The benefits of light therapy

light therapy

Background on light therapy

Light therapy is the use of specific wavelengths of light to produce therapeutic benefits. It is also referred to as phototherapy, photobiomodulation (PBM), low-level laser light therapy (LLLT), and low power laser therapy (LPLT). Red light therapy (RLT), where devices use the red light wavelength, has gained a lot of attention lately as a treatment for fine lines and wrinkles. Light therapy dates back to the early 1900s as a treatment for skin tuberculosis. NASA used red light therapy to help plants grow in space stations, and then to help astronauts who might become ill or injured on long space flights.


Applying light at specific wavelengths to human cells allows the cells to absorb the light energy and stimulates cell function and performance. It stimulates circulation and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, facilitating repair and increasing health and vitality.


Light therapy is used as a facial rejuvenation tool to treat acne, kill bacteria, heal wounds and scars, treat pigmentation, redness, and sun damage, stimulate circulation, promote fibroblast formation and collagen production, and improve the tone and texture of the skin as well as fine lines and wrinkles. It has also been shown to stimulate hair growth.


A Chinese medicine perspective

Light influences our “qi”, or energy. Light is believed to move the qi and directly enters the acupuncture channels. Concentrated light in the form of lasers has been used for decades to stimulate acupuncture points as an alternative to needles. Light therapy has a similar effect to that of acupuncture needles by bringing blood and qi to the area being treated. Additionally, research studies like the study Clinical effectiveness of laser acupuncture: a systematic review have shown the effectiveness of light therapy in the treatment of a variety of conditions.


Light for facial rejuvenation

The kind of light used for facial rejuvenation is produced through light emitting diodes, also known as LED, bulbs. This kind of light does not produce any ultraviolet (UV) rays. There is no risk of UV damage to skin tissue. In fact, light therapy can help heal damage caused by UV rays.

Read more about how LED therapy has been shown to increase protection against UV rays in the research article LED photoprevention: reduced MED response following multiple LED exposures.


Additionally, LED lights are non-ablative, which means they do not cause any injury to the skin surface. They are also non-thermal which means that they do not produce heat. Light therapy is safe and non-invasive, with no harmful or long-term side effects. It can be used on all skin types. There is no recovery time.


How light therapy works

The light device emits photons, which are tiny particles of light. The photons penetrate deeply into the skin’s epidermal, dermal, and subcutaneous layers. The energy is absorbed into the mitochondria of the cells at these layers, and the photons are transformed into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP fuels the metabolic events of the cells, and in particular, the energy that cells use for growth and repair.


An important part of this process involves fibroblast production. Fibroblasts are a type of cell that make connective tissue. They secrete collagen and elastin proteins that build skin and give skin its structure and elasticity. Additionally, light therapy increases blood circulation to the tissues and reduces inflammation.



  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improves facial tone and texture
  • Repairs sun damage
  • Can help heal eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea
  • Improves the appearance of scars and varicose veins
  • Accelerates the healing of cold sores
  • Kills the bacteria that causes acne
  • Helps heal wounds
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Helps stimulate hair growth


About the AcuLight – our preferred light therapy device

We use the AcuLight light therapy device at HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine. The AcuLight is a professional grade device from AcuMicro. AcuMicro developed the light with input from a Licensed Acupuncturist. It has 1,226 LED bulbs with red, blue, and yellow light. There are many light therapy devices available for home use. It is important to note that home devices are less powerful than devices used by trained professionals.


The AcuLight uses three types of light:

  • Blue light (Wavelength 423 nm): Produces singlet oxygen in the skin that destroys the P.acnes bacteria, improves acne, cleans skin, heals wounds


  • Yellow light (Wavelength 583nm): Promotes circulation, benefits uneven pigmentation, rosacea, skin redness, sun damage, bruising, spider veins


  • Red light (Wavelength 680 nm): Regenerates skin, stimulates circulation, assists wound healing, promotes fibroblast production of collagen and elastin, improves fine lines and wrinkles, eases pain, enhances energy


What to expect during a light therapy treatment

A light therapy treatment is relaxing. You’ll rest comfortably on a massage table for about 20 minutes while you listen to soft music. We provide protective eyewear and will position the light at a comfortable distance about eight inches above your face. There is no downtime, so after the treatment you’ll be free to go about your day and resume your normal activities.


Recommended treatment frequency 

The benefits from light therapy are cumulative. Light therapy is most effective when done on a regular basis, and it takes consistency and time to notice results. We recommend a series of 12 sessions for facial rejuvenation. We suggest scheduling sessions either 3 times per week for 4 weeks, or 2 times per week for 6 weeks.


While results will likely be visible even months after the treatment series is complete, maintenance is recommended to continue to support your skin’s vitality. You might think of regular light therapy treatments like you would regular exercise workouts.  When starting an exercise program, results are often seen after several weeks of consistent exercise, and continued exercise is important to maintain those results. While light therapy is safe to use as frequently as every day, it can be tailored to your needs. Even weekly maintenance treatments can be beneficial.


Before and after photos

Here are before and after photos from our practice. These photos were taken before light therapy treatment started and again after 12 treatments.


Contraindications and considerations 

Light therapy is a safe and effective treatment option. Side effects from light therapy are rare, like temporary redness of the skin on the face. Here are contraindications and things to consider when deciding if light therapy is right for you:

  • Do not use on people under the age of 12.
  • Do not use over a known cancer or tumor, any active skin cancer, or where cancer has metastasized.
  • Need to wait at least one week after using steroids or cortisol.
  • Do not use if you have a photosensitizing medical condition, like lupus.
  • Do not use while using photosensitive medications, including tetracycline, doxycycline, hydrochlorothiazide, or naproxen. Check with your doctor if you are on any medications or have any conditions that prohibit the use of light therapy.
  • Do not use while using photosensitive herbs, supplements, or topicals like citrus oil.
  • Do not use if you have seizures or epilepsy.
  • Do not use if you have a migraine.
  • Not for use with pregnant women or near the breasts of nursing women.
  • Do not use if you have an eye disorder that would prevent you from wearing the protective goggles.
  • Skin should be clean and dry before treatment.


A note on retinoids, retinols, and retinoic acid 

Retinoids refer to the class of topical skincare that contains vitamin A derivatives. Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A. Retinol requires enzymes within the skin to convert retinol to retinoic acid, which is the active component in prescription products like Tretinoin or Retin-A. Thus, the body’s conversion of retinol to retinoic acid can be a slow process.


Since retinols do not contain retinoic acid, over the counter products containing retinol are safe to use with light therapy. While there is no consensus on whether retinoids need to be discontinued before treatment, the most conservative approach is to discontinue prescription products containing retinoic acid 5 days before using light therapy treatment. The rationale is that retinoic acid makes the skin more sensitive to light and may cause redness.


Research articles

Light therapy is a proven therapy that has been studied over the past several decades in thousands of clinical trials. Below is a sampling of some of the many research studies available.



Wound healing

Hair growth


When to seek medical attention 

Please seek medical attention if you have particularly severe acne, hair loss, skin disease, or a wound that recurs or won’t heal. Also, please be sure to read through the list of contraindicated conditions listed above. Talk to your doctor to see if light therapy is right for you.


Want to talk about how light therapy can help you? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Reach out and email me through our website or call or text 910-622-4269.


About the Author

Ericca Burke is the owner of HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine where she provides acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments in Wilmington, NC. Click this link to read more about Ericca. 


About HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine in Wilmington, NC

HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine is an acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice located in Wilmington, NC just minutes from beautiful Wrightsville Beach. Click this link for contact information and directions. Click this link for a listing and description of services offered.