EMF in Red Light Therapy: The Facts and Why You Should CareLast Updated:
An electromagnetic field (EMF) is an area of moving electrical charge. EMFs are a form of radiation. Invisible to the human eye, EMFs surround us constantly even though we cannot see them.
There are concerns about EMF exposure through red light therapy, and rightly so. This article will educate you about EMF levels and what to look for when purchasing a red light therapy device.
Table of Contents
What Is an EMF Made Up Of?
EMFs are created by both natural and man-made sources.
Thunderstorms and sunlight (ultraviolet radiation) are examples of natural EMF sources.
Man-made EMFs are caused by every type of electronic device in existence; literally, anything that utilizes electricity. If electrons are flowing, EMF radiation is being produced. This means that EMFs are generated by items used in daily life such as cell phones, televisions, household appliances, radio waves, and countless other devices. Thus, by nature, red light therapy devices produce EMFs.
EMFs are comprised of electrical fields and magnetic fields.
- Electrical Fields — An electrical field is present any time a positive electrical charge (caused by protons) or a negative electrical charge (caused by electrons) exists. An electrical field is there whether or not a device is turned on. So, for example, even if your cell phone is turned off, it is still producing an electrical field. The unit of measure for an electrical field is volts per meter (V/m).
- Magnetic Fields — A magnetic field is created when an electronic device is turned on. Once activated, electronic devices cause an electrical current to flow. The stronger the current, the more intense the resulting magnetic field. In the United States, the typical unit of measure for a magnetic field is the milliGauss (mG). Elsewhere in the world, a unit called a Tesla is often used. These units are alike and conversion is simple.
The electrical and magnetic fields must both be considered to properly assess EMF levels.
What Are the Different Types of EMF Radiation?
EMF radiation exists on different levels of intensity and safety when it is absorbed by our bodies.
Ionizing radiation means that the energy level of the radiation is so high that the chemical bonds within molecules and atoms are broken. Electrons “ionize”, or detach from atoms. The radiation is then composed of ions and subatomic particles moving at high speeds and with high energy. Examples of ionizing radiation include ultraviolet (UV) rays, gamma rays (which come from radioactive decay), and X-rays.
Ionizing radiation is dangerous and can have harmful effects. It even has the potential to damage our DNA. This is why it is important to protect ourselves from the sun to prevent burning and body and facial skin damage, and it is why we protect our bodies from radiation when having medical X-rays taken.
Potential physical damage from ionizing EMF radiation can include:
- skin burns
- organ damage
- eye injury or vision loss
- reproductive problems (infertility)
- cellular or genetic damage
Red light therapy does NOT produce ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing EMF radiation contains less energy and is not capable of breaking chemical bonds. It poses far less danger than ionizing radiation and is much safer, especially in small doses.
It is still, however, important to be aware of any potential side effects of non-ionizing radiation and understand any necessary safety precautions and what levels of exposure are acceptable.
There are three types of non-ionizing radiation.
Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Radiation
ELF radiation is created by A/C electricity from power lines, electrical wires, and many common household appliances such as microwave ovens, hairdryers, laptop computers, cell phones, and even hair dryers. A/C electricity is also referred to as alternating power.
While ELF radiation doesn’t generally cause side effects or damage, extreme exposure may cause:
- skin irritation
- sleep disturbances
Red light therapy devices CAN produce ELF radiation.
Radiofrequency Radiation (RF)
RF radiation is produced mainly by electronic devices that use radio frequencies to communicate with one another. This includes cellular phones, cordless phones with bases, WiFi equipment, and some red light therapy devices. While red light therapy devices don’t exist to communicate with one another, their wavelengths do reside on the RF portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Much like ELF radiation, RF radiation is not capable of breaking chemical bonds and generally causes no side effects in typical doses. It may, however, cause certain health effects if exposure is extreme:
- all of the potential ELF side effects listed above
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing)
Red light therapy devices CAN produce RF radiation.
Thermal Radiation (Thermal Radiation)
“Thermal” simply means heat-producing. Any appliance that generates heat can create thermal radiation; however, unless the radiation is intense, side effects are still minimal. The thermal radiation caused by a laptop computer, for example, is much safer and unlikely to cause harm than that of a sunlamp or tanning bed.
Red light-emitting diode (LED) light therapy devices have wavelengths 700 nanometers (nm) and below. They have no thermal properties and DO NOT produce thermal radiation.
Near-infrared light (NIR) wavelengths are between approximately 700 to 900 nm. At the low end of this range, little to no thermal energy is produced. At the higher end (which borders on infrared), some level of thermal radiation is produced. The longer the light wave, the more thermal properties it has.
EMF Safety Precautions and What You Should Look for in a Red Light Therapy Device
The best red light therapy devices emit an EMF level of zero or very close to it.
While an actual production level of zero is impossible because every electronic device produces EMFs, your exposure is mitigated by your distance from the device during treatment and the irradiance or power density of the device. So, although EMFs might be higher on the surface of the device, they can be much lower (even zero) just a few inches away. Your body will only absorb the EMFs present at the distance you remain from the device.
EMF measurements should be taken from the “minimum usage distance”, which is the recommendation as to how far away from the device you should be during therapy. For most panels, the minimum recommended distance is around four to six inches. For face masks and other devices that come in direct contact with your body, measurements are taken at the surface of the device.
To protect yourself from EMFs, you should never be closer to your device than recommended during therapy. You can always reduce your EMF exposure by moving further away from the device; however, the benefits of treatment are diminished as you get further away.
Specific Safety Recommendations for EMF Absorption Levels
While the best EMF absorption level is zero, biologists and other scientists have determined that certain levels of EMF exposure pose little to no threat of harmful health effects.
Electrical Field Readings
- Safest: 0 V/m
- Very safe: less than 1 V/m
- Less safe but will not cause severe effects: 1 to 2 V/m
- Dangerous; avoid: 2+ V/m
Magnetic Field Readings
- Safest: 0 V/m
- Very safe: less than 10 V/m
- Less safe but will not cause severe effects: 10 – 50 V/m
- Dangerous; avoid: greater than 50 V/m
When selecting a device, make sure you can verify the EMF emission levels asserted by the manufacturer. Stay within the safety zone you are comfortable with based on your new understanding of EMF.
Research and Resources Providing EMF Facts and Recommendations
Research and guidelines concerning EMF safety concerns and precautions are available. Click on the following links to learn more.
- rivm.nl - Electromagnetic Fields in Daily Life (opens in a new tab)
- educateemf.com - Learn Archives (opens in a new tab)
- cgc.gov - Radiation Studies – CDC: Non-Ionizing Radiation (opens in a new tab)
- digitaloceanspaces.com - Extremely-Low-Frequency-ELF-Fields-White-Paper (opens in a new tab)
- who.int - Radiation: Electromagnetic Fields (opens in a new tab)
- cdc.gov - EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) (opens in a new tab)
- who.int - EHC 238 Front pages final.fm (opens in a new tab)
- fda.gov - Home, Business, and Entertainment Products (opens in a new tab)
- emfcaution.com - EMF Units Explained: V/m, milliGauss, µW/m² (opens in a new tab)
EMF exposure is an unavoidable consequence of using electricity in any capacity. The key is to mitigate your risk and ensure that your exposure stays at zero or within an acceptable range.
When used safely and per these recommended guidelines, red LED and NIR light therapy devices pose no threat of harmful effects. You can enjoy the full rejuvenating and restorative benefits of red light therapy in the comfort of your own home without safety concerns.