Red vs Near-infrared Light: How to Get the Most of Red Light Therapy At Home

If you’ve ever used an at-home red light therapy device or had a session in a clinic or spa, you may have noticed that not all the LEDs seem to be functioning. What the heck, right? Well, this is actually because red light therapy devices generally emit light at two different wavelengths: red and near-infrared (NIR). While red light is part of the visible spectrum of light, NIR is invisible to the naked eye. 


You may also have noticed that many devices have the option to switch modes from red to NIR light, or to use both at the same time. What’s the purpose of this? And how does it affect your treatment? Can knowing the difference between red and NIR light and their respective functions help you get the most benefits when using red light therapy at home?

Red and Near-Infrared Light: What’s the Difference?

Red and NIR light are part of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Here you’ll find all types of electromagnetic radiation, some you can see (think classic ROYGBIV), and others you can’t, though you may still encounter some of them on a frequent basis (for example, radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays). EM radiation is expressed in waves that range in size and are measured in nanometers. To give you an idea of the range of EM waves, one nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Gamma rays have the smallest wavelengths at less than 100 picometers (one trillionth of a meter), while radio waves have the longest, with some measuring more than 100 kilometers. 


Red light, as we’ve seen, is located on the visible light spectrum, and its wavelengths range from about 625 to 700nm. NIR light is just outside the visible light spectrum, with wavelengths ranging from approximately 780 to 2,500nm. 


Electromagnetic rays penetrate the skin at different depths, depending on the wavelength, with longer wavelengths penetrating deeper than shorter ones as a general rule. This means that NIR light penetrates deeper than red light. This means both lights affect the body in different ways: some issues will respond better to red light while others are better treated with NIR light. 


So which setting should you use for the issues you want to treat with red light therapy at home? Let’s take a look.

What Are the Benefits of Red Light?

Red light can penetrate 1-2mm beneath the skin’s surface. This makes it ideal for treating a number of skin-related issues. Here are some of the main benefits of red light irradiation:

What Are the Benefits of Near-Infrared Light?

NIR light penetrates from 2 to 7cm into the body, so it’s more commonly used for issues involving deeper tissues and organs. This can include issues related to:


Keep in mind that this isn’t an exact science, and there is actually quite a bit of overlap in the ways in which red and NIR affect the body. In fact, one 2020 study concluded that red and NIR light have markedly different effects on collagen production when it comes to wound healing. In a nutshell, red light is more useful in the earlier stages of wound healing, while NIR light comes in later to promote cell differentiation (the changing of one cell phenotype into another to fulfill a specific role) to a phenotype that helps with wound closure and scar formation. 


NIR is also known to improve circulation, which is an important factor in the improvement of many issues, including skin-related conditions. 

Does Red or NIR Light Affect Dosing?

The issue you’re looking to treat may influence how close you sit to your device, although there is no hard-and-fast rule. Some experts believe the ideal distance 12-18 inches for skin issues, and 6-12 inches for deeper issues. It may take a little trial and error on your part to figure out what works best for you, but we’d say anywhere between 6 and 18 inches is the sweet spot. 

The Bottom Line? Sometimes the Simplest Solution Is the Best One

While your device is equipped with three different settings, we’re all for using red and NIR light together. There’s simply no reason not to. Neither type of light is detrimental to the effects of the other. And, of course, you’re not getting a weaker dose of either light when you opt for both. You’re just doubling up on the potential benefits!


Each Rouge Red Light Therapy panel is equipped with an equal number of red and NIR LEDs (the portable Rouge Nano is the only exception, as each of its 12 LEDs can emit either red or NIR light, or both at once). This allows you to get the maximum benefits for any and all issues you’re looking to treat (and some you didn’t even know you had!)


Ready to invest in a healthier you? Shop the Rouge family of red light therapy devices today! And don’t forget to check out our blog to find out more about how just a few minutes a day of red light therapy at home can vastly improve your life. And don’t just take our word for it: see what people are saying about their Rouge experience here

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