Red Light vs. Infrared Light Therapy – What’s the Difference?

Light therapy. It’s an umbrella term that most people have either heard due to its booming popularity as a result of skimming literature online, watching videos about it, from word of mouth, or seeing products being advertised. 


Under that umbrella falls various kinds of light therapy, including red and infrared light therapy.


In looking at a 10 year overview, we can see just how popular these terms are. 


The popularity of keyword ‘light therapy’ (10-year outlook)

infrared light therapy keyword trend



The popularity of keyword ‘red light therapy’ (10-year outlook)

red light therapy keyword trend



The popularity of keyword ‘infrared light therapy’ (10-year outlook)

infrared light therapy keyword trend



What Is Light Therapy?


Light therapy, bright light therapy, or phototherapy, can be categorized into two buckets.


Bucket A consists of light therapy being the exposure to sunlight or similar types of light, as in a sun lamp, as a treatment for conditions including seasonal affective disorder (SAD), fertility problems, heart disease, and depression. 


Bucket B consists of light therapy being used to treat skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo, by being exposed to certain wavelengths that the light produces.


Light therapy is a natural healer of certain conditions and issues with the human body. 


It’s also true that without any kind of exposure to light therapy, especially from the sun, that it can spell bad news. 


Some of the problems that are attributed to lack of sunlight can include a host of cognitive issues, cancers, weak bones due to osteoporosis, weight gain, and muscle weakness.


Light therapy is a widely studied topic with new evidence being presented regularly. Continue reading to find out more.


How does Light Therapy Work?


Light therapy works by exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of light, which work to help heal the human body from various skin conditions, cognitive issues, and a multitude of other things.


Much like plants that use the sun’s energy for photosynthesis, humans use the energy of sunlight, or similar types of light therapy, to create energy themselves and use that for a sort of ‘healing fuel’


When skin is exposed to light therapy, the energy from the light kickstarts chemical interactions within the body and causes positive changes including boosting circulation, wound healing, skin damage, and more.


Even though we can’t see what’s happening on the surface of our skin, there are many interactions that are occurring underneath that are working hard to help heal and repair.


Now that we’ve covered the bases of light therapy in general, let’s get more into what red light therapy and infrared light therapy are, alongside some contrasts and comparisons.


Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Light Therapy


Red light therapy, often referred to by a few names including low-power laser therapy (LPLT), photobiomodulation (PBM), or low-level laser therapy (LLLT) can be explained, according to WebMD, as a “treatment that may help skin, muscle tissue, and other parts of your body heal. It exposes you to low levels of red or near-infrared light.”


When it comes to red light therapy, one of the questions that people ask the most is if this kind of therapy compares to modalities like tanning booths.


But rest assured, it is not the same. With red light therapy, there is no exposure to UV rays that could damage the skin and the cells, like a tanning booth can.


Red light can also be seen by the naked eye, but infrared cannot. 


Infrared light therapy can be defined as a therapy to help with both acute and chronic pain. According to News Medical

“one of the characteristics of infrared therapy is its ability to penetrate below the skin layers, providing a much greater depth which is able to effectively provide pain relief. In fact, this invasive, natural, and painless method can provide a vast range of health benefits, without damaging the skin through UV radiation.”


Infrared light is also beneficial for being able to penetrate deep below the skin layers, essentially providing a greater range for better healing from the inside.


Infrared light therapy heals by being absorbed into the skin, which then initiates a series of systematic processes that eventually end up increasing blood flow, which helps to repair any sites of injury or trauma. 


Is one better than the other?


Although there is some overlap on what kinds of conditions and issues these two kinds of therapies treat, the differences are there, and depending on what a person’s specific needs are, they should choose accordingly. If you’re unsure about what kind is best for you, consult a medical professional.


According to this graphic by It’s Now You, we can see the differences of how red light therapy vs infrared sauna light affects the body, and how deep they go inside subcutaneously.

light therapy wavelengths

What are the Main Health Benefits of Infrared and Red Light Therapy?


Both red light therapy and infrared light therapy have their fair share of health benefits. While studies and clinical research are constantly occurring, there is evidence that suggests the following benefits.


Some of the benefits of red light therapy may include:


  • Decrease skin inflammation
  • Helps heal scars and wounds
  • Natural melatonin production for improved sleep
  • Enhancing the health of the eyes
  • Healing of muscle tissues
  • And much more


Some of the benefits of infrared light therapy may include:



What are the risks and side effects?


Complications can occur with too much exposure to red and infrared light therapy, and even complications with regular use. It’s important to understand the risks before initiating in light therapy.


Red Light Therapy Risks & Side Effects

According to a Decision Memo for Infrared Therapy Devices, there have been adverse event reports from red light therapy use, with patients developing… 

“multiple small blisters whereas others had extensive areas of involvement, e.g., 8 x 4.5 cm. At least 1 patient required skin grafting. At least 3 patients developed burns after falling asleep with the unit in place, but some patients developed burns during 30 minute treatment periods.” (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)


Infrared Light Therapy Risks & Side Effects


When it comes to infrared light therapy, there has been very little evidence of any complications from regular use. However, there is a Polish study that shows…

 “In two patients severe side effect occurred as a result of treatment: one patient developed ulceration within appendectomy scar, the other over the posterior superior iliac spine.” (Lasers in Medical Science)


Red Light Therapy: Where Do You Get it?


While you can get red light therapy done by a medical professional, there are in-home products you can purchase, including our professional Health Mate saunas


Infrared Light Therapy: Where Do You Get it?


Infrared light therapy can be acquired in different ways, most conveniently from the sun! Although you can’t see infrared light, you can feel it. 


Just like red light therapy, infrared light can also be acquired from various in-home products, including Health Mate’s Full Infrared saunas

Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna Takeaways


Light therapy has been a widely studied topic in recent years. It is an effective way to help with a number of issues, including short and long term pain relief and healing of the body.


While following the guidance of your medical practitioner, light therapy can be a great supplement to improve your health in more ways than one.


If you’re interested in taking the next step to begin improving your health with light therapy, be sure to check out our large selection of infrared saunas. Health Mate has been the leader in manufacturing award-winning saunas for over 40 years. Contact us today for information regarding our saunas, quotes, and how to order.