WTF Is Red Light Therapy & Should You Try It?

It’s no secret by now that I’m a fan of high-tech beauty hacks. So when I was offered the chance to write about red light therapy, I dove in—despite having absolutely no idea what it was. 48 hours later, I’m semi-seriously considering taking out a loan to buy a Joovv Elite and converting a wall of my (tiny) apartment into a red light therapy studio. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain what a Joovv is, my uninitiated friends.) But first, a rundown of WTF red light therapy actually is, how it works, and how quickly whether you should do it. 

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is, in the end, very much what it sounds like: a form of therapy for your body using red light. To be more specific, using wavelengths of red and near infrared light, and to be psychotically specific, using red light “in the mid-600 nanometer range” and near infrared light “in the mid-800s.” (You do not need to understand these words in order to reap the benefits. But should you, for example, have a very irritating boyfriend who demands to know the science behind all your beauty treatments, you can now cite those numbers for him.) These wavelengths penetrate “roughly 5 millimeters below the skin’s surface,” stirring up all kinds of sh*t in your cells without damaging the surface of your skin. A win in my book.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

The reason such specific wavelengths are required is that you’re going after a very specific effect: to strengthen the mitochondria in your cells. I’ve been waiting my entire adult life to use this fact that I learned in middle school, and here it is: the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Unfortunately, my understanding never went far enough to know what that means, so I dove back into my research. According to Healthline, the mitochondria creates energy, or energy-carrying molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate. Do I have a PhD yet?). When red light stimulates the mitochondria, it creates more ATP—and with more ATP, cells have more energy to get sh*t done.

What Does Red Light Therapy Do?

To get a more nuanced view of red light therapy’s effects, I spoke to Lindsay Malachowski, the Director of Operations at SKINNEY Medspa. First, I ran the effects I was most hoping were true by her: the wonders red light therapy is meant to perform for your skin. According to Joovv, a company offering at-home red light therapy devices, RLT is clinically proven to boost collagen production, reduce inflammation and redness, and improve the appearance of wrinkles. (I am aware that clinically proven implies there are clinical studies I could read. I prefer a more human approach.) When I asked Malachowski about these claims, she confirmed them as true—with some caveats.

Red light therapy, Malachowski explains, is “the most gentle form of photodynamic therapy:” AKA it’s effective, but not going to get you the most dramatic results. Because it’s LED rather than laser, and doesn’t work directly on the surface of the skin, it provides less “significant changes” than a laser treatment like Fraxel or IPL. That’s not to say RLT is useless—Malachowski specifically states that it’s an effective treatment to reduce redness, inflammation, breakouts, and eczema, with the added benefit of having no downtime afterward. Finally, while she affirms that red light therapy “does stimulate collagen,” she notes that here, too, it’s not the most dramatic treatment available on the market. (For that, she recommends non-invasive ultrasound or radio-frequency like Ultherapy.)

When I next asked Malachowski about red light therapy’s weight loss and fat reduction effects, she was notably less enthusiastic. According to her, there’s “little scientific evidence” supporting those particular claims. She doesn’t have much more to say about that, except to recommend CoolSculpting or EmSculpt to those looking for those results.

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Coolsculpting + EmSculpt = Hot Bride ? #gettheskinneylook

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When I spoke to Joovv’s cofounder, Scott Nelson, he directed my attention to a whole other side of red light therapy benefits: namely, those that don’t immediately appear in the mirror (sue me, I’m vain). When I asked which groups of people would benefit most from red light therapy, he mentioned immediately that it can lead to “better-looking skin,” but he also mentioned people suffering from joint pain, trouble sleeping, or struggling with muscle recovery. He also mentioned that “elite athletes” use red light therapy to achieve “that edge” when it comes to increasing their performance or cutting down their recovery time. For what it’s worth, Joovv’s clients do include pro athletes Zach Johnson, Anthony Pettis, and Duncan Keith. As for better sleep, he says that using red light therapy “on a regular basis” will quickly improve sleep quality and REM cycles.

So, Where Do I Get It Done?

Good question! Certain salons and spas offer red light therapy treatments, including SKINNEY MedSpa. (It’s not offered as a service on its own, but it’s a 20-minute portion of their Hi Tech Facial, and they also offer it after Botox, filler, and Fraxel treatments to speed up healing.) Other treatment settings might include lying in a red light therapy bed for 20 minutes, offered by aesthetician Mzia Shiman in NYC.

If you’re looking for an at-home version (a phrase I’ve always personally been happy to hear), Joovv sells red light therapy devices in sizes ranging from purse-friendly to a six-foot-tall wall-mounted model. For these, Nelson recommends a daily treatment of 8-10 minutes, standing three to six inches from the device. When I asked how quickly you saw results (I’m impatient, okay?), he let me know that effects like pain and inflammation relief could be seen in a single session. Effects on the skin, however, would take up to 4-6 weeks of daily treatment.

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Have you tried red light therapy yet? ❤️I just love trying the latest health technology, so when I had a chance to try the new @joovvsocial Joovv Go, I jumped at it!! ❤️ Red light therapy can help with skin health, fat loss, muscle recovery, joint health, sleep, inflammation and more!! ❤️ So many health benefits in the handheld portable Joovv Go!❤️ Now when I have downtime (which I’m still learning how to just relax sometimes ?) I use my new Joovv Go on everything from my face (my glowing skin obsession continues ?) and if I have sore muscles from fitness, I can target those areas too! ❤️ . Hair @kaidoeshair ❤️ . #sponsored #joovv #redlighttherapy #lighttherapy #healthylifestyle #antiaging #musclerecovery #healthtechnology #healthychoice #naturalhealth #naturalhealthcare #fatlosstips #influencer #scottsdale #healthblogger #nutritioncoach

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So, will I be marching out to begin my 4-6 weeks of dedicated red light therapy? Honestly, definitely, but I’m not a hard sell on products that promise to solve all my problems. While experts may not agree on all the effects of red light therapy, there does seem to be substantial scientific evidence that it’s a useful treatment for skin quality, pain relief, and improved sleep. Other claims you can test for yourself, and write blog posts about if you so choose. But if this treatment is even half as effective as the clinical trials supporting it would suggest, I’d say it’s definitely worth a shot.

Images: @skinneymedspa, @jolenegoring / Instagram; @keelyflaherty / Twitter

WTF Is This Body Contouring Treatment That’s All Over Instagram?

As a person who loves to work out, I follow a ton of fitness instructors on Instagram. I started noticing more and more of them were posting photos of themselves undergoing something called an “Emsculpt” treatment, leaving me instantly intrigued. Why are these seemingly fit people opting for this procedure? Does it really work? Is this something I should be doing? Is it painful? Do you love this sh*t? Are you high right now? Do you ever get nerv—wait. Sorry. Back to the topic at hand. I had to learn more about Emsculpt, so of course I did the only thing that made sense—sift through the #Emsculpt hashtag on Instagram and stare at every before and after photo I could find, and honestly I was mind blown. I knew I had to try this out for myself.

We looked to the local pros at SKINNEY Medspa in NYC to learn more about this new craze and experience it firsthand. This treatment offers people the chance to have the abs of their dreams by literally just lying on a table for 30 minutes and doing…nothing. Or so it seems.

So what exactly is Emsculpt? Emsculpt is the first and only non-invasive procedure to help both men and women build muscle and sculpt their bodies without needles and anesthesia. A single session is the equivalent of doing 20,000 sit-ups or squats, depending on which area you’re treating. A total of four sessions are recommended to achieve optimal results, with each of the treatment sessions occurring over the course of a two week period. Okay, enough of the science—how TF did it feel and WTF happened?

Before we started, the esthetician performing the treatment (shout-out to you Paris Small) walked me through a few breathing exercises, which I shrugged off because, again I thought: I’m just lying here. I go to the gym 5 times a week—how could this be any more difficult than that? Once I said I was ready, she wrapped a belt around my waistline and hooked the device under the belt. The device itself basically looked like a standard smoke alarm with a handle—not super intimidating. But then the machine turned on and I was literally rocked to my core. I can only describe the woman who helped me through this session with one term, an angel, because I did not take what was about to happen seriously enough.

I wouldn’t say it hurt, but it was definitely A FEELING. I honestly thought nothing could surprise me after getting laser hair removal or a bikini wax but this was a totally different type of experience and one I certainly I have never felt before. You know that scene in The Little Mermaid when Ariel’s voice is sucked out of her? That’s basically what I could equate this to feeling like. The end results are supposed to be the abs of my dreams, which is essentially the same grand honor as becoming a real human in 2019.

Paris suggested I bend my knees on the table and hold onto the handle bar of the device since that gives the feeling of more control. It took pretty much half entire session to get into the groove of breathing with the contractions, but after that I was able to come to terms with the treatment.

One thing to note is that I am an idiot and went to a reformer-based workout class earlier that day that targeted the ab region. Being sore from the workout only increased the intensity I felt during the first session. If you’re like me and someone tells you not to work out, you ignore them and just do whatever you want. I warn you: DO NOT WORK OUT THE DAY OF TREATMENT. Honestly I would suggest not working out your core during the entire course of your four treatments. I did SoulCycle here and there just to keep myself sane, but you do not need to be pushing yourself, as the treatment is a workout in and of itself. This isn’t something they will tell you beforehand, but from a personal experience, this is the biggest piece of advice I could offer.


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But for professional insight I turned to Christine Stagnitta, District Sales Manager for Emsculpt to ask the questions you all really want the answers to, like who is the ideal candidate? How long do the results last? Is this too good to be true? How is it different from cool-sculpting? And finally, is it actually safe?

To address the most pressing concerns about safety, Christine explains, “Emsculpt is the most safe technology on the market; it doesn’t get any safer than this. It’s Tesla technology that is basically a mini MRI machine, which is the most safe test you could get. There are no negative side effects other than that you could be sore from the muscle contractions.”

What I found most interesting during my conversation with Christine is that people who work out actually don’t need the full-intensity treatment. Christine says, “When the device was originally launched we believed that people who worked out frequently would be able to hit 100% intensity right off the bat but it turned out to be the opposite. The reason being is that the motor neurons in their muscles are already active, so they didn’t need as intense of a treatment to get their muscles to contract. The more you use your muscles, the more intense the treatment feels. A person doesn’t have to go up to 100% intensity to get results, you can be at 30% and still see optimal results because it is all contingent upon that person’s threshold.”

So who is the ideal candidate? “Anyone can benefit from an Emsculpt treatment, not just people who are already in shape,” Christine says. “Everyone is different and this is why getting a consult is so important. It all depends on what the person’s goals are. Say they haven’t felt their abs work since giving birth or they’ve plateaued at the gym or they have stubborn fat that the gym is just not fixing—Emsculpt is a great solution. People love how the treatment makes them feel—if they work out, it makes them feel stronger.”

And finally—is this legit or another gimmick promising a quick fix? Christine tells us, “Emsculpt can affect a wider demographic of patients than popular treatments like cool-sculpting. Once you start undergoing Emsculpt treatments, you’ll really start to feel and connect with your muscles, leaving you feeling highly motivated. The longer you maintain and stay in shape, the better your results are going to be; the more that you keep that muscle active, the more you’re going to maintain that 16% muscle growth and 19% fat reduction that occurs simultaneously. If you’re working out frequently, you’re going to have very long lasting results and notice you’re stronger in your work outs because of the additional muscle. As of last year, Emsculpt outsold cool-sculpting, which has been around for decades. The technology was built from scratch in Prague and received FDA approval in 2016 but didn’t hit the market until 2018 because the developers wanted to ensure it would be super successful.”

And while you may notice some instant results, the full effects will reach their peak 3 months after the last treatment. So while I wait for my miracle to fully develop, I leave you with these crazy before and after photos.

Images: Jon Ly / Unsplash; skinneymedspa / Instagram; EmSculpt