Red Light Therapy for Anxiety, Depression & Mental Health

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Red light therapy for depression and anxiety

A record number of people are dealing with issues related to anxiety, depression and mental health. If ever there was a time for innovative ways to deal with mental and emotional health issues, now is certainly one of those times. Fortunately, there is a very interesting treatment technology out there called red light therapy.

While the jury is still out regarding the extent to which red light therapy will help with mental and emotional problems, there is substantial evidence that it does help. At issue is the depth to which LEDs can penetrate the skull. Do LEDs and lamps emit enough red or infrared light at an intensity high enough to affect deeper parts of the brain? It is good to know that light therapy technology has shown the ability to help people dealing with anxiety and depression issues.

How Red Light Therapy Works for Mental Health

Remember, light is a source of energy. While blue and ultraviolet UV light rays can be harmful to humans, red and infrared light rays have shown they can provide many health benefits including clearing the skin of pimples and imperfections, improving vision, helping burn fat and spur hair growth.

Red light therapy which is an acronym for both red light and infrared light wavelengths has also been adopted in a big way by sports persons for its muscle growth and rejuvenation properties. The last 3 years have seen the beauty and anti-aging industry adopt RLT. Here is how the magic happens.

Buy RLT Home Red Light Therapy Panels

Human body cells are filled with mitochondria. Mitochondria are organelles within eukaryotic cells. These organelles serve as the primary energy source for human cells.

When mitochondria are hit with red or infrared light at a safe intensity range of 600 to 1000 nm, the mitochondria are activated or stimulated. At that point, its energy spurs cell growth and repair.

Researchers have found that activating and energizing mitochondria has a lot of health benefits.

At first, they thought that the benefits were limited to physical benefits. Almost by accident, they discovered that red light therapy may have promise in the treatment of psychological disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD), stress disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, anxiety and mental health.

More recent research indicates that there may be issues with red light therapy being able to penetrate the human skull enough to reach the brain centers where diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s originate.

Red and infrared light from LEDs and lasers can effectively reach the required depth in the body to help with stress, depression, and anxiety disorders, showcasing their potential in these areas.

Before going any further, it is important to state that infrared lasers should not be used on some parts of the human body. The intensity of red laser lights has the potential of causing harm to certain parts of the human body, eyes being one of them.

It is always best for light therapists and home users to use LEDs when initiating red light therapy.

Red light therapy should not be considered a replacement for professional mental health support or other established treatments.

Understanding the Pathophysiology of Mental Health

To understand how red light therapy can positively influence mental/emotional disorders like anxiety, mood, stress, fatigue and depression, you would need to first understand how brain activity plays a role in mental health.

While there are several theories about how certain deficits in the brain can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety or bad mood, we are going to focus on three of them, the easiest ones to understand without getting too technical.

1. Neurotransmitter imbalance – This theory is based on the premise that chemical imbalances in the brain can cause emotional/mental problems. This imbalance occurs because of deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline in the central nervous system (CNS). Also, the imbalance of GABA can cause atrophy for brain neurons.

2. Decreased cerebral blood flow – This occurs when low levels of nitric oxide get to the frontal lobe of the brain, leading to decreased oxygen flow and eventual brain damage.

3. Decreased cell energy – This occurs because of reduced glucose levels in the brain and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Is Red Light Therapy Good for Mental Health? Data from Studies

Study 1: In a 2009 study, 10 patients with major depression and anxiety were given near infrared light therapy with some remarkably positive results. This study showed potential psychological benefits after a single treatment with near-infrared light to the forehead of patients with major depression and anxiety.

That, along with a bright light study, which saw significant reduction in depression and anxiety in 58 patients, are proof enough that light therapy works. 

Red Light Therapy Products

In all three of the pathophysiological theories listed above, it has been implied that the causes of depression include cellular damage in the brain.

If red light therapy stimulates mitochondria growth and health, and stimulated mitochondria generate enough energy to repair body cells and grow new ones, it is logical to assume that red light therapy will lead to repaired cells in the brain. 

Early results show that using PBM (light therapy) for brain-related conditions looks promising. Studies focused on understanding how PBM affects important body processes like metabolism, inflammation, and cell growth suggest that it could be an effective way to treat depression. There is also initial evidence that PBM could help with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and brain injuries. So far, the information we have indicates that PBM is a safe and promising option for treating depression. (source)

How Quickly Does RLT Improve Mental Well-Being?

Where is the light shone on the body?

Light is shone directly on the forehead in most cases. This is because targeting the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain located right behind the forehead, is believed to be effective for mood regulation and cognitive function.

The positioning ensures that the light can penetrate the skull and reach the brain tissues, potentially influencing neural activity and offering therapeutic benefits. However, the exact positioning and device used should be based on professional advice to ensure safety and effectiveness.

For how long each day and how many days a week?

For 20-30 mins a day, 3-5 days a week.

How long does it take to see results?

Most see results in 2-4 weeks of use. Many see results even sooner.

At what distance or irradiance?

This is very device specific. Helmets are adjacent to the skin because they have lower irradiance. For a panel like our TotalSpectrum series, you would want to be 6-12 inches away as the irradiance at that distance is around 125mW/cm2 which allows deeper penetration.

Due to the variability in devices and individual needs, it is essential to consult with a healthcare specialist in light therapy to determine the optimal parameters for your specific situation. 

As for what treatment would look like, there have been some significant studies on this issue.

According to studies cited by Theodore Henderson, MD, Ph.D. [1] , a group of subjects who reported having mental/emotional issues like depression was given 20 red light treatments. All subjects reported significant improvement in their mental health issues. When the subjects were contacted 6 months later via phone, those who continued to use red light therapy at home confided that they were feeling mentally strong. Those who did not continue therapy saw a return of their mental health issues within 2 weeks of ceasing red light therapy.

This is strong enough evidence to warrant further research. It is also a good indication that it is safe for people to use red light therapy at home.

What is the Best Light Therapy for Mental Health?

Based on the representations from above, it should be clear that red light therapy represents a viable light therapy option for the treatment of depression issues. The process is safe, affordable, and offers lasting results.

However, there is some evidence [2] that white light therapy is also helpful to treat seasonal depression, using SAD (seasonal affective disorder) as the target of research.

Also, green light shows some promise. Some recent research also suggests that blue light therapy could be useful for mood upliftment and curing anxiety disorders. Here's a detailed guide on therapeutic uses of different colors of light

Which Red Light Wavelengths are best for Mental Health?

Wavelengths are measured by frequency and intensity. At higher levels, any kind and color of light could do damage to the human body. As far as red light therapy, it is best delivered at a wavelength frequency of 600 to 1000 nm with a light intensity of up to 150mW/cm2.

Red Light:

630-660 nm: This range is often used for its ability to promote wound healing, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain. It has also been investigated for its potential benefits in treating skin conditions and mood disorders.

Near-Infrared Light:

810 nm: This wavelength has been studied for its potential to improve cognitive function, reduce symptoms of depression, and enhance mood.

830 nm: Research has investigated its effects on brain health, including potential benefits in addressing neurological conditions and improving cognitive performance.

850 nm: Similar to 830 nm, this wavelength has been studied for its potential benefits in brain health and cognitive function.

Combination of Wavelengths:

Some studies have used a combination of red and near-infrared wavelengths to maximize the therapeutic benefits. If you are looking for a high-end red light therapy panel with multiple wavelengths, check out our TotalSpectrum ULTRA.

Red Light Therapy Devices for Better Mental Health

The last piece of the puzzle involves choosing the right devices to deliver red light therapy.

As a fairly new phenomenon, innovators are out there trying to develop the perfect light source. As of now, there are some pretty nice and affordable panels on the market.

The 7 Band TotalSpectrum ULTRA with 450nm 610nm 630nm 660nm 810nm 830nm & 850nm wavelengths. 

Keeping in mind that the rating of red light therapy devices would have to consider, functionality, features, durability, and price, here is a list of five devices (lamps) that seem to get high marks:

  • Red light therapy beds
  • Full body panels
  • Specially designed RLT helmets
  • Red light therapy head bands

If you are dealing with issues related to stress, depression, mood, anxiety or other mental health problems, you might be tired on the monthly trek to your doctor for a new prescription.

Given the evidence that red light therapy may offer a great alternative treatment, it might be something you want to consider. Under the right circumstances, you might find that red light holds the potential to resolve a lot of your mental and physical health issues.


[1] Reference from Psychiatry Advisor (opens in new tab)

[2] Reference from Sleep Passport (opens in new tab)

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Is there a specific infrared light unit for home use to treat anxiety/depression that you would recommend? Thank you for your assistance

Wayne Ivary

Is there a specific manufacturer of infrared light therapy devices to treat anxiety/depression that you recommend? Thank you for your assistance.

Wayne Ivary

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