You've likely noticed the multitude of cosmetic red light therapies such as masks, wands and even facials that have become an increasingly popular treatment for wrinkles or other signs of aging over the past few years. As interest continues to grow, you're likely to notice more devices and services that target the entire body popping up locally at wellness centers and tanning salons.
Here's what you need to know about full-body red light therapy and where to find it in Chattanooga.
What red light therapy does
Red light therapy -- sometimes called low-level laser light therapy or photobiomodulation -- uses low-wavelength red light to improve skin appearance and treat skin issues such as redness, acne, scars, wrinkles and other kinds of aging, although, according to the Cleveland Clinic, more clinical trials are necessary to confirm the effectiveness of these treatments.
It works by stimulating energy production in cells, which can become damaged by oxidative stress caused by inflammation.
According to the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery website, clinical uses for red light therapy are to relieve pain and inflammation and to treat sports injuries. Red light therapy devices have also been approved by the FDA to stimulate hair growth and decrease fat deposits.
Types of treatment
Gyms and tanning salons often have red light therapy devices that resemble tanning beds or booths but feature non-damaging red LED lights rather than UV bulbs. Chattanooga's Glo tanning salon offers Beauty Angel red light booths with VibraShape, a side alternating vibration plate that mimics the human gait to provide muscle-toning while red light therapy builds collagen and elastin for skin rejuvenation and antiaging benefits, according to Glo's website.
The red light panels at Chattanooga's Norspring Cryotherapy and Rejuvenation Center use specific wavelengths of red light that penetrate about 8-10 millimeters into the skin to create a biochemical effect in the cells. This serves to increase mitochondrial function and the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which provides energy to all cells in the body, according to the center's website.
River of Light Studio in Chattanooga offers red light and near-infrared light therapy for fat loss as well as for beauty maintenance through the stimulation of collagen and elastin, and help with seasonal depression through the stimulation of dopamine, serotonin and melatonin, says Rachele Marsh, who co-owns the studio with Peter Raia. It can also be beneficial for skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, she says.
"It stimulates the person's own mechanism of cellular regeneration by way of mitochondrial density," Marsh says to explain the cell changes red light therapy produces in the body. "The only way to regenerate a cell is through mitochondria being present to give energy to the cell to do its business."
Marsh's device uses pads equipped with red light and near-infrared light that are attached to the body. She says she likes the pads for their versatility and body-sculpting capabilities, and they also allow the body to absorb the light more deeply, she says.
Is red light therapy safe?
While red light therapy uses FDA-approved technology, the person operating the machine isn't required to have any sort of license or certification, Marsh says.
Some devices -- including the Trifecta Light device Marsh uses -- require practitioners to complete training modules before they can purchase the device.
This matters because red light therapy can be dangerous, depending on a person's skin color and sensitivity to light, Marsh says, adding that it's possible to burn the skin with red light.
Darker skin tones absorb the light faster, and certain medications can make the skin more sensitive to light, she says.
How does red light therapy work for weight loss?
Red light therapy doesn't actually remove fat cells, Marsh says. Red light treatment removes fat from the cell through the lymphatic system.
"The bloodstream then takes it, processes it, then your job is to pee and poop it out within 24 hours," she says.
The use of red light therapy for fat loss and detoxification works better for some than others. For example, someone who is extremely overweight won't be able to lose fat through red light therapy alone. "They need to fix their metabolic disorders; they need to fix their liver, their enzymes, other things to be able to flush it out," she says.
How often should you do it?
Norspring recommends clients do red light therapy sessions, which last 10 minutes, at least three times a week consistently for two to three months to notice a difference, employee Chloe Nance says.
"A lot of people see improvement in their joint mobility," Nance says of feedback she's received from clients, adding that people also comment on improvement in the appearance of scars and reduced inflammation. "Everyone loves it."
For fat loss, most people need five to 15 sessions before seeing results, Marsh says. People typically see results sooner when receiving red light treatments for fat loss than they do for skin issues such as wrinkles. "The collagen rebuilds slowly, so within seven days of your first treatment you'll start to see the collagen rebuild," Marsh says, while the effects of fat loss are more immediate.
Fat loss treatment takes about 45 minutes. After receiving the light therapy, people do a 10-minute session on a vibration plate to get the lymphatic system moving, Marsh says. For those who can't use the vibration plate due to injuries, Marsh creates custom exercises they can do that have similar effects and take about 10-15 minutes.
"In my opinion, with red light therapy for fat loss, slow and steady wins the race and less is more because a person's body can only eliminate that fat that you melt in one session so much. The rest can be reabsorbed."
How much does red light therapy cost?
Norspring offers three membership tiers, ranging from $145-$300 per month, which also include whole-body or localized cryotherapy and compression therapy in addition to red light therapy. A single red light therapy session is available for $50.
Glo offers memberships ranging from $19.95-$99.95 per month, which include tanning and spray tanning services along with red light therapy.
River of Light Studio offers trial sessions from $39-$69 and regular full-body treatments range from $55-$150.