Are you looking for some illumination on red light therapy for weight loss? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Fans of red light therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), say this noninvasive therapy can blast away fat cells and sculpt your body by using low wavelength red light. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it might be.
Although there’s some evidence to back up these claims, it seems that red light therapy isn’t a magic bullet for fat loss. Many medical professionals are skeptical of its benefits and don’t promote it as a weight loss method.
If you want to lose weight, other proven approaches may be more valuable. Think balanced diet and exercise. Although not as space-age, they’re probably more effective.
If you think this laser therapy might be for you, we’ve got the skinny on whether red light therapy supports weight loss.
Also called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, red light therapy is a simple, noninvasive procedure that claims to blast away fat cells by harnessing the power of low wavelength red light. It’s a pretty bold claim, TBH.
The theory is that the red light penetrates your skin, and your cells absorb and use it. The therapy uses low-irradiance frickin’ laser beams that shower you with red, blue, and infrared light that soaks into your skin, targeting the fat layer just below the surface.
So how does red light therapy work?
It’s not entirely clear how LLLT works, but it seems to work at the cellular level. This is why experts say you’ll need several sessions to see the best results. One popular theory is that the laser creates holes in the fat cells, allowing the stored fat to flow out, and your body then removes the fat.
So, lasers melt body fat apparently, as demonstrated in a (pretty early) 2002 study. Researchers exposed fat cells to lasers in a laboratory experiment. After 4 minutes of exposure, fat cells released 80 percent of their contents, and at 6 minutes, they released 99 percent of the fat.
Impressive, huh? But the problem is that results often vary in human studies.
Another way red light therapy could work its magic is through mitochondria (no, not midichlorians, “Star Wars” fans). These minute structures are found inside cells and are responsible for producing energy.
Mitochondria might absorb light particles from the LLLT, which triggers the mitochondria to increase production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is the energy source for every cell in your body. So, your cells are effectively using more energy. As a bonus, they can rejuvenate themselves and repair any damage while in this state.
There’s not a tremendous amount of evidence to support red light therapy for weight loss, although some studies are promising. That said, it seems reasonably safe and doesn’t require any downtime. So if the idea of naked bathing in red light appeals to you, it might be worth a try.
What to expect during a typical red light therapy session
Red light therapy sessions may look different in each clinic and can vary according to your goals. If you’re hoping to lose weight, you’ll likely have full-body treatments rather than focusing on a specific area.
Each LED light therapy treatment lasts 20 minutes, or maybe up to 30 minutes. Because the results are cumulative, you’ll need to return to the clinic for 8 to 10 sessions, with 1 or 2 weeks between sessions.
In many clinics, you’ll have a room to yourself, where you’ll shed your clothes, don a sexy pair of protective goggles for your eyes, and spend a cozy session lying down under panels of warming red lights. A practitioner may also pass an LED light-infused wand over your skin to boost the effects in targeted areas.
It’s a zero-effort treatment, so zone out, heat up, and absorb that (possible) red light goodness.
Meh. Yes and no:
- Are there studies that report impressive results using red light therapy for weight loss? Check. ✅
- Are there celebs — including Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls, and Chrissy Teigen — who are obsessed with the treatment? Check. ✅
- But are large-scale studies thin and healthcare experts skeptical? Also check. ✅
It’s a mixed bag.
A few studies suggest that red light therapy has weight loss benefits. For example, in a 2020 study, researchers divided 60 overweight participants into three treatment regimen groups. They found that twice-weekly LLLT treatments resulted in a 0.8-inch (2-cm) reduction in waist circumference.
But before you get excited… when they checked in with the participants 3 months after the trial, they found no changes in weight or waist circumference from the original measurements. Plus, there was no control group, which means it’s difficult to make useful comparisons.
In a 2013 study, researchers followed 86 people who had 20-minute LLLT sessions every other day for 2 weeks. The results highlighted a significant decrease of 1.12 inches (2.8 cm) in the waist, 0.77 inches (2 cm) in the hips, and 1.2 inches (3 cm) in the thighs. Once again, there was no control group.
Researchers in a 2009 clinical trial understood the value of a placebo group when they divided 67 people into either an LLLT treatment group or a control group. Those in the control group received a fake treatment that looked like the real thing.
The group that received six LLLT treatments over 2 weeks lost on average 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) more from their abdomen, hips, and thighs than the control group. Once again, though, the test group regained weight, this time 0.31 inches by 2 weeks after the procedures.
If you search for info, you can find several studies that appear to demonstrate the benefits of red light therapy for fat loss, but overall the studies are not high quality. They have few participants, they often lack placebo groups, and a lack of consistency makes it difficult to tell if the results have any real clinical value.
One particular consideration with red light therapy is the cost.
Pricing varies wildly, depending on your location and whether you go to an aesthetician, doctor’s office, dermatologist, or physical therapist. A quick search reveals prices of $50 to $200 per session. And because most professionals recommend 8 to 10 treatments, it’s gonna add up quickly unless you’re feeling baller.
Most studies agree that red light therapy is safe, and they haven’t reported any significant side effects. But in a 2017 study using LLLT, two participants developed ulcers in the treatment areas. However, the authors caution that the study used a different type of laser that attached directly to the skin.
If you’re thinking about red light therapy, talk with a qualified pro first to avoid any problems.
It’s possible that you may lose some inches by trying red light therapy, as many studies suggest it can produce positive results. But keep in mind that studies on this treatment often have tiny sample sizes and no control group to make valuable comparisons.
As a result, they are often low quality studies and demonstrate only low-key results, if any.
But if the idea of red light therapy fills you with joy and it fits within your budget, why not give it a go? Remember that you’ll likely be in safer hands if you do the research to find a fully qualified medical professional rather than entrusting yourself to the first person who pops up in a search.
Red light therapy seems like a relatively low-risk activity as long as you visit a qualified practitioner like a board certified dermatologist (through the American Academy of Dermatology) or plastic surgeon (through the American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
You can discuss your goals with them, and they can give you informed recommendations.
If you’re considering red light therapy, just know that you don’t need it to lose weight. There are other safe and effective ways to lose weight that focus on eating a balanced diet and getting active more often.
Using more calories than you take in is the most direct way to lose weight. A calorie deficit may be all you need to lose any weight that’s bothering you. Besides, have you seen yourself recently? You’re beautiful and badass just as you are!
Red light therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), is an aesthetic treatment that could potentially help sculpt your body and banish stubborn fat.
Some studies suggest that red light therapy could lead to fat loss, but the results aren’t incredible. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of large-scale, high quality clinical trials rocking conclusive evidence that red light therapy supports weight loss. And it costs a sh*t ton of money to boot.
That said, red light therapy appears to be safe and have few side effects, so if you’re super keen, there’s no reason not to give it a try. But find yourself a qualified professional who can talk you through the procedure and help you decide if you’re likely to get the results you’re looking for.
If it works for you, great. But remember, folks, if you want to lose weight, the most likely way is to maintain a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle.