An image of a red light signifying red light therapy in this blog post.

Photobiomodulation Vs. Red Light Therapy: Is Photobiomodulation the Same As Red Light Therapy?

This article was written by Forrest Smith

In our modern world, the ability to heal chronic pain, soothe injuries post-surgery, and accelerate wound healing has thankfully never been easier.

Photobiomodulation has allowed for home care treatments to expand, going beyond the four walls of an intimidating medical center.

But with words like red light therapy and photobiomodulation becoming more mainstream, it’s important to understand what this actually means so we know when this therapy can be utilized.

Let’s look at photobiomodulation vs red light therapy, what both are used for, and if this therapy technique really works.

 

What exactly is Photobiomodulation?

 

Photobiomodulation (PBM) is a form of light therapy that uses non-ionizing light sources and light-emitting diodes in the visible (400-700 nm) and near-infrared (700-1100 nm) electromagnetic spectrum.

This is unlike other wavelengths of light as these don’t usually penetrate the skin. Instead, with photobiomodulation, red light and near-infrared are able to significantly penetrate through the skin, making it extremely effective.

It’s a non-thermal process involving endogenous chromophores creating photophysical and photochemical events at various biological scales.

And it has many beneficial therapeutic outcomes, like the alleviation of pain and inflammation, immunomodulation, and heightened wound healing. This is due to the absorption of photons by photoreceptor molecules which leads to physiological changes within the cell, such as to the membrane permeability, or alterations in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - a key molecule involved in cellular energy transfer.

This therapy is used in a wide range of industries, from sports to skincare to the medical sector, as the reduction of inflammation, pain management, and the healing of wounds can be useful for many different reasons.
Types of Photobiomodulation

While photobiomodulation has now been popular for decades, it seems there’s often confusion around the name. In fact, it has dozens of different names including red light therapy and low-level light therapy.

The following are therapies which are known as photobiomodulation.

 

A table tha shows Photobiomodulation therapies available.

Image Source: http://valtsus.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-therapeutic-effects-of-red-and-near.html

 

Infrared Light Therapy (ILT)


Infrared is invisible to the human eye, but your body sure will feel the benefits. With wavelengths longer than visible light, but shorter than radio waves, infrared is a type of electromagnetic radiation and a light-based therapeutic technique.

It’s administered through devices that emit low-energy and non-thermal photos of light which can then be absorbed by cells and tissues in the body.

Unlike ultraviolet light which can be damaging to the skin, infrared actually enhances cell regeneration. And as a result, it has many benefits including: pain relief, easing of muscle tension, improved circulation, detoxification, skin purification, and even a boosted immune system.

It’s widely used in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, skincare, physical therapy, and more.


Cold Laser Therapy


Cold laser therapy is a low-intensity medical treatment that uses low-level lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate and promote various cellular and biological processes in the body.

It doesn’t produce heat at all, hence the name. This makes it different from the high-intensity surgical lasers that some in the medical world may be familiar with.

Once applied to the body, it stimulates cellular function by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the primary source of cellular energy. This can lead to enhanced cellular metabolism and tissue repair.

Due to this, it’s a very beneficial form of therapy for wound healing, as well as for pain relief and a reduction in inflammation too.

Aside from the usual uses, another surprising way cold laser therapy is utilized is for hair restoration. It’s now being used to stimulate hair growth, particular for people with conditions like androgenic alopecia.


Low-Level Light Therapy (LLLT)


Low-level light therapy uses low-intensity light sources to stimulate, promote, or enhance different biological and cellular processes in the body.

Again, it’s different to high-intensity lasers, as LLLT devices emit non-thermal and low-energy light at specific wavelengths which are typically in the visible or near-infrared spectrum.

It’s completely non-invasive and painless, making it a great addition to a self care plan for people recovering from an injury or surgery. It reduces pain and inflammation by affecting nerve cells, releasing endorphins, and modulating inflammatory responses. It’s often used for conditions like chronic pain, arthritis, and different sports injuries.

It promotes the healing of wounds and tissue injuries too as it accelerates skin regeneration and can actually help reduce the formation of skin tissue.

As well as the medical, pain reduction, and post-surgery uses, studies are emerging that are looking into the benefit of LLLT on neurological conditions. Some suggest that it could be used for treating neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases, but this information is still very much new and needs to be developed further.


Red Light Therapy (RLT)


Red light therapy uses specific wavelengths of red or near-infrared light to allow benefits like healing, pain reduction, and the improvement to various health and cosmetic conditions.

It uses light-emitting diodes to emit photons of light through certain wavelengths. It’s gentle, doesn’t require surgery, and isn’t invasive. When red light is applied it triggers the production of ATP, leading to improved cellular metabolism.

The main benefits are:

  • Enhanced wound healing
  • Reduced pain and inflammation, making it a useful treatment for pain management after an injury or surgery
  • Improved collagen production as it stimulates collagen synthesis
  • Some report better sleep and mood after undergoing red light therapy sessions


It’s used for oral health too. Dentists use red light therapy for various oral health procedures, including reducing inflammation and pain after surgeries and for treating conditions like mouth ulcers.

In 2023, red light therapy doesn’t require a visit to a doctor’s surgery, as it can be delivered through handheld devices like our Move+ Pro.

With our medical-grade laser technology, you can now achieve precise and targeted relief in the comfort of your own home. It’s completely painless and non-invasive. It’s wireless too, so you can take it wherever you feel best and reach the areas that are affecting you most.


Why RLT is a Popular Form of PBM Therapy


Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation, is well-known and loved for many reasons:

Effectiveness: Research has shown that PBM can be effective in promoting wound healing, tissue repair, skin rejuvenation, and reducing inflammation and pain. It's being used in a variety of medical and aesthetic treatments including skincare, pain management, hair growth, and more.

Non-Invasive: PBM is a non-invasive therapy that doesn't require any cutting, pricking, or otherwise breaking the skin, making it an attractive alternative to more invasive procedures.

Safe: When used appropriately, PBM has a low risk of side effects, especially compared to some pharmaceutical treatments or surgical interventions.

Convenience: PBM devices for home use are widely available, making it convenient for individuals to incorporate the therapy into their regular routines without needing to frequently visit a healthcare provider or clinic.

Broad Applicability: It has potential benefits for a wide range of issues from skin health (like acne, wrinkles, and scars) to muscle recovery, joint pain, and even mental health conditions like major depressive disorder or anxiety.

Growing body of research: While more research is still needed to continue dialing in the optimal dosage, there's a growing body of evidence (over 6000 clinical trials) supporting the various benefits of PBM and RLT, contributing to its rising popularity.


Photobiomodulation vs Red Light Therapy


When first researching, you can be left feeling bruised as there’s a rabbit hole of misinformation out there. To put it simply, photobiomodulation and red light therapy are both names describing the same thing. Red light therapy isn’t a form of photobiomodulation, but it refers to the same therapy.

The difference, however, lies in the subtleties. Red light therapy describes the wavelength of light that is being used, whereas photobiomodulation simply states that there is modulation of a biological system via light (photos), hence photobiomodulation. This explains why other names like infrared light therapy and low-level light therapy can also be referred to as photobiomodulation.


Photobiomodulation Questions Answered

    

Does photobiomodulation really work?

         

This therapeutic approach now has decades of research to determine the efficacy, with many reporting on the potentials for medical and cosmetic applications. As a result, the use of this form of therapy for reducing pain and inflammation has now been known for almost forty years.

In fact, the marvels of photobiomodulation were highlighted by none other than NASA. During a mission to space, they found that when astronauts were exposed to certain light wavelengths, their wounds would heal at an accelerated rate.

With intrigued scientists looking on, this initial observation was turned into extensive investigations into the therapeutic effects of light on the body’s regenerative processes.

As a result, NASA researchers uncovered that red and near-infrared light wavelengths could penetrate deep into the skin and stimulate cellular activity. These wavelengths stimulated the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key energy source for cells, promoting tissue repair and regeneration.

So while the researchers at NASA weren’t the first to discover the benefits of photobiomodulation, they certainly pushed it forward into the mainstream after releasing their findings.

Now, the effects of this form of therapy is said to work for skincare treatments (especially for anti-aging), pain management, wound healing, and for those recovering from an injury. That’s why you’ll see photobiomodulation in a medical center, physio’s office, skincare clinic, and even at home.

   

Is photobiomodulation safe?

        

Photobiomodulation is generally considered as a safe, effective, and non-intensive way to manage pain and inflammation.

It’s non-invasive and doesn’t require any form of surgery, so there are no nasty side effects or recovery time. This is especially so now that photobiomodulation therapy can be delivered to numerous areas of the body using light therapy devices like our Move+ Pro.

This simply asks for 5-15 minutes of your time every day, for the results to be most effective.

Forrest Smith

Forrest Smith

Job Title: Founder & CEO
Company: Kineon Labs
LinkedIn: @the-forrest-smith
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Bio: Forrest Smith is the CEO and co-founder at Kineon. He is an entrepreneur, business operator, strategic planner and leader. Forrest is fluent in Mandarin and English. He also speaks conversational Spanish

About Kineon

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