Photobiomodulation vs. Red Light Therapy: Are They the Same?

Red light therapy is one of the fastest-growing health and wellness trends.

The global red light therapy market brought in $997 million in 2022. And that’s expected to grow to $1.5 billion over the next decade.

Despite this rapid growth, a lot of confusion remains around light therapy terminology, especially photobiomodulation vs. red light therapy.

But here’s a quick overview:

Photobiomodulation is an all-encompassing term for light therapy. And it’s often used interchangeably with red light therapy. However, there’s an important distinction between photobiomodulation and red light.

Red light therapy is a form of photobiomodulation. Specifically, it’s photobiomodulation that uses light with a wavelength of 600-1400 nanometers.

In other words, there are many different types of light therapy, and the type is generally determined by the light that’s being used. For example, green light therapy, a form of photobiomodulation, has grown in popularity. And polychromatic light therapy utilizes various light wavelengths (including blue, yellow and red).

Why is red light therapy commonly used for photobiomodulation? One reason is that “red light therapy” is more familiar. It’s widely used by the media and in marketing to describe photobiomodulation. Plus, red light therapy is more common. The majority of photobiomodulation devices, for example, use red light to deliver therapy.

At Hue Light, we use both terms. That’s because all of our photobiomodulation devices use red light (and some green light). Therefore, when we talk about PBM, we’re often referring to red light therapy and vice versa.

Still a little confused? This guide provides an in-depth look at photobiomodulation vs. red light therapy.

What Is Photobiomodulation?

No matter the term that’s used, the process is the same. Photobiomodulation uses light to trigger a therapeutic response in the body.

Throughout its history, more than 60 terms have been used to describe PBM light therapy. For example, PBM was previously called low-level laser therapy (LLLT). This was because early devices used lasers to create red light. Today, lasers aren’t as widely used. Instead, LED lights are more common.

In addition to LLLT, photobiomodulation might also be called:

  • Cold laser therapy
  • Phototherapy
  • Photomedicine
  • Laser biostimulation
  • Soft laser therapy
  • Monochromatic infrared light energy (MIRE) therapy

As a general rule, photobiomodulation is the preferred medical term within the industry.

A Brief History of Light Therapy

Light therapy isn’t a new concept. Thousands of years ago, sunlight was a treatment for a wide range of diseases. In early Indian medicine, for example, sunlight and herbs formed a treatment for non-pigmented skin.

The modern history of light therapy, though, began in the early 1900s.

Niels Finsen, a Danish scientist, was the first to propose a theory of phototherapy. His conclusion: Certain wavelengths of light were beneficial to health. Finsen won the Nobel Prize in 1903 for his research into treating lupus with light therapy.

In the 1960s, researchers took light therapy a step further and began incorporating laser technology. In 1967, Endre Mester, a researcher in Budapest, found that red laser light (694 nm wavelength) stimulated hair regrowth in mice.

Since these early discoveries, research has continued and the industry has progressed. To date, more than 6000 research papers have investigated light therapy.

Is Red Light Therapy Photobiomodulation?

Yes, it is. But there’s an important distinction to make:

Red light therapy is photobiomodulation that uses specific wavelengths of red and near infrared light. The light used in RLT has wavelengths between 600-1400 nm.

In other words, there are different forms of photobiomodulation, and red light therapy is one of the most popular. However, there are many different light therapies including:

  • Green light therapy
  • Yellow light therapy
  • Polychromatic light therapy
  • UV light therapy

In other words, photobiomodulation encompasses all forms of light therapy. Therefore, using photobiomodulation and red light therapy interchangeably isn’t technically correct. But we sometimes do it because “red light therapy photobiomodulation” is a mouth full.

Why Is Red Light Therapy Used for PBM?

Like Finsen theorized, certain wavelengths of light offer different impacts on health. Red light, therefore, offers some advantages over other types of light.

For one, red light penetrates deeper into the tissue compared to green or yellow light. Therefore, red light has the potential to offer more internal healing benefits.

In addition, researchers have also found that red light is more effective than blue light for specific skin conditions. There are also some concerns about the safety of blue light devices, as it’s difficult to differentiate between blue light and potentially harmful UV light.

Red light is also better understood. The majority of PBM research, for example, has explored using wavelengths ranging from 600-1100 nm. Research into PBM with shorter wavelengths is less common.

LED Red Light Therapy vs Cold Laser

LED light technology has led to the rapid growth of photobiomodulation. Red light LED devices and lamps are much cheaper than LLLT machines. Therefore, people can now use RLT at home.

Red light LEDs have advantages over red laser light including:

  • Easier to tune the wavelength (to treat various conditions)
  • Safer than laser technology
  • Light can be pulsed (and there is some evidence pulsed light offers an advantage over continuous light)
  • Red light LED devices can be used at home
  • Ability to perform whole-body RLT and targeting larger areas
  • Much lower costs

Types of Light Therapy (Photobiomodulation)

Photobiomodulation can be defined in a variety of ways. This often depends on factors like:

  • Target Location – Light therapy that targets the brain is called transcranial photobiomodulation, for example.
  • Red Light Therapy vs Laser Therapy – A different term might be used depending on the mechanism in which the light is created. For example, a machine using laser light might be called a cold laser therapy machine or a low-level laser therapy device.
  • Light Color – Finally, there are emerging types of light therapy. Green light therapy, for example, is commonly used for pain relief, and blue light therapy is a common treatment for acne. Polychromatic light therapy uses a full spectrum of wavelengths, including blue, green and red light.

Wrapping Up

Red light therapy and photobiomodulation may benefit a wide range of conditions. They’re commonly prescribed for skin conditions and to improve sleep quality. Although the terminology may be confusing, these therapies show big promise for wellness.

Choose Hue Light USA for photobiomodulation devicesand red light therapy pads and mats. We offer a full range from clinical grade devices, to RLT devices ideal for home use.


Is red light therapy the same as laser therapy?

Red light therapy is a form of laser therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT). The term LLLT was previously used over photobiomodulation, because the red light was generated with lasers. Now, because the majority of RLT devices use LED technology, photobiomodulation is more commonly used.

Is all red light therapy the same?

There are many factors that can change the outcome of RLT. This can include:

  • Light intensity
  • Wavelength (red vs near infrared, for example)
  • Pulsating light vs continuous light
  • Light power

Typically, the wavelength and light intensity change depending on the condition being treated. There are also other types like transcranial red light therapy, which target specific areas. In general, though, the mechanisms of red light therapy are the same.

What’s the difference between red light therapy vs cold laser therapy?

Cold laser therapy is another term for LLLT or photobiomodulation. Therefore, red light therapy is a form of cold laser therapy. Today, photobiomodulation therapy is the more widely used term compared to cold laser therapy.

What is another name for light therapy?

There are more than 60 terms used to describe light therapy. Some of the most common are phototherapy, photomedicine, photobiomodulation (PBM), photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), low-level laser therapy, cold laser therapy, and red light therapy.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a direct reference to any products offered by Hue Light USA or any specific brand. We do not claim that our products can achieve the effects or benefits discussed in this content. This information should not be interpreted as medical advice or as an endorsement of any specific product or treatment. We encourage readers to conduct their own research and consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any decisions regarding their health or wellness regimen.

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