Red and Near Infrared Light Therapy for Skin Health

July 17, 2023

St. Paul, MN, USA

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. It accounts for approximately 16% of your total body weight. It also has numerous functions. On top of being a sensory organ and your first line of defense against the external environment, it regulates your body temperature, and is one of our main sources of vitamin D. Taking care of your skin is vital for both the way you look and for your overall health.

Red and near infrared light therapy treatments with a high-quality device like the Delta, Alpha or Omega from Onyx Light Therapy can promote younger looking and healthier skin for your entire body. In this article, we will review the basics of skin anatomy, and provide clinical evidence of how red and near infrared (hereinafter referred to as NIR) light therapy can benefit your skin.

Skin Anatomy

The skin is made up of three layers, the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis (or subcutaneous layer).

The epidermis is the protective barrier that prevents irritants and allergens from entering the body, while also keeping water in. It’s made up mostly of keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin). New keratinocytes are produced at the bottom of the epidermis and slowly make their way to the top. Once they reach the outermost layer, they harden and eventually die. These hardened cells are what you see when you look at your skin: packed together tightly, they form a protective seal. The epidermis also contains melanin, which gives us our skin tone.

The dermis is the thickest layer of the skin, and contains hair follicles, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, sweat glands, sebaceous glands. It provides cushioning for the body and also houses the nerve endings that send signals of touch and heat to the brain.

The hypodermis (subcutaneous layer) isn’t technically part of the skin but is usually lumped in with it as they’re fairy inextricable. It consists of loose connective tissue, adipose (fat) tissue, and elastin. Its functions are to attach the skin to the bone, provide the skin with nerves and blood vessels, and provide padding and insulation for the body.

The list of issues and conditions related to the skin is very extensive. Some issues have an obvious cause (such as wrinkles from smoking and aging), others may be much more difficult to attribute to a specific factor, making them more difficult to predict and treat. This is why red light and near infrared therapy is effective: your body tends to know what to do to heal itself, it simply needs an optimal environment in which to do so. This is what red and NIR light therapy provides.


Red and NIR Light Therapy Basics

Sometimes referred to in the clinical literature as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy, Red and NIR light therapy is a non-invasive modality in which light waves in the red and NIR range penetrate the skin into the cells to stimulate the body’s healing response and encourage optimal functioning of cells and tissues. Our body responds in several ways. [1] Some of the mechanisms through which red and NIR light therapy affects the body overall and the skin specifically are described below.


Increases cellular energy

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. These tiny organelles are responsible for producing the energy that your body needs to perform all of its functions. Red and NIR light penetrates all the way to the mitochondria, where it induces a biochemical reaction, allowing oxygen to be used more efficiently to produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the molecule known as the body’s energy currency. [2]

Improves blood flow

Red and NIR light therapy can improve circulation in two ways. First, it’s been shown to stimulate angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels. [3] It also triggers the release of nitric oxide (NO), which is a natural vasodilator. [4] An increase in both size and number of blood vessels allows for a greater amount of oxygen to reach the mitochondria where it can be used to synthesize ATP. It also allows for more nutrients to reach the cells and enables the body to remove more pathogens and toxins. This has a beneficial effect on numerous skin issues.

Reduces inflammation

Many skin problems are a result of inflammation, including acne, rosacea, and eczema. Red and NIR light therapy is effective at reducing inflammation, due to its effect on macrophages. Macrophages are cells responsible for detecting, engulfing, and destroying pathogens and dead cells. There are two classifications of macrophages, M1 and M2. M1 macrophages provoke an inflammatory response, which is useful for protecting the body against viruses and bacteria that could be harmful. If you cut yourself, your M1 macrophages kick in to protect against infection. This immune response can be seen in the red inflamed skin surrounding the cut. Over time, M2 macrophages take over. M2 macrophages are responsible for promoting healing & tissue repair by stimulating the production of collagen.


Several chronic skin issues are a result of your body’s inflammatory response gone awry. Rather than moving to the M2 phenotype expression, your skin is continually in fight mode, leaving you with redness, itchiness, or a number of other conditions. Red and NIR light therapy has been shown to convert the macrophage phenotype expression from M1 to M2, thereby stemming the inflammatory response and promoting healing. [5]

Boosts collagen production

Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein and the main building block for your skin. It provides strength and structure. Collagen production starts to wane starting at around age 25. This, along with a reduction in elastin, the protein that provides elasticity, is why our skin starts to sag and wrinkle with age. Numerous studies have shown red and NIR light therapy to increase collagen production. [6]

Red Light Therapy for Anti-Aging and Skin Rejuvenation

People—particularly women—are endlessly seeking out ways to slow the aging process and look as desirable and attractive as possible. Procedures such as fractional ablative erbium laser, intense pulsed light (IPL), dermal fillers, Botox, and dermabrasion are undoubtedly effective, but many have significant drawbacks: they’re often invasive, frequently painful, and prohibitively expensive for some users. Red and NIR light therapy, on the other hand, completely safe with no side effects, painless, and effective.

A study was conducted in 2014 with a randomized control group for comparing results. In the treatment group, 113 participants received 30 treatments over 15 weeks, while the 23 subjects in the control group received no treatment. Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the treatment using photography and ultrasound. In the treatment group, photographs showed significant visible changes in wrinkles and skin roughness, and subjects reported improvements in skin feeling and complexion. There was also a significant increase in collagen density. The control group saw no significant changes. [7]

A 2009 study conducted by Dr. Daniel Barolet, one of the world’s preeminent laser therapy specialists, sought to examine not only the effects of red and near infrared light therapy on collagen in the skin, but also the potential mechanisms behind them. He and his team first evaluated the biological and histological effects of 11 red and NIR therapy treatments on a tissue-engineered Human Reconstructed Skin (HRS) model. They then assessed the effects of 12 red and NIR therapy treatments on individuals with aged skin in a double-blind, split-face study. Results showed a significant increase in procollagen levels (procollagen is a precursor to collagen) and a significant decrease in MMP-1 levels (MMP-1 is a substance that breaks down collagen) in treated HRS compared to non-treated HRS. As for the split-face portion of the study, 90% of participants showed improvement in wrinkle depth and surface roughness, and 87% experienced a reduction on the Fitzpatrick wrinkling severity score. [8]

Red Light Therapy for Preventing and Repairing Sun Damage

There is evidence that the warmer tones of early morning sunlight may be beneficial for preparing the skin for midafternoon sun exposure. This process is called photoprevention. According to clinical research, red and NIR light therapy may have a similar photopreventive effect by mimicking early morning light. In a 2008 study, participants were administered red and NIR light therapy to one thigh before exposing both thighs to UV light. The treated thigh showed significantly reduced redness compared to the non-treated thigh. There was also reduced post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Researchers concluded that red and NIR light therapy offered an SPF-15-like protection. [9]

Red light therapy can also help repair sun damage. Studies have shown red light therapy to be effective in treating melasma (dark skin discoloration often caused by sun exposure), [10] and to inhibit melanin synthesis which causes hyperpigmentation. [11]

Red Light Therapy for Rosacea

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory condition for which the cause is unknown. This makes it exceedingly difficult to treat. However, a good candidate for red and NIR light therapy given the treatment’s well-documented anti-inflammatory effects. RLT’s ability to convert proinflammatory M1 macrophages to pro-healing M2 macrophages could diminish the frequency and duration of flare-ups. [12]

Red Light Therapy for Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the most common form of dermatitis. People with the disease tend to have dry, itchy skin prone to infection. Genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a part in pathogenesis.

Research suggests red and NIR Therapy is an effective treatment option for eczema, with promising results in reducing itchiness and inflammation and helping speed the skins healing process. In one study, patients with eczema were treated with red and NIR light therapy, and the researchers obtained the following results: [13]

  • Itchy sensation decreased in 63 81 cases (79%) after this therapy.
  • Skin eruption improved in 57 of 81 patients.
  • CDI-positive epidermal dendritic cells did not change before and after red and NIR light therapy.





Red Light Therapy for Psorasis

A long-term autoimmune condition, psoriasis causes the skin to become red, itchy, and scaly. This incurable condition manifests itself as patches everywhere on the body, most commonly found on the insides of elbows, knees, and scalp. It's not completely apparent what causes the immune system to malfunction. Both genetics and environmental variables are thought to play an impact.

While there is much data and research done on red and NIR light therapy and its skin benefits, the research is still in its infancy specific to psoriasis. [14]

Researchers have completed peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of red and NIR light treatment for persons with psoriasis in pursuit of effective therapy. The findings are limited, but they are nonetheless encouraging. A 2010 study looked at the correlation between patients with chronic psoriasis and the use of a combination of 830-nm and 633-nm LED device. Psoriasis symptoms improved significantly when patients were treated for 4-5 weeks with follow-ups, according to the study. The researchers stated in their results, “Clearance rates at the end of the follow-up period ranged from 60% to 100%. Satisfaction was universally very high.” Additionally, red and NIR light therapy significantly reduced the skin inflammation of psoriasis patients in this study. The reduction in inflammation relieves itching and discomfort while also supporting the healing process.

Researchers claim that the best biological response for treatment of psoriasis comes from two wavelengths: 660 nanometers and 850 nanometers. When becoming more acquainted with red and NIR light therapy, it is important to understand the wavelengths and the differences between red light and NIR. Onyx Light Therapy devices all include LEDs with both of the critical  660nm and 850nm wavelengths.  The 660-nanometer wavelength is more easily absorbed by the surface of the skin, making it the preferred wavelength for superficial areas. The 850-nanometer wavelength penetrates further into the body to aid deeper skin layers.


How to Use Red Light Therapy to treat a Variety of Skin Issues

There are no peer-reviewed or clinically established and accepted guidelines to tell you how close you should sit to your device and how long you should use it for. Eventually, researchers will identify the optimal time and distance to get maximum benefits from the treatment for every ailment, but for now we have to rely on a little knowledge and a little trial and error.


The closer you are to the light source, the deeper the light penetrates. For skin and other surface issues such as hair growth and eye health, you want to position yourself a little further from your device than for deep tissue health issues. A general rule of thumb for skin issues is 12-18 inches away. For deeper issues which red and NIR therapy is also very effective for, such as joint pain and workout recovery, a distance of 6 inches will be more effective.

Regarding the duration of sessions, for some people, 5 minutes may suffice, while others may see greater improvements with longer sessions. For skin issues specifically, however, there doesn’t appear to be a benefit to surpass 10 minutes per treatment.

For frequency of sessions, red and NIR light therapy is absolutely safe to use every day, and in fact, many people like to incorporate it into their daily routine. For optimal results, you should maintain a minimum of 4 sessions per week.

Skin health is incredibly important to your overall health and wellness. Onyx Light Therapy devices are designed to give you the most powerful treatment to maximize your results while also being effective in lower doses on even your most sensitive areas. Shop the Onyx Light Therapy line of products today



“Low-level light therapies, including red light and near infrared light, have been shown to be effective for a huge number of biological phenomenon and medical treatments.”

-Andrew Huberman. Professor of Neurobiology & Opthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. Host of the Huberman Lab podcast.

Quote from Huberman Lab podcast #68: Using Light (Sunlight, Blue Light & Red Light) to Optimize Health