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Article: The Healing Spectrum: Unveiling the Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy

The Healing Spectrum: Unveiling the Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy

The Healing Spectrum: Unveiling the Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy

Written by Chris Lang

Infrared light therapy is a relatively new light-based method used to treat various conditions. Though this method is no more than a few dozen years old, it boasts quite an interesting history.

Namely, it was discovered by accident by a Hungarian physician, Endre Mester, in 1967. He was trying to replicate an experiment previously conducted in the U.S. when he noticed that the light he used promoted wound healing in rats. Afterward, in the 1990s, NASA astronauts who grew potatoes in space using intense red LEDs noticed that the light seemingly helped their hands heal faster. Observing this, NASA researchers started studying red and infrared light for treating medical issues during space travel.

Considering such promising (and fascinating) beginnings, it’s no wonder scientists continue to explore the potential benefits of infrared light therapy. For now, this innovative therapy has shown promise in pain management, wound healing, skin rejuvenation, and various other medical applications. So, let’s explore infrared treatments and their potential benefits in more detail.

How Does Infrared Light Therapy Work?

Infrared light therapy goes by many names. Photobiomodulation, biostimulation, phototherapy, and low-level laser light therapy are just some of them. But no matter what you call this therapy, it functions pretty much the same – it uses high-wavelength red or infrared light directly on the skin for a limited period.

This light penetrates into the skin, reaching specific cells. The cells absorb this light and get more stimulated to work, thus opening the door for numerous infrared light benefits.

Now, you might see the words “infrared” and “skin penetration” and ask a perfectly reasonable question – is infrared light good for you? In short, yes. There’s nothing harmful about this method of therapy, as the light doesn’t generate excessive heat at these wavelengths or penetrate the skin too deeply.

A 2018 study also suggests that infrared light therapy can positively affect the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), strengthening it and, thus, allowing other cells to function more efficiently and repair themselves.

However, it’s important to note that infrared light therapy doesn’t use only one wavelength to deliver its therapeutic benefits. Instead, it uses three different wavelengths within the infrared spectrum, each with unique penetration depths, properties, and benefits.

Types of Infrared Light: Near, Mid, and Far

Given the diversity of infrared therapy benefits, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they result from different levels of infrared light. The three levels in question are near (NIR), mid (MIR), and far (FIR) light, primarily differing in their wavelength sizes and treatment intensities.

Near-Infrared (NIR) Light

Though there are varying figures concerning the NIR range, this light typically penetrates tissue to a depth of 600 to 1,100 nanometers. In other words, it barely penetrates the skin’s outer layer, making it ideal for surface-level applications.

For this reason, NIR light therapy is commonly used to rejuvenate the skin and keep it in optimal condition by removing dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria accumulated on its surface.

Mid-Infrared (MIR) Light

The MIR light penetrates deeper into the skin, deep enough to reach the body’s soft tissue, including blood vessels, joints, and tendons. This allows it to offer significantly more benefits of infrared therapy than its NIR counterpart.

Upon reaching the blood vessels, this light will cause dilation, thus allowing an unobstructed blood flow. The increased blood circulation allows oxygen-rich blood to reach all body parts, including the wounded ones. Without proper blood circulation, healing is heavily impaired, so this benefit of infrared light is crucial for promoting efficient tissue repair.

MIR light also does wonders for inflammation, allowing more red blood cells to carry oxygen and nutrients to the inflamed site. This helps increase white blood cell production, accelerating the body’s natural healing process.

Far-Infrared (FIR) Light

As you can probably guess – the FIR light penetrates the deepest into the body. As such, this light can produce heat and is typically used for the production of infrared saunas (combined with the MIR light).

Thanks to this light, infrared saunas act similarly to traditional, so-called “dry” saunas – they heat up your body and make you sweat. This is believed to help the body’s detoxification process, ridding it of harmful substances. However, since this detox effect of an infrared treatment is still up for debate (see “Does sauna clean out your system?” for more details), we’ll focus on other health benefits of infrared light that have been scientifically studied and established.

Health Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy

After arming you with the necessary knowledge, we can now move on to the main question of this article – what are the benefits of infrared light? Though there are many proposed infrared light health benefits, we’ll focus on the most significant ones that are also scientifically backed.

Wound Healing and Pain Relief

Studies focused on infrared light for health have been the most prevalent in the past 20 years. Most of these studies agree on one thing – infrared light therapy promotes wound healing and tissue repair, as Mester’s rats and NASA astronauts initially showed.

These healing effects primarily have to do with improved circulation that allows a swift delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the injured body part and the stimulation of the mitochondria. The latter allows the cells to grow quicker and repair themselves, thus speeding up the recovery process, even for a muscle injury.

But besides these wound-healing benefits, infrared light also aids in pain relief across various conditions. For instance, a 2021 study suggests that this light can be used to reduce neuropathic pain. At the same time, some older studies established the benefits of infrared light therapy for treating pain in the Achilles tendons.

Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular health is among the most important aspects of your overall well-being. So, it’s no wonder the studied benefits of infrared light therapy in this department are considered the most noteworthy.

Infrared light stimulates the production of nitric oxide, the body’s physiological compound that dilates blood vessels and keeps them healthy. This compound aids in relaxing the arteries and minimizing the risk of clots forming. In addition, it helps prevent oxidative stress and regulate blood pressure.

For this reason, infrared saunas are lauded for their many (and, more importantly, long-term) cardiovascular benefits. Though people often ask, “Is sauna bad for high blood pressure?” the truth is that not only it isn’t bad, but it’s actually beneficial.

All these factors combined lead to slower age-related heart deterioration, strengthening your heart muscle and improving cardiovascular function. There is even some evidence that FIR light can have a preventative effect on cardiovascular disease symptoms, the leading cause of death worldwide.

Skin Rejuvenation

As we’ve already explained, infrared light therapy is believed to have the ability to stimulate the mitochondria. Powered with more energy, the rest of the cells can work more efficiently, allowing them to repair the skin, enhance its rejuvenation, and boost new cell growth. The result? Plump, elastic, and youthful-looking skin.

This desirable outcome is further confirmed by a 2013 study that suggests that infrared light therapy can stimulate collagen production, making the skin stronger and more structured. This is on par with an older study that found that this therapy can help diminish wrinkles.

But beyond keeping the skin healthy and youthful, infrared light therapy is also explored for its healing properties for numerous skin conditions.

For instance, a 2018 review suggests that the infrared light can help treat stable psoriatic lesions, thus alleviating some of the symptoms of this skin condition. There are even some indications that this light can help treat skin cancer (and other types of cancer), but more research needs to be conducted before this can be considered a mainstream treatment option.

Risks and Limitations

Though you might not be aware of it, you’re exposed to infrared lights regularly. From sunlight, which contains infrared rays, to common household appliances like infrared security cameras, these invisible rays are all around us.

Unlike the more energy-charged UV light, which lies beyond the opposite end of the visible light spectrum, infrared light is generally safe for humans. However, infrared light therapy differs in how it delivers these rays to individuals – it sends them directly into the skin. That’s why there are some risks associated with this form of therapy to keep in mind.

But as long as you use this therapy properly, you shouldn’t worry about any side effects. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind to ensure you experience only the benefits of infrared light therapy and none of the potential risks.

  • Use the appropriate wavelength. Light carries photon energy which exhibits as heat. IR light isn’t visible to the human eye, so you can’t gauge your exposure to it. This means that thermal injuries can easily happen if you’re not careful. If you’re undergoing infrared light therapy performed by professionals, there should be no issues. But if you use any at-home devices, ensure they emit appropriate light wavelengths and adhere to all the recommended safety precautions.

  • Limit the use of infrared light. Overusing this light can lead to severe eye and skin damage. So, limiting the use of the infrared light is crucial. This also applies to using infrared saunas. Though they are typically less hot than traditional saunas, you shouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time in them.

  • Always consult a healthcare provider first. Before incorporating this therapy into your wellness routine, consult a medical professional, especially if you have any medical condition that might be affected by this light.

When to Avoid Infrared Light Therapy

There are specific conditions when infrared light therapy should be avoided altogether or used with caution and medical consultation.

  • Pregnancy. Pregnant women should avoid using infrared light therapy (and infrared saunas) as its effects on the developing fetus are yet to be fully researched. And with pregnancy, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Heart disease. People with severe heart disease should exercise caution with infrared light therapy due to the potential heat stress and elevated heart rate. A consultation with your healthcare provider will dispel any doubts about whether this therapy is beneficial or harmful to your condition.

  • Photosensitivity disorders. Since red light can trigger photosensitivity reactions, people with these disorders should avoid it at all costs.

Another important thing to note is that infrared light therapy should never be used as a replacement for medications and other treatment procedures. It’s best to think of it as a complementary practice.

The Future of Infrared Light Therapy

For now, infrared light therapy seems to have a bright future. However, more research is needed to explore the full benefits of infrared light therapy, as well as any potential risks. Perhaps the most intriguing area for this research is this therapy’s potential in cancer treatment and seeing how this treatment option acts long-term.

If you want to get high-quality infrared sauna care, contact Komowa Wellness.

 

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