allow us to get back to that natural circadian rhythm and feel our best.
Wait, but is this like laying in a tanning bed ? Don’t those increase risk of cancer ?
Good question and a common one that I get. It turns out, not all light is the same.
Different types of light fall within various wavelength ranges and have different effects on the body, but all in all light exposure impacts our mood, our sleep, our hormones, and more:
Blue light – helps wake us up, keeps us alert, and messes with our sleep in form of artificial blue light emitted by light bulbs and electronic devices.
Red light (sunrise/sunset) – has healing effects, assists with skin-deep growth and repair, such as collagen production and wound healing.
Infrared light (invisible to the human eyes, it’s the heat we experience from the sun) – penetrates deeper into the body to heat us and has incredible benefits for muscle recovery, anti-inflammatory effects, pain reduction, energy production, cell rejuvenation, and more.
UV-B light – needed for vitamin D synthesis in our skin. Can also burn the superficial layer of the skin and lead to skin cancer.
So is red light therapy the same as a tanning bed ?
Not at all. It has nothing to do with UV light. They’re different light wavelengths, on different frequencies, with completely different effects on the body.
But let’s dive deeper into red light and infrared light for their healing and regenerative benefits.
Does Red Light Therapy actually work ?
Aside from having won a Nobel Prize, red light therapy is FDA approved.
There are 100s of peer-reviewed studies on the benefits and it’s used by pro-athletes to enhance performance and recovery.
Here's a non-exhaustive list of Red Light Therapy benefits:
Skin anti-aging and wound healing
A meta-analysis of over 100 published studies, found that LED light therapy can reduce and counteract signs of aging in the skin, such as having beneficial effects on wrinkles, acne scars, hypertrophic scars, burn healing, psoriasis resolution, and UV damage reduction. Additionally red light therapy allowed for stem cell and anti-inflammatory pathway activation, leading to faster wound healing and repair.
Living in environment filled with round-the-clock artificial light often means that our circadian rhythms are out of sync, making us not-quite-fully-alert during the day and not-quite-sleepy-enough at night. One of the consequences of artificial light is that blue light exposure actually suppresses melatonin production, which is the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy in the evening. What researchers found with red light therapy, is that red and near infrared photons of light increased natural melatonin levels in participants leading to better quality sleep. Other studies found red light therapy sessions to be beneficial for people with sleep disorders in helping them to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night.
Improved thyroid health
A 2015 study in rats published in Photochemistry & Photobiology saw “improvement in thyroid function, liver function and antioxidant levels, and blood cell count after light therapy” was administered to the thyroid glands of the lab rats.
A 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled trial at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School, was done with 43 patients in Brazil with a history of levothyroxine intervention for hypothyroidism caused by chronic autoimmune thyroiditis. A major finding was that among patients who received light therapy, the need for the common thyroid drug declined, and for some went away entirely. Meanwhile, among patients in the placebo group, the average dose of the thyroid drug required was nearly three times higher. Most impressively, when the researchers did a 9 month follow-up with the study participants, 47% of those who had received light therapy no longer needed levothyroxine at all. Other benefits included a decline in thyroid peroxidase (TPOAb) and thyroid vascularity.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting infections, foreign invaders, and cell damage. While some causes are obvious, like cuts, burns, and scrapes, others are more invisible causes, like poor sleep, air-borne chemicals and pollutants, dehydration, and poor nutrition. Not all inflammation is bad, it’s a good thing in acute situations to protect us and steer us back to health. When inflammation becomes bad is when it’s chronic, and some scientists believe that the vast majority of the population is living with some level of chronic inflammation due to environmental factors.
Red light therapy has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses in a number of human trials. A randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial with patients in recovery post hip surgery, found natural light therapy to be effective in decreasing pain intensity and inflammation.
Another trial found red light therapy to be effective in reducing inflammation in periodontal cells, seen in orthodontic surgeries and dental treatments.
Other studies found red light therapy as effective in reducing the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness and generally less pain and inflammation experienced when using light therapy before strenuous workouts.
Faster muscle recovery
Red light therapy exposure helps promote antioxidants, which help reduce oxidative stress associated with muscle fatigue.
It’s also been shown to increase circulation, meaning tissues receive more oxygen and other nutrients that promote healing —while at the same getting rid of waste and toxic byproducts.
There have been several studies done to test the effects of red light therapy with professional athletes. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with pro volleyball players found that in the group that received red light therapy, post-exercise levels of blood lactate, creatine kinase, and c-reactive protein were significantly reduced versus the control group. Another recent study with rugby players found that red light therapy accelerated recovery times, prompting the research authors to recommend red light therapy for exercise recovery.
Faster brain injury/trauma recovery
As red & NIR light can penetrate beyond the head and skull to reach the brain, it offers a natural and noninvasive treatment. Red light therapy produces healing effects by increasing cerebral blood flow, which in turn increases oxygen flow & consumption, and by boosting energy production and mitochondrial activity. NIR light has also been found in studies to have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the brain.
Better physical performance
Now we’ve talked about red light therapy being beneficial in muscle recovery, but it turns out it’s also beneficial in optimizing physical performance and strength training.
One trial found that when phototherapy was applied prior to exercise, it resulted in increased strength gains. Another trial found red light therapy to improve grip strength as well.
Yet another study reported that red light therapy has been found to activate increased muscle activity during workouts, and increase time before muscle fatigue started to set in.
Essentially, if you’re interested in a smarter training approach where you see more output after your workouts, less fatigue, and improved muscle recovery, red light therapy is something to consider building into your wellness routine.
So you're interested in a red light therapy device - some common questions:
Which wavelengths are the best ?
When looking for a light therapy device, look for red light in the 630-670 nm range, and near infrared light in the 810-880 nm range.
How long do you have to use the light for ?
All you have to do is sit or stand in front of a device for 10-20 minutes a day to charge your cells.
Spending more time won’t do any harm but the beneficial effects start rising from the 1 minute mark up until about 20 minutes, and then start to plateau like a bell curve. The more surface area of your body you can cover, the more your cells absorb natural light, and the more full-body benefits you can expect to see with consistent use.
How often do I need to use it ?
If you think about it, the sun rises and sets every single day, which is when you would naturally be getting those beneficial red and infrared sun rays. However, numerous reports have shown that the brain’s brief exposure to light can have effects lasting days, weeks, or even months. 
How far away should I stand ?
There is a bit of math behind this and the recommended distance varies by manufacturer depending on light intensity.
Generally, for skin health benefits, you may stand further from the light.
For deeper tissue benefits, you want to be closer.
I use a red light panel from Red Light Rising (more on that below) and follow the distance recommended by the manufacturer, which is 20cm away for deeper tissue and 100cm away for skin health.
Which Red Light Therapy brands to consider ?
There are a plethora of red light therapy devices available online but make sure you’re buying from a reputable brand with good customer service. You want a quality light that you can be sure will deliver the right light wavelengths at the optimal intensity.
For example, some lights actually use a white or blue wavelength of light and add a red filter. In other words, the LED driver is based on blue light and it only looks red because there is a red filter over the light. We don’t want that. We want pure wavelengths of light, not just a red filter that might not give off enough red light in the wavelength we want.
Below is my top 3 shortlist:
Red Light Rising – I personally use a full stack panel from Red Light Rising.
Wavelengths: Red light at 660nm and near infrared at 850nm, same as the Joovv brand option below. They also offer custom light frequency layouts if you so choose.
Price: ranging approximately CAD $135 – $1200 depending on the size of the panel. I waited until their Black Friday sale to buy my panel which gave me 10% off (it adds up with a more expensive panel though so I was all over it !)
That said, I’ve since connected with the founders and I’m thrilled to be able offer a 5% off discount with code ‘canadianbiohacker’. Additionally 5% from every sale will be donated to Crisis charity for the homeless until April (after which a new charity will be chosen to support).
Gemba Red – another great cost-effective and quality option.
Wavelengths: They actually just came out with a new product (and updated website!) which includes 4 light wavelengths. Red at 630nm and 660nm. Near-infrared at 830nm and 850nm.
Price: GembaRed light therapy panel comes in at about CAD $500. I think this a great product but what made me opt for Red Light Rising is that I wanted a full-body panel.
Joovv – this was one of the first brands to truly mass market a red light therapy product complete with influencer partnerships the likes of Dave Asprey and Ben Greenfield.
Wavelengths: Same light wavelengths as Red Light Rising option above (660nm and 850nm)
Price: unfortunately Joovv panels are quite expensive, with a mini/targeted therapy light panel starting at CAD $900 and going up to $8000 for the largest panel.
These prices deterred me from investing in a panel for quite a while until I came across other options. But if you are not price-sensitive, then by all means this is a great option.