5

votes

Light Therapies: Red, Blue, White, Near, Far...What?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 29, 2012 at 11:16 PM

I'm curious about light therapies in general. I've been considering a light box for some time now for SAD. In the meanwhile, I have visited a tan salon a few times for a pick-me-up. I do enjoy it, go occassionally and always cover my face with a towel. I saw while I was there a new Red Light therapy bed that is supposed to help with wrinkles, etc... (I was given a free try-out of it). The Baby Quasar LED tool is fairly popular also. Nora Gedgaudas attests to the pros of using (full spectrum?) infrared saunas for detoxification. Tanning beds, of course, have supporters and (large amounts of) detractors...skin cancer arguments, etc... People talk about blocking blue light. Obvously the sun is a source of energy for the biological functioning of our planet, and I find the whole topic interesting. I am admittedly extra curious about the possibility of skin improvement/maintenance.

I have to confess I am very confused. I have tried researching light in the past and it is one area that continues to baffle me. I don't know the difference between full spectrum and a pocket flashlight.

So what you say?

F15e0bae42dbf0b8cfc71e62902497b4

(2036)

on February 02, 2012
at 07:01 AM

ooh, that sucks. :(

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:44 PM

I think getting more exposure to the sun is definitely a helpful strategy. But for some of us, it's difficult to manage during the winter months. For instance, here in Chicago in January, it is dark when I leave the house in the morning for work, and dark when I leave work for home. The short time I have at lunch is not sufficient to meet my needs--it takes much longer exposures in winter, and more of our skin is covered up because of the cold. So it's easy to see how people are drawn to tanning beds and light therapy boxes--especially when they often seem to produce desirable results.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:41 PM

To my knowledge, unless something has changed in the last couple years, the FDA has not approved ANY light therapy devices for the treatment of SAD. I point this out not to challenge their efficacy (I've used one successfully for many years), but just to clarify. I think we can all agree that the FDA is not always a good source for health information.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:08 PM

The author of that how-to misunderstands the difference between lux and lumens, and as a result, has probably produced a light box that does NOT provide a therapeutic 10,000 lux dose.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 31, 2012
at 09:15 PM

@daz why that's heretical! Everyone knows it's turtles all the way down.:)

C8b2136ef95ba6aac211825ff38cc0e9

(971)

on January 31, 2012
at 04:15 AM

That sounds pretty cool. Never heard of that kind of therapy, I'll have to read about it.

543a65b3004bf5a51974fbdd60d666bb

(4493)

on January 30, 2012
at 01:10 AM

how can it be winter for you and summer for me, is the world round....

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c

on January 29, 2012
at 11:21 PM

I'll post this as a comment because it isn't a full answer. Our ancestors didn't have tanning beds. IMO, what might help is getting into the sun, especially in natural areas where there is better air quality and so forth. If someone knows more on the subject, hopefully they can provide something more scientific.

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8 Answers

4
89a3eb9e05b04102f0a584e438a7da3e

(1136)

on January 30, 2012
at 12:04 AM

The only FDA approved devices are white light, 10,000 lux. All reputable companies are required by the FDA to offer a 30 day money back guarantee. One such company is http://www.alaskanorthernlights.com/ though they are certainly not the only one. The best time to try it is late September to October when the light is going away -- if you are in the Northern hemisphere you only have a few weeks to wait before the natural light will come back, and you can get a good dose for free.

There is a literature on tanning beds and decreased depression.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:41 PM

To my knowledge, unless something has changed in the last couple years, the FDA has not approved ANY light therapy devices for the treatment of SAD. I point this out not to challenge their efficacy (I've used one successfully for many years), but just to clarify. I think we can all agree that the FDA is not always a good source for health information.

1
912ec069b5bd84af1b6ef7545b950908

on February 01, 2012
at 02:37 AM

I love my lightbox -- mine is also from Alaska Northern Lights, and they helped get my insurance company to pay for a portion of it. (They send you the paperwork for your doc to fill out -- super nice people and very helpful.) Darker days make me sleep more and also make my carb cravings incredibly acute. Using the light box for about 30 minutes when I wake up helps immensely. I find I don't need it so much in the depths of winter as I do when the days are rapidly getting shorter (by us that's October/November) and again when they are rapidly getting longer (March/April.) I have depression and the box doesn't help with the mood problems too much. It -does- help with energy, motivation, and food choice.

1
A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:38 PM

I've been using a bright light therapy box between October and March for about 7 years or so. I have a fixture that delivers 10,000 lux at a distance of ~12-18 inches from my face. I use mine for about 30-60 minutes a day, depending on how much time I have and how short the days are. I do it early in the morning, and usually read while basking (one does not stare into the light).

From my research, you should consider intensity of the light as the most important factor--not the color/spectrum. In other words, 10,000 lux is most important, and it matters less if that's white or blue. The evidence for the effectiveness of blue light seems incomplete at this point, whereas the evidence for bright white light is fairly well established.

Contrary to another response, unless something has changed in the last few years, the FDA has NOT approved light therapy as a treatment for SAD. But this doesn't mean it doesn't work. Much like the paleo diet, the actual lived experience of thousands of people might be more relevant than the FDA's questionable authority.

Keep in mind that the benefit from tanning beds or UV light may overlap bright light therapy in some ways, but really you are treating two different things with these two different technologies. Tanning beds and UV radiation can theoretically produce vitamin D, and some people report it improves depression. Bright light therapy boxes filter all UV radiation and will not produce this effect. But they also will not damage your eyes or skin. You can't get a "sunburn" from a light therapy box.

Incidentally, 10,000 lux is about the intensity of full daylight (but not necessarily full, direct sunlight) outside during the summer. If you think it hard to imagine any single fixture producing that much light, you're right. This is why I advise against trying to build your own box unless you're exceptionally clever, or have fancy light metering equipment available that costs more than a purchased light box would. It's just not feasible or cost-effective for most people to build a bright light therapy box capable of producing 10,000 lux with standard off-the-shelf components. The $200 I spent on mine certainly worked out cheaper than 7 years of antidepressant medication, even with insurance.

Finally, distance is important. Most light boxes are designed to deliver 10,000 lux at a distance of 12-18 inches. Let's say your effective dose is 30 minutes. At 24-36 inches, now your dose is 60 minutes. The further you are from the light, the longer you must use it to obtain the dose. So again, intensity is very important unless you have hours a day to spend basking.

1
F15e0bae42dbf0b8cfc71e62902497b4

on January 31, 2012
at 09:12 PM

I've been seriously considering making myself one of these http://lifehacker.com/5122849/make-your-own-sad-light-box

it's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying one and not as cringe-inducing (for me, as a fat chick) as going to a tanning salon.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on January 31, 2012
at 11:08 PM

The author of that how-to misunderstands the difference between lux and lumens, and as a result, has probably produced a light box that does NOT provide a therapeutic 10,000 lux dose.

F15e0bae42dbf0b8cfc71e62902497b4

(2036)

on February 02, 2012
at 07:01 AM

ooh, that sucks. :(

1
D2db41500a9385fafe0f50e178717e80

(193)

on January 31, 2012
at 09:05 PM

I've looked into some blue and white light therapies as a sleep/awakening aid because I want to awaken to 'natural' light instead of my current situation - Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" on my cd player (no doubt, it's a great song to wake up to). Also, my room is a dark cave in a basement with a small north facing window, so waiting for sunrise to wake me won't happen. From what I've found, Phillips offers a good array of options in white light for that use and some good options in blue light for daily exposure at work, etc. Yes, the sun is free and better, but it's not always an option where I live.

1
B1fcaceba952861d0324bdb291edbbe0

(3159)

on January 30, 2012
at 04:15 AM

I do not know much at all about light therapies, other than the naturopathic medical school I will be attending has a section of their medical facility with light therapy equipment. The premise is that exposure to different colors, series of said colors, repetition of certain colors, etc. will affect someone psycholoically. We all associate colors with different feelings, thoughts, events, etc and that intern interacts with our mood and overall health.

Again, I don't know much about it. But the theory behind it intrigues me and I wouldn't discount it at all. If I learn more, I'll edit this thread. Sorry I could be any more help.

C8b2136ef95ba6aac211825ff38cc0e9

(971)

on January 31, 2012
at 04:15 AM

That sounds pretty cool. Never heard of that kind of therapy, I'll have to read about it.

1
Cf4576cbcc44fc7f2294135609bce9e5

on January 30, 2012
at 12:21 AM

i know its winter but i have been sun bathing. i just remove my top and stay out for 15 minutes. it feels so great.

543a65b3004bf5a51974fbdd60d666bb

(4493)

on January 30, 2012
at 01:10 AM

how can it be winter for you and summer for me, is the world round....

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 31, 2012
at 09:15 PM

@daz why that's heretical! Everyone knows it's turtles all the way down.:)

0
Cf4576cbcc44fc7f2294135609bce9e5

on February 01, 2012
at 06:56 AM

the reason i go for natural sunlight over artificial is the uncertainty that they are equal. i know that mankind as a requirement needs sunlight to make vitamin D and without supplementation or exposure to light that at least one disease called rickets will likely happen. that said i think it would be absurd that only one molecule in man would require a photo-activation for proper synthesis. i would naturally postulate that hundreds or more exist that are as yet undiscovered. im aware or cancer risks due to over exposure but i think we all can judge when we have had enough sun.

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