Light therapy has come a long way since its initial discovery a little before 1900.
Advances in medical science, research, and technology have helped to popularize light therapy for a wide variety of health conditions and cosmetic uses. Therapy that was once accessible only to those who could afford treatment in high-end luxury medical spas is now available in many devices for home use.
But with increased accessibility to light therapy, safety questions naturally arise. One of the most common questions is, should you wear eye protection during red light therapy?
What Do We Mean by Red Light Therapy Eye Protection?
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “red light therapy eye protection.” When we reference eye protection in this post, we’re discussing how to protect your eyes during red light therapy sessions.
If you’re looking for information about how red light itself can protect your eyes from future vision loss and other ailments, we will cover this in a future post.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Light therapy (or phototherapy) isolates certain wavelengths from the light spectrum and uses them to treat a range of health conditions. The light triggers beneficial effects in the body’s cells. Red light therapy specifically uses wavelengths from the red or near-infrared spectrum of light.
Most light therapy for skin care uses red or blue light to address specific skin problems, such as acne or wrinkles. People commonly use these types of light therapy on their faces, hence the concern regarding eye protection.
Does Red Light Therapy Require Eye Protection?
Since red light therapy involves the use of bright lights, it’s natural to wonder whether this light can damage your vision. Red light therapy is still a relatively new field, so answers to this concern are still developing and opinions are mixed.
So far, research seems to indicate that eye protection during red light therapy is unnecessary. In fact, some studies have shown that the wavelengths of red light used in most devices may actually benefit the eyes.
The Case Against Eye Protection
The visible red light used in most light therapy devices, particularly those intended for home use, generally ranges between 620 and 660 nanometers (nm) wavelength, and the near-infrared (NIR) light occurs between 810 and 850 nm.
One small study of healthy volunteers showed that NIR low-level laser irradiation, when applied to the common carotid artery, could beneficially increase blood flow to the areas behind the eyes. Several other studies, such as this 2017 study and this 2018 study, showed that red light therapy with a 670 nm wavelength can decrease inflammation in cases of retinal degeneration.
One meta-analysis reviewed almost 7,000 other studies and found only one case of maculopathy (macular degeneration), which occurred in a participant who was taking a light-sensitizing drug at the time of the study.
Most physicians agree that the risk of eye damage from properly used light therapy is minimal and mostly theoretical. Light therapy has been tested in thousands of peer-reviewed clinical studies and demonstrates an overall excellent safety profile.
The Case for Eye Protection
Infrared light (around 850 nm) may cause some eye damage and increase the likelihood of cataracts. Some scientists believe that because infrared light cannot be seen with the naked eye, consumers of red light therapy tend to use less caution, which could lead to eye damage if the therapy includes light from the infrared spectrum. High-intensity light and prolonged light exposure can both be dangerous to the eyes, but most red light therapy devices use lower level light for brief treatments.
While the meta-analysis mentioned above did find that up to 45% of study participants complained of eye discomfort or vision problems, there was no evidence of ocular damage due to light therapy and no further health problems aside from the one instance of maculopathy.
Light therapy could pose a theoretical risk, however, for some people with underlying eye conditions like ocular albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, or other health problems of the retina. Additionally, light-sensitizing drugs could amplify risk.
More research on light therapy is needed to determine the possible risks for people in these situations.
Red Light Therapy Eye Protection Products
Despite the results of these studies, some people just feel more comfortable using eye protection during their red light therapy treatments. And if you’re on a medication that causes photosensitivity, or if you’re prone to light-induced headaches, eye protection could be a good idea.
Ordinary sunglasses are created to guard against UV light. As such, they’re not up to the task of protecting your eyes during targeted light therapy. (Special glasses for glassblowers and welders are more likely to get the job done.) But there are several products to choose from that were created especially for red light therapy eye protection.
The reVive Light Therapy Relaxation Goggles are an inexpensive purchase with three pairs of goggles in a single package. These goggles are easily portable and come with an adjustable strap that keeps them tight to your head. They claim to help with relaxation during red light therapy sessions in addition to protecting the eyes.
The Angrycat protective eye goggles are also an inexpensive purchase covering a wide range of light wavelengths. They come in a pack of two with a carrying case and adjustable strap.
Alternatively, you could opt for goggles that block out all light like Smyrna’s Light Protection Safety goggles. They also come with a carrying case and adjustable strap, as well as the assurance that no light will reach your eyes.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money, the Delasco Noir Patient Eye Shield goggles are heavy duty and intended for use with laser, light-emitting diode (LED), and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments.
Consult With Your Doctor or Medical Spa
Although red light therapy eye protection probably isn’t necessary in the majority of cases, you should always speak with your doctor or light therapy clinic about the particular type of light therapy you’re considering.
If you have sensitive eyes, vision problems, or take medication that can cause light sensitivity, be sure to consult with your vision specialist.