What is Red Light Therapy, and Does it Work for Weight Loss?
While it may sound too good to be true, proponents of red light therapy claim it has helped remove â€œstubbornâ€ fat that diet and exercise have failed to get rid of. However, many health experts are skeptical of its benefits.
As a result, you may wonder whether itâ€™s worth giving it a try.
This article reviews red light therapy for weight loss, including its benefits, downsides, and risks.
What is red light therapy?
Better known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), red light therapy is a non- invasive procedure that can be performed in a doctorâ€™s office.
Itâ€™s a popular form of body sculpting â€” a type of non-invasive procedure that claims to remove fat cells without surgery.
The procedure uses a low-irradiance laser that emits wavelengths of red, blue, and infrared light approximately 1â€“2 inches (2.5â€“5 cm) into your skin. It targets the layer of fat that sits just below the surface of your skin (1, 2).
Though the mechanism is unclear and controversial, one common theory is that LLLT temporarily breaks down part of the cell membrane. This allows stored fat cells to leach out, shrink, and be removed through your bodyâ€™s natural waste removal process (1, 2).
When you attend a laser session, a trained professional, such as a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon, will place the laser on each treatment area for 10â€“40 minutes. Most clinics recommend at least six sessions to see results.
Thereâ€™s no downtime, and you can resume your normal activities right after the session. That said, eating a healthy diet and exercising are strongly encouraged.
Red light therapy, also known as low-level light therapy, is a non-invasive procedure that may help remove fat from targeted areas of your body.
Does it work for weight loss?
Red light therapy for weight loss is very controversial. Despite positive patient testimonies and impressive results from various studies, many researchers and healthcare professions are skeptical of its purported benefits.
To date, several studies have found that LLLT or red light therapy provides benefits.
A recent 6-week pilot study in 60 people found that LLLT treatments twice per week led to a modest 0.8-inch (2-cm) reduction in waist circumference However, these findings are limited by the lack of a control group (1).
Another randomized double-blind study in 67 people revealed that those who received 6 LLLT treatments for 2 weeks lost significantly more collective inches from their abdomen, hips, and thighs â€” 3.5 inches or 8.9 cm) â€” than the control group (3).
Furthermore, a 2-week study in 86 people at a U.S. clinic observed a significant decrease in waist (1.1 inches or 2.8 cm), hip (0.8 inches or 2 cm), and thigh circumference (1.2 inches or 3 cm). Still, the study lacked a control group (4).
Finally, one study in 40 people compared the efficacy of LLLT treatment on the circumference of the upper arms with a placebo treatment.
After 2 weeks, the LLLT group experienced a significant decrease in upper arm circumference of 1.5 inches (3.7 cm), while the control group didnâ€™t experience any changes (5).
These studies and several others appear to show some benefits of using LLLT for fat loss (6, 7, 8, 9).
While most studies have observed benefits of LLLT treatment, thereâ€™s a lack of consistency among them. Plus, thereâ€™s little data to show whether the results are long term or have clinical relevance.
Most research points to modest fat loss after six or more treatments of red light therapy. However, larger and longer-term studies are needed.
Downsides and risks
If youâ€™re looking to try red light therapy, itâ€™s important to know about some of its downsides.
The largest downside to red light therapy is its cost.
Though it depends on where youâ€™re located, a six-session package can range from $2,000â€“$4,000, making it financially unfeasible for most people.
May not work for everyone
Most studies to date have been performed on individuals with a BMI of 25â€“30, so its effectiveness is unknown in populations outside of this BMI range.
Furthermore, most participants in the studies have been white, which calls its efficacy among other racial populations into question.
Most research points to a healthy lifestyle as the most effective way to lose weight. Healthy lifestyle tips include eating a nutritious diet of minimally processed foods, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress levels (10, 11, 12).
To date, most studies show that red light therapy is safe, and none have reported significant side effects (1, 3, 4, 5, 9).
Yet, in one study using LLLT, two participants experienced severe skin damage. It seems to have been attributed to the laser having direct contact with the skin, which was not the case in the other studies (13).
Always make sure to speak with a qualified professional before trying red light therapy.
Though generally considered safe, red light therapy is expensive and not well studied in diverse populations. Those who wish to lose weight can opt for more affordable, well-studied methods, such as making healthy dietary and exercise modifications.
Red light therapy â€” or low-level laser therapy (LLLT) â€” may produce modest fat and weight loss.
Despite this, outcomes appear to be modest at best.
If you want to try red light therapy, itâ€™s best to visit a qualified healthcare provider, such as a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon, who can assess your health status and provide tailored recommendations.
Nevertheless, you do not need red light therapy to lose weight. Following a diet comprised of minimally processed foods and adopting a regular exercise regimen can help you achieve the calorie deficit thatâ€™s needed for weight loss.
Red light therapy â€” or low-level laser therapy (LLLT) â€” may cause modest weight and fat loss. That said, adopting a healthy diet and exercise regimen may be a more sustainable way of achieving long-term weight loss.
The bottom line
Red light therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Itâ€™s a type of body sculpting that may help you get rid of stubborn fat.
Most research shows that red light therapy removes some fat from your waist and arms, but results are modest at best. Furthermore, itâ€™s very costly, and itâ€™s unknown how long the results will last.
If youâ€™re looking to lose weight, itâ€™s best to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly â€” two research-backed strategies to support healthy weight loss.
Nonetheless, if LLLT is something you want to try, be sure to speak with a qualified healthcare provider who can help you decide whether itâ€™s right for you.
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