The Fascinating History of Red Light Therapy

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The History Of Red Light Therapy

A Quick History of Red Light Therapy 

While light therapy may appear to be one of the newest, most innovative technologies, the history of light therapy, is actually fascinating, and while we’ve always been influenced by different forms of light (the sun, fire, gas and oil lamps, etc.), it wasn’t until the invention of the lightbulb that we began studying the effects of light’s power on our health. Here’s a brief history of red light therapy (aka. photobiomodulation) and how we’ve used photobiomodulation to benefit our health and wellness throughout time.

Early Use of Light for Wellness

In the history of red light therapy, Thomas Edison plays an important part. In 1879, Edison registered the first patent for the incandescent lightbulb. Since then, we have been revolutionizing the way we use light.

Dr. Niels Ryberg Finsen, Danish Physician & Nobel Prize Winner, 1903
Dr. Niels Ryberg Finsen, Danish Physician & Nobel Prize Winner, 1903

The first light therapy, for example, was developed by a Danish Physician, Dr. Niels Ryberg Finsen. Originally, Dr. Finsen started studying the effects of light on natural, living organisms. By the year 1893, he’d started using light as a therapy to treat smallpox, and by 1896, he was using light therapy to treat a particular type of tuberculosis called lupus vulgaris. 

To treat his lupus patients, Dr. Finsen exposed skin lesions to concentrated electric light every day. While his light therapy sessions lasted around two hours, they successfully cleared the affected lesions from the disease, winning Dr. Finsen a Nobel Prize in 1903.

Accidental Discoveries of Red Light Therapy Benefits

Fast-forward a few decades, and you’ll see that phototherapy was discovered at Rochford General Hospital in Essex, England, in 1956 when two events occurred. The first happened when one of the nurses found that a jaundiced infant experienced less yellowing of the skin in areas where the skin was exposed to sunlight. The second happened a few weeks later when a blood sample from a patient who had high levels of bilirubin showed much lower levels than expected. When the cause of this significant decrease was investigated by Dr. RH Dobbs, it was discovered that the sample had been exposed to direct sunlight for several hours before it was tested. Together, these events led Dr. Dobbs to hypothesize that high levels of bilirubin in infants and others could be treated with light. When researched further, Dr. Dobbs discovered even a certain wavelength of artificial light had an impact on lowering bilirubin levels. Today, this type of light therapy is routinely used for infants born with high levels of bilirubin. 

Development of Laser Therapy

While Albert Einstein was theorizing about the foundation of the laser in 1917, his ideas were not fully developed until 1960 by Engineer and Physicist Theodore Maiman. Essentially, a laser is a device that emits light at a consistent wavelength through an optical amplification process, allowing the light to be focused into a tight beam. We use lasers in all sorts of applications today, including laser therapy. Laser therapy uses concentrated types of light, like red and near-infrared light, to target areas of the body that can benefit from this therapeutic approach. In 1967, shortly after laser technology was developed, Hungarian Physician, Dr. Endre Mester, started testing its effects on patients with skin cancer. Dr. Mester later studied the beneficial relationship between light therapy with lasers and healing wounds. Decades later, in 2002, the Food and Drug Administration, approved the very first, low-level laser therapy device. 

LED is Discovered

Before telling you the history of red light therapy, we would like you to know about LED history. The first LED was invented in 1961 by Robert Biard and Gary Pittman. However, their version of the technology was microscopic and didn’t offer much in the way of practical use. In 1962, Nick Holonyak invented a more practical version of the technology–Holonyak is known as the “Father of the light-emitting diode.”

While they were invented in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that LEDs became more widely used. By making them more affordable, using them became more practical, and they began to be used for a broader range of reasons, including medical treatments. People even started replacing their old light bulbs with LED bulbs, which are becoming more and more common. 

Red Light Therapy 

The year 1993 played a big role in the history of red light therapy. Also known as RLT, red light therapy is a type of light therapy treatment that uses low-wavelength red light to help improve certain medical conditions, like the appearance of acne, redness, and signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. It is also reported to significantly improve the look of cellulite and has even been used to help enhance weight loss. But the history of red light therapy does not end in this paragraph.

NASAs role in the discovery of Red Light Therapy

The history of red light therapy is marked due to a precise fact. The discovery of red light therapy occurred when NASA used it in an experiment to stimulate plant growth. The experiment worked well for the plants and for the researchers. One of the byproducts of this experiment is that the researchers who participated in it were often exposed to red light–they found that this exposure had a visibly significant effect on their skin, improving the appearance of skin lesions, acne, and more. 

Since then, many studies have been conducted on the benefits of red light therapy, finding that it benefits various things, including wound healing, weight loss, cognitive function, sleep quality, inflammation, and more.  The history of red light therapy has a lot more to say.. but so does the future.

Avanti body offers a wide range of red light therapies. Visit us or call us today to discover how red light therapy from Avanti Body can benefit your health. Thank you for visiting us and learning a little bit about the history of red light therapy. If you are interested in visiting one of our clinics, you can find an Avanti Body location near you here.

Additional Blogs

5 Reasons to Try Red Light Therapy

5 Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

How Red Light Therapy Changed My Life

Red Light Relieves Inflammation

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the history of red light therapy start?

Although thanks to Neils Ryberg Finsen, in 1903, it was possible to start a successful path to use red light as a therapy, already in ancient Egypt, solar energy and colored glass were used to generate this same effect, which was used as a curative therapy.

How does red light therapy work?

Red light therapy acts on mitochondria, the “power plant” in cells. Other cells can repair skin, boost new cell growth, and improve skin rejuvenation with more energy.

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