Does Red Light Therapy Give Weight Loss the Green Light?

Does Red Light Therapy Give Weight Loss the Green Light?


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.


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