In a nutshell
Eye conditions where studies have proven effectiveness
- Dry Eyes: Red light therapy may be beneficial for dry eye disease by promoting tissue repair and decreasing inflammation1.
- Stye (related condition, Chalazia): Low level light therapy showed effectiveness in treating recalcitrant chalazia, which could suggest potential effectiveness for treating styes2.
- Macular Degeneration: Red light therapy may help slow the decline of macular degeneration and treat certain other retinal diseases3.
- Eye Inflammation: Red light therapy is suggested to decrease inflammation, which might be beneficial for eye inflammation1.
Eye conditions where more research is needed but initial data shows positive signs of healing
- Under-eye bags, hollows, and dark circles
- puffy eyes
- Crepey eyelids
- Under eye wrinkles
- Improving vision
Eye conditions where more research is needed and initial data shows no improvement with Red Light Therapy
The quality of vision deteriorates with age, and the onset of various eye diseases and conditions is imminent. Eye appearance also diminishes with age and in response to injury, health, or environmental conditions. Fine lines, wrinkles, droopy or crepey eyelids, eye bags, and under-eye circles are common.
Red light is an innovative new therapy growing in popularity for the treatment of eye issues related to both health and appearance. Let's explore more:
Table of Contents
How Does Red Light Therapy Work on Your Eyes?
Red light therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are applied in the form of short red light waves, ranging in length from 630 to 700 nanometers. A nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.
Red light penetrates the mitochondria of the cells, stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondria is the “energy producer” within a cell, and ATP is the body’s primary method of biochemical energy transfer.
ATP is delivered to every tissue and organ in your body to provide increased energy within cells. Higher cellular energy promotes better oxygenation, reduces inflammation, enhances circulation, and boosts the immune system.
Red light therapy signals the body on a cellular level to combat illness, infection, and inflammation.
The eyes have the highest concentration of mitochondria in the body, so they are especially responsive to red light therapy.
Increased energy in the cells triggers fibroblast production, elevating the levels of collagen and elastin (proteins that keep your skin supple and firm). A fibroblast is a particular connective tissue cell that creates collagen and is critical to the healing process. The skin’s elasticity and hydration are improved, and inflammation is reduced.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe for Your Eyes?
Yes. In fact, it is the only form of light therapy that is completely safe for the eyes.
The following types of light are all linked to corneal or retinal damage and can harm the lens and optical nerve:
- Blue Light — used in skin treatment but not in eye therapy, blue light exposure comes mainly from electronic screen usage
- Ultraviolet (UV) Light — sunlight
- Bright White Light — direct light from common LED or other bulbs used in-home
Unlike these, red light will not burn your eyes or damage the skin around your eyes.
It is important to adhere to the best red light wavelengths (630 to 700 nanometers) in eye treatment. Red light wavelengths are shorter than far-infrared wavelengths, another form of harmful light. These two types of red light are not interchangeable. Only the shorter red wavelengths are appropriate for eye therapy.
What Eye Conditions Can Red Light Therapy Treat?
Red light therapy can benefit your eyes in an ever-growing list of ways.
The skin around your eye, particularly that of the eyelid, is the thinnest and most fragile skin on your entire body.
Your eyes work hard all day, with several tiny muscles functioning constantly to focus, blink, and move your eyeballs. The skin around your eyes is under constant strain from this motion.
The skin around your eyes is especially prone to premature aging due to its thinness and continuous muscular activity. It is often the first skin to display evidence of internal or external forces affecting skin health or quality.
The rejuvenating effects of red light therapy can help the skin around your eyes to be healthier and appear more youthful.
Eye Wrinkles and Droopy Eyelids
Collagen and elastin production and circulation quality naturally decrease throughout the aging process. This causes eye skin to become even thinner and sometimes saggy or droopy. Fine lines, deep wrinkles, under-eye wrinkles, “crow’s feet” (wrinkles extending from the outer corners of the eyes), and crepey eyelids are common effects.
Besides aging, wrinkles can result from dehydration, UV radiation exposure, pollution or poor air quality, smoking, dry climates, dehydration, squinting, and hereditary factors.
The lack of a healthy sleep regimen is another leading cause of eye wrinkles and droopy eyelids. This might be a temporary problem due to a few late nights, or an ongoing condition from a poor overall sleep routine. Whether long- or short-term, red light therapy can help improve the quality of sleep.
The good news is that thinner skin responds especially well to red light therapy. The wavelengths penetrate to cells easily, increasing energy production and collagen and elastin levels. With increased elasticity comes better hydration, circulation, firmer skin, and a diminished appearance of wrinkles.
Deep wrinkles are reduced and fine lines and wrinkles can virtually disappear.
Red light therapy utilizes the body’s natural functions to repair tissues, activating healing at the cellular level. This is something that anti-aging and anti-wrinkle eye creams and serums cannot do. They are merely topical solutions that do not penetrate deeply enough to activate cellular change.
Creams and lotions can also cause skin or eye irritation, whereas red light wavelengths will not. There are no such adverse effects to red light therapy.
Under-Eye Circles and Hollows
While dark under-eye circles and hollows aren’t textural like wrinkles, they are still unsightly and a sign of poor skin condition. They are caused by many of the same factors as wrinkles, but primarily by age, dehydration, or tiredness.
The collagen- and elastin-boosting properties of red light therapy, along with the resulting improvements in circulation, hydration, and oxygenation, also serve to regulate skin tone. Dark under-eye circles are replaced by a healthier, even-toned skin appearance.
It is important to maintain a healthy sleep regimen to manage under-eye circles. Red light therapy can be greatly beneficial, but no treatment can fully counteract the effects of an unhealthy sleep routine.
Puffy or Swollen Eyes
Because red light therapy reduces inflammation, puffiness or swelling around the eyes is alleviated.
Eyebrow growth in women tends to decline with age, and eyebrows may become patchy. The outer edges of eyebrows also naturally begin to drop as skin elasticity declines, causing a droopy look.
In areas where hair growth is natural, red light therapy’s ability to promote cellular energy jump-starts hair follicles. This assists with eyebrow thickening and regrowth. The increased elasticity and circulation also reduce droopiness, restoring a more natural eyebrow look.
Dry eyes occur when natural tears fail to keep the eyes properly lubricated.
Dry eyes can be an effect of aging, but can also occur in anyone at any age, due to:
- Dry climate or conditions
- Smoke exposure
- Reaction to medication
- Dry eye syndrome (a personal tendency to inherently have drier eyes than most people)
- Prolonged “screen time” (television, computer screen, or other electronic device usages)
- Hormonal changes
Because red light therapy increases hydration levels, it helps dry eyes. It is a simple, non-invasive, at-home remedy requiring no eye drops. Since it activates the body’s natural healing process, red light therapy offers longer-term results than drops.
Floaters (vitreous floaters) cause “floating” spots in your field of vision, usually appearing as tiny black flecks. Moving your eyes usually gets floaters out of the way, but only temporarily.
Vitreous is a gel-like substance that fills the area between the retina and the lens of the eyeball. With age, vitreous becomes less of a gel and more of a liquid. As the vitreous liquifies, bits of collagen gradually disconnect from the retina. This process is called vitreous syneresis, and the bits of detached collagen are the vitreous floaters.
Floaters are very common but they do not go away on their own. If a sudden onset of floaters disrupts vision or causes loss of peripheral vision, it is advisable to contact an eye specialist immediately as this can indicate a serious condition. If, however, floaters are a minor disturbance or annoyance, red light can help.
Red light therapy cannot cure floaters; however, it can prevent them or at least slow their progression. The stimulation of natural collagen production and increased cell energy resulting from red light therapy strengthens the body. The overall collagen quality and levels are enhanced, and the likelihood of further detachment of collagen bits from the retina is lowered.
A black eye is an appearance of bruising around the eye, meaning blood has collected and pooled under the skin around the eye. It is usually caused by physical trauma to the eye, but can also result from a surgical reaction, or a reaction to pressure change (from, for example, SCUBA-diving) causing broken blood vessels around the eyes.
Red light therapy can accelerate the healing of a black eye through its ability to promote better circulation. The body’s natural cell function is improved so healing time can be shortened, but there is no miracle cure for a black eye. A black eye will take longer to treat than just dark eye-circles because the level of trauma is greater.
Growing evidence shows that red light therapy may be useful in slowing or reversing the effects of certain vision-affecting eye diseases. Cellular and mitochondrial functions, both of which red light therapy enhances, are factors in all of these conditions.
- Glaucoma — a spectrum of diseases causing optic nerve damage and vision loss over time
- Cataracts — vision loss caused by clouding of the eyeball’s lens
- Macular Degeneration — gradual genetic visual impairment due to retinal deterioration
- Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) — the brain ceases to receive signals from one eye and its motion cannot be controlled
- Retinitis Pigmentosa — a genetic, retinal disorder causing loss of peripheral vision and sometimes blindness
Research and trials are underway to determine the potential of red light therapy in fighting or correcting these conditions.
What Devices Are Available for Red Light Eye Therapy?
Red light eye masks wrap around your face but cover only your eyes, leaving your forehead, nose, mouth, and jaw uncovered. Eye masks concentrate on and administer red light wavelengths only to the eye area. They focus only on eye issues, not other facial skin conditions.
Red light eye masks are also known to have pain-relieving qualities helpful for treating migraines and tension headaches.
Red light face masks cover your entire face and help with eye issues as well as skin conditions on the rest of your face.
Light Panels or Boxes
Panels and boxes are free-standing, usually placed on a table in front of you at a designated distance away. They distribute red light evenly to your face, treating your entire face rather than just your eyes.
The best device for you depends upon your symptoms, and whether your treatment needs are localized to your eyes, or more facially generalized.
Do Clinical Studies Prove the Efficacy of Red Light Therapy in Treating the Eyes?
Yes. Relevant documented research and trials include:
- A Controlled Trial for Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment (opens in a new tab)
- LLLT Improves Visual Acuity in Adolescent and Adult Patients With Amblyopia (opens in a new tab)
- LLLT in Patients With Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) (opens in a new tab)
- Aging Retinal Function Improvement (670 nm) (opens in a new tab)
- Near-Infrared Light Increases ATP in Aged Drosophila Melanogaster (opens in a new tab)
Whether eye condition is affected by age, the environment, or health factors, red light therapy can benefit individuals of all ages and skin types.
Red light therapy is a significant and compelling step forward in the world of eye and skin health care treatment.
Red Light Therapy for other Eye related conditions:
RLT for Diabetic Retinopathy:
- Progression Slowdown: Studies have shown that phototherapy, particularly with far-red light, can have significant beneficial effects on the retina in diabetes, possibly slowing down the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
- Vascular Health Impact: Red light therapy might ameliorate lesions contributing to diabetic retinopathy, thus potentially enhancing vascular health in the eyes of diabetic patients¹⁴.
RLT for Retinitis Pigmentosa:
- Treatment Benefit: RLT has been examined in a mammal model for treating retinitis pigmentosa, showing promise in promoting mitochondrial integrity, preventing photoreceptor cell death, and preserving retinal function.
- Vision Preservation: The protection of photoreceptor cells and preservation of retinal function suggest potential benefits in vision preservation amidst retinal diseases.
RLT for Computer Vision Syndrome:
- Symptom Reduction: While specific data on computer vision syndrome is limited, red light therapy has been found beneficial in treating dry eyes, a symptom often associated with extensive screen use.
Preventive Aspects of RLT:
- Eye Condition Prevention: It's suggested that RLT could play a role in protecting eyes as we age, and may help in the prevention of various eye conditions by promoting cell health and energy generation within eye cells²⁷.
RLT and Recovery Post Eye Surgeries:
- Post-Surgery Recovery: RLT is increasingly recognized for its capacity to speed up post-surgery recovery, reducing inflammation, pain, swelling, and promoting wound healing, which could be beneficial following eye surgeries like LASIK.
- Inflammation Reduction & Healing Improvement: The therapy aids in promoting the anti-inflammatory process in the body, potentially aiding in reducing inflammation and improving healing post-surgery.
RLT for Ocular Migraine:
- Symptom Alleviation: While not specifically for ocular migraines, RLT has shown promise in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks, which might translate to alleviating symptoms of ocular migraines.
- Impact on Vascular Headaches: The therapy may modulate blood flow and serotonin levels, which could potentially have a positive impact on vascular headaches and related visual disturbances.
Side Effects of RLT:
- Red light therapy (RLT) is generally regarded as safe for the eyes, with minimal side effects, especially when used as directed over short-term periods. However, patients may experience mild irritations such as headaches or eye strain.
- The long-term impacts on ocular health are not well studied, but there’s caution regarding potential damage from long-term exposure to blue light.
RLT for Night Vision:
- Some studies suggest that RLT might have a positive impact on rod cells, which are crucial for night vision and low-light visibility.
- The therapy could potentially help in maintaining or improving night-time visual acuity, especially as it may protect the retina's photoreceptor population.
RLT and Eye Fatigue:
- RLT might help in alleviating symptoms of eye fatigue, although more specific research might be needed.
- It could potentially provide relief from eye strain caused by extensive reading or focus, by promoting cellular energy and function.
RLT for Blepharitis:
- RLT could potentially be used as a treatment modality for blepharitis, though the specifics on its impact on inflammation or infection in the eyelid margins may require further investigation.
RLT for Amblyopia (Lazy Eye):
- The effectiveness of RLT in managing or treating amblyopia in children or adults, and its impact on vision development or recovery in a lazy eye, is not well documented and may require further scientific exploration.
RLT for Conjunctivitis:
- There's potential for RLT to help in reducing the inflammation associated with conjunctivitis, though its role in managing bacterial or viral conjunctivitis might need more in-depth investigation.
RLT and Color Blindness:
- The impact of RLT on color perception and color blindness, as well as its ability to enhance color differentiation capacity in individuals with color vision deficiencies, is not well established and may necessitate further research.
RLT for Ocular Allergies:
- RLT could help alleviate symptoms of ocular allergies such as itching or watering by reducing sneezing, coughing, and itchiness associated with allergies. It may also help by reducing inflammation.
RLT for Corneal Disorders:
- Red light therapy could be beneficial in managing corneal disorders or injuries by promoting cell energy generation and working more effectively, aiding in healing after optic nerve injuries.
RLT and Ocular Surface Disorders:
- Red light therapy has been shown to alleviate symptoms of dry eye, such as grittiness and burning sensations, and could potentially help in maintaining a healthy ocular surface and tear film.
RLT for Optic Nerve Health:
- RLT could have a substantial healing effect after an optic nerve injury, restore normal vision function, improve vision recovery potential, and possibly protect against or slow down degenerative optic nerve diseases.
RLT for Uveitis:
- While there isn't direct evidence linking RLT to uveitis management, the anti-inflammatory properties of RLT might be beneficial in managing uveitis and related inflammatory conditions.
RLT for Floaters Post Vitrectomy:
- There's no direct information available regarding the effects of RLT on recovery post-vitrectomy surgery or managing floaters or visual disturbances post-surgery.
RLT and Peripheral Vision:
- The data available does not directly address the effects of RLT on peripheral vision or managing conditions impacting peripheral visual fields.
RLT and Photophobia (Light Sensitivity):
- No specific information regarding RLT's impact on photophobia or light sensitivity was found.
RLT and Scleral Health:
- The research does not provide a clear insight into RLT's role in managing scleral health and related disorders.
RLT and Retinal Vascular Occlusions:
- No direct information was found regarding the effectiveness of RLT in managing retinal vascular occlusions or its impact on vascular health in the retina.
- PubMed¹⁴: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24494611/
- American Academy of Ophthalmology²⁷: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/red-light-protect-aging-eyes