Different methods claim to cure everything from insomnia to wrinkles. But can you really get results?
Everyone is turning toward the light these days: Red-light body sessions have become spa-menu fixtures, and LED gadgets promise to fix everything from insomnia to wrinkles. “We’re only scratching the surface of what light can do,” says Shadab Rahman, Ph.D., an instructor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Here’s what you can expect from a few trending treatments.
Bright-Light Box to Boost Mood
WHAT IT IS: A lamp that emits rays that mimic sunlight; sitting close to it for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning is said to boost mood, increase focus, and fight irritability in people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
WHAT WE KNOW: About one in five people experiences a mood dip in winter, and light boxes are the go-to antidote. “The light targets the cause: a disturbance in circadian rhythm tied to the change in sunlight and darkness,” explains Michael Terman, Ph.D., of the Center for Environmental Therapeutics. One study showed light therapy to be as effective as antidepressants in treating SAD, with fewer side effects.
SHOULD YOU TRY IT? Yes, but if your blues are mild, try sunlight (free!) first. “Taking breaks outside or at the window can make you feel more alert and focused and improve your mood,” says Rahman.
Blue Light to Help You Sleep
WHAT IT IS: Special LED lightbulbs that are said to help battle insomnia by regulating your circadian rhythm; blue-emitting bulbs perk you up during the day, while blue-depleted bulbs help you sleep at night.
WHAT WE KNOW: Many studies have shown that nighttime exposure to blue light (from phones, computers, and regular lightbulbs) suppresses melatonin, the hormone needed to trigger sleep. Other studies have found that exposure to blue light during the day improves alertness.
SHOULD YOU TRY IT? Sure. “We need our day-night contrast to be dramatic;
one way is to use blue-enriched light on your desk during the day and blue-depleted lights wherever you relax for two hours before bed,” says Rahman.
Red Light for Smoother Skin
WHAT IT IS: Beds, masks, and handheld wands that emit red light claim to plump skin and reduce fine lines.
WHAT WE KNOW: A 2013 study showed that light treatments could help reduce wrinkles. “Red light has anti-inflammatory effects and increases collagen production, tightening skin and improving texture and tone,” says Angela Lamb, M.D., a dermatologist at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
SHOULD YOU TRY IT? Only if you can spend a lot and keep your expectations in check. “These treatments do offer modest improvement, especially when combined with anti-aging creams that include retinol, hydroxy acids, or antioxidants like vitamin C,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Mount Sinai’s director of research in dermatology.
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Prevention.