Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Light Relief

This past weekend, I saw an ad on TV (I don't usually watch TV but I was in a hotel and well… one's options are limited). The ad being shown was for Light Relief.

I found some instant red flags which will be discussed here.

First the commercial Commercial is embedded on this site along with some info.

Here is a comparison with the USA website: You'll notice all the customer testimonials and the small disclaimers below them are unverifiable.

The first 8 seconds led me to believe that this was a questionable claim.

It said "Fast and Natural". Ok, if this is a machine, how is it "natural" in the widely accepted use of the term natural? Technically, it is natural since it exists in the natural world, but that is not the type of natural being suggested.

18 seconds in..."FDA cleared". This simply means any side effects do not outweigh the good that it does. Also consider the fact that it is just LED light so there will be little harm if any.

Next they show the LEDs working. They flicker on and off as well as for some reason, they put some blue in. They explain the reasoning for this is to show that it is working.

If this product uses infrared to heat, then you would feel it working. Items like coal give off heat without giving off much visible light. In fact, the term "infrared" literally means "below red" which is where infrared exists: Below the visible spectrum of red. So the visible red and blue would therefore have less infrared output than true infrared LEDs such as those used in TV remotes and communications.

It is interesting to note that "Bright sunlight provides an irradiance of just over 1 kilowatt per square meter at sea level. Of this energy, 527 watts is infrared radiation, 445 watts is visible light, and 32 watts is ultraviolet radiation." (Wikipedia). Most people are under the misconception that all radiant heat is due to infrared. The earth itself only gets 49% of its heat from the infrared it receives from the sun. The rest is from other radiation frequencies including ultra-violet. Just ask any sunbather!

After doing some quick research into infrared heating, I found out that most use incandescent bulbs, such as those you can see at restaurants with food under the heat lamps. LEDs are designed to give off very little heat in comparison. Also, any heat is dissipated at the base. Remember that LEDs are designed to be efficient. Most standard LEDs use much less than 1 watt of energy.

Heat does have an effect on blood flow. However, since this product does not state the amount of heat given off, it is impossible to accurately access this claim. However, due to standard LEDs giving off little heat, this is again, questionable.

So because of some of these factors, I am questioning the true effectiveness of this product. I assume that a lot of its "success" has to do with the placebo effect. I would venture that it's more efficient and effective (not to mention cheaper) to place a hot water bottle on your affected area for relief.



  1. I am a physical therapist. I use infrared light treatment in my practice. There is a lot of good research showing the benefits of infrared and near infrared light on wound healing. It is also good for muscle pain, joint pain and inflammation. Heating tissue is not the goal of treatment. The benefit comes from photochemical reactions in the cells. The cell converts the light into ATP and it uses it to repair itself. Red light and infrared light needs to be in the "therapeutic window" which is 600-1000 nm of wavelength in order to benefit as above. The dosage is important and is measured in joules per cm2. Usually therapy units are around 500mw of power. That is not even 1 watt. The heat given off my LEDs is minimal and you would get more heat from a hot water bottle as you say. Light units are mistakenly sold as heating devices. The heat is not what heals, it is the photochemical effect of the light. I have seen examples of non-healing diabetic wounds that have been open for years with every kind of treatment, and when they try light therapy they were healed in a couple months. As far as the Light Relief unit, I have checked them out and called their company to find out their power rating, mw, and wavelength and the parameters do fall within the therapeutic window to be effective. I have referred patients to this unit as an affordable alternative to the $1500 units we use in therapy. But in my opinion, don't waste your money on the pills that Light Relief tries to sell you with the unit. Instead buy it on Amazon or ebay but make sure it comes with an AC adapter. $80.
    There is another unit I have checked out at the RL-10 model which has both red and infrared LEDs and all the correct parameters. But it has a smaller treatment surface and will cost $250. He occasionally puts one on ebay for around $160 to advertise.
    I own both of these units mentioned above for personal use at home.
    See ya,

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Omg, are you Freaking kidding me? That commercial was so full of Shit! They're totally exploiting and preying on people who actually are in physical pain! It's
      So blantely obvious... In fact I thought that it was a outdated eighties infomercial. I truley hope that someone reports them to Dateline. .. Omg... Seriously

  2. Hello Tim,

    As you can see I published your comments so I am not adverse to hearing your points and welcome your views.

    However, as I already pointed out, this is not infrared. It is red visible light. Visible light does not have the same energy potential. Infrared is not red at all. This is where you veer off in the wrong direction.

    I'm glad you agree that the unit is not a heating unit. Again though Lightrelief says at 34 seconds into the commercial "warm therepeutic healing light" so therefore is quite possibly being misleading.

    Can you provide links to the credible verified scientific studies that show light therapy as you explained is effective (and that your numbers are accurate)?

  3. Another thing that seems inconsistent is that our skin is there as a protective barrier to light.

    Even ultraviolet light which is above 480kj/mol and is able to break covalent bonds in cells needs extended exposure and really only goes skin deep causing problems. Because of this I don't see how some visible red and blue lights can affect the inside of the body.
    "Natural (solar, white) light, to which organism and its tissues are evolutionary adapted, accelerates such set of bioprocesses, which does not disturb total balance of biochemical responses, since the protective responses of an organism immediately (or with delay) eliminate abnormalities. As a result, the biochemical state of an organism remains practically unchanged. It constitutes, on our sight, photochemical aspect of adaptation of an organism to natural light. Light different from natural (down to monochromatic), to which living organisms had not been adapted during evolution, accelerates rather narrow set of biochemical responses, which disrupt natural balance of biochemical processes. In a common case, the protective responses of an organism are not sufficient because they can not resist to monochromatic light. Therefore, monochromatic light induces significant changes in biochemical state of organism. To our opinion, this reason makes it impossible to predict a priori either positive, or negative clinical effects of phototherapy (laserotherapy). We have observed this in the experiments with laser light [1, 2]."

  4. Hi Bill,

    While I have not tried this product, I am pretty sure it is not about infrared or heat. I am an acupuncturist who has studied various healing forms, and last year I attended a lecture by one of the inventors of this product at The lecture was so interesting that I tried several sessions with one of their earlier models. The lights on the machine flash in specific patterns which are supposed to result in certain effects on the body. The model I tried had three settings and one was for pain. I can’t vouch for the effects on pain, but I can say that these flashing lights definitely affected me. I tried one session with the lights on my back—making sure that my eyes were not influenced, and the lights on my back resulted in my going into a deep state of relaxation.

    I saw the commercial on TV and am considering getting one for my 83 year old mother who has lots of pain, and in the process found your post. I was hoping to find some posts of others having used this specific product, but it’s probably too new.

  5. Hello Winifrog,

    Thank you for your polite comment (hence why I allowed it to be posted. I always will allow dissenting views as long as they are not flaming or spamming or otherwise deemed inappropriate).

    As you may or may not have already seen in the other comments (my replies) that visible light is greatly reduced in it's ability to penetrate human skin. Even concentrated laser light seems to have no effect (as per published studies).

    As an accupunturist, I know that your main focus is on pain reduction, and is thusly supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies. Some practicioners though go beyond this and erroneously (and quite possible illegally in some countries) claim it can cure other Asthma. This of course is not supported by any of the scientific data. Anecdotes are not enough. The same goes with the claims for this product (thus far as I have seen...if you have any actual data I would be glad to look at it and to revise my questioning of it accordingly).

    While I accept your perception of the experience, I cannot accept that it is working as claimed without empiracal proof. Since you did this to yourself, you have not properly ruled out the placebo effect. This is easily tested in this manner:

    1. Have it where you are blinded and cannot see the light at all (perchance you catch some flashing off of windows excetera).

    2. Have another person who is also blinded to know if it's on or off as they administer it to you. This is done ,not by actually blindfolding them, but by simply flipping a coin to decide if it's on or off. Note that there should also be music or some other way to drown out any "noise" created to give clues to you if it's on or not.

    3. This person should remain quite at all time. He/she may just be allowed to say "go" which is your signal to state whether or not you feel something. They will record your answer next to the info off whether it is on or off.

    4. This is repeated minimum 100 times. This would still be statistically insignigicant, but may give you some insight. Ideally other people would also be tested in a similar manner thus helping to create a more proper acceptable result tally.

    5. The conclusions. I would say that any result where a person is correct above 75% would possibly mean a significant outcome. This simply means that the result would be positive, however non-conclusive as chance does allow for someone to be right at that level. Thus repeated testing would be needed to actually make a claim and to show a positve trend.

  6. My mother received the Light Relief unit about a week ago; it seems to be helping her. Her neck had been stiff for over a month, even with using a heating pad and several chiropractor appointments.

    The other morning I woke up with a stiff neck, and decided to try the unit. Maybe it's the placebo affect; but it made me feel better.

    The other thing you have to consider is that even if it is just the placebo affect, if it reduces pain, then what's wrong with that? Yes, it is pretty expensive, but if that's not a huge barrier, why not?


  7. Hello Shelby and thank you for the pleasant message.

    Well I would avoid chiropractors at all cost (search my other postings).

    In regards to placebos...
    That is the question that is toughest to answer (re: if it reduces pain, then what's wrong with that? )
    A couple of things to consider first:

    1. Ethics. Is it ethical to charge money for a product or service that does not actually do anything, or what it claims? I'm not asking for justifications, I'm just looking first for that simple answer. Most people would instinctively answer that it is not ethical.

    2. Justifications. This is the tricky part and where it can get fuzzy. The placebo effect is funny. It often works when the person does not have knowledge, so therefore knowledge (and acceptance of said knowledge) may decrease it's affect. But, since the placebo is in the mind, one could learn to manage the same amount of effect at will. Pain for example, can be reduced simply by pinching yourself. This releases endorphins which help subdue pain. Now the tricky moral part is if a person can only be helped by the placebo effect, should they be given something to induce it? Emotionally I would be compelled to agree as a measure to help reduce their suffering. But understand that a placebo can only go so far and does not solve the actual problem.

    3. So what's the harm. Well, one is that a placebo can and has been used to take money away from people. That is the real unethical part. Placebos should be free. But some will argue that people need to pay to reinforce the placebo. Well yes and no. People in trials who are given placebos do not have to pay, but there is a connection with the perception of paying for something increases it's percieved value.

    4. What's the harm (2). Someone taking a placebo may start to go down a path where they believe that they are cured when they are not and avoid needed medical attention. The placebo only can alleviate a symptom and cannot cure the cause of the problem. Just for a small sample visit and you can see the harm this path can lead to when medical treatment is avoided.

    Placebos are not rejected by medical science, they just are control by ethic boards and panels. When doing trials and placebos are used, it must be done in a very ethical way (which can be hard to discern, especially with severe diseases and complications that would benefit from medical treatment).

    For issues dealing with this

    Also view this (and read it's links as well)
    It talks about the ethics of placebos.

  8. Thank you very much! I am glad I decided to google it before I purchased this. I think I will just use the money to get an aerobic excercise DVD. -Michelle

  9. You're welcome Michelle.

    This product may very well work but as yet I can't see how. I am also weary of it due to the possibly misleading info on the commercial. There are many fine products and services out there that sometimes use dubious marketing techniques wich can also include claiming things in an ambiguous way.

    There are some positive studies showing that infrared can have some affect on wounds, but those are at very high laser levels. Of course more studies need to be done to ascertain this as proof though.

  10. In addition to avoiding Chiropractors, I would avoid Accupuncturists as well.

  11. I agree Revenant. Thanks for your comment.

    See for more:

    I do accept it being able to reduce stress and provide minor pain relief (just like a massage) through the placebo effect and the release of endorphins. Beyond that, I disagree with many practicioners claiming to cure asthma and other ailments in the same vein that many chiropractors do.

  12. It is well known from scientific literature that with any treatment (including sugar pills ) there will be 30% of the subjects that will improve. It is therefore easy to get testimonials from those who have "improved" and quite easy to get testimonials from persons who are compensated. Red pills work better than white pills and oh my God this thing has FLASHING red and blue lights!
    What more could one ask for? This is snake oil until scientifically proven otherwise

  13. I agree Peter, that is is most likely a placebo effect.

  14. While the skin is intended as a barrier to many things in order to protect what's underneath, that doesn't necessarily mean the skin itself is affected adversely by all types and doses of light. Humans were meant to be exposed to sunlight, or else evolution would've by now made sure we were all nocturnal.

    This particular device can be broken down into roughly 4 different components, and I think part of the confusion is that people discussing it tend to mix them all up. There's heat, infrared light, visible red light, and visible blue light.

    Yes, the unit has a separate heating coil component apart from its infrared LEDs, and there is a separate button to activate or deactivate it during LED use.

    Infomercials are designed to sell products, not to present products accurately, so their technical information will always be questionable. That's not to say the product doesn't have benefits, though. Different people are tasked with designing a product than those who come up with marketing strategies. If you've ever seen a movie trailer that didn't end up being anything like the actual movie, even though the movie ended up being good, you can understand what I'm talking about. The fact is, the best way to sell products -- even good products -- is not always to present them accurately.

    Heating and infrared is probably the part that's meant to treat joint and muscle pain, regardless of the ads making it seem like the visible light does anything for that purpose. The two visible light components are to stimulate the skin's natural healing and anti-bacterial defenses. Those two claims should be evaluated separately.

    From the studies, which anyone can find easily via Google, certain specific visible wavelengths of blue (415nm) and red (660nm) have been shown to heal skin and reduce acne. The question is whether this particular product emits those specific wavelengths. I have not been able to find even a claim of what wavelengths are emitted by this unit. It would have been nice if the first commenter who says they called the company to find that out would have told us their answer, but that person seems to have skipped over that particular piece of information. This leads me to believe the company didn't pay much attention and just stuck some red and blue LEDs in their unit, in order to capitalize on the existing studies of "red and blue light", hoping people wouldn't dig any deeper than that.

    Nevertheless, this again doesn't necessarily mean the light won't work. Sunlight and UV flourescent bulbs have broad spectrum light output that still contain the therapeutic wavelengths. There's no study that says ONLY the specific wavelengths need to be output with none others; and in fact, the studies were sparked by the fact that sunlight in moderate doses tends to heal skin, and sunlight is a rather broad-spectrum form of light, containing many other wavelengths.

    As for infrared and heat relieving joint and muscle pain... well, everyone knows heat will have a soothing effect on soreness; but the heating coil in this unit is not particularly powerful, and other more cost-effective solutions exist for that. And I've done some admittedly rudimentary searching on studies showing the benefits of infrared on joint pain, and have thus far been unsuccessful in finding bona-fide studies. Most are marketing sites, and the first google result is... drum roll... the Light Relief product website.

    My conclusion is that this product should be used primarily for skin therapy but not for deeper aches and pains. Elderly people with thin and weak skin may benefit, as well as those with acne or psoriasis. People who want joint pain relief should probably stick with a good heating pad.

  15. The only thing is the infomercials are accountable for presenting an accurate representation of the product (especially a "health" product). The movie anology is not entirely a fair comparison. They are different products. A little more leeway is given to works of art such as movies and books as to not give away everything about them (although arguably some movie trailers give a lot away).

    I thank you for your indepth look at this though and you raise some important questions.

  16. HI Bill,
    In your article you state that; "... Also consider the fact that it is just LED light so there will be little harm if any. "
    the LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, should cause absolutely zero harm.
    Infrared (IR) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres (µm), and extending conventionally to 300 µm. These wavelengths correspond to a frequency range of approximately 1 to 400 THz,[1] and include most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects near room temperature. Microscopically, IR light is typically emitted or absorbed by molecules when they change their rotational-vibrational movements.
    Infrared light is used in industrial, scientific, and medical applications. Night-vision devices using infrared illumination allow people or animals to be observed without the observer being detected. In astronomy, imaging at infrared wavelengths allows observation of objects obscured by interstellar dust. Infrared imaging cameras are used to detect heat loss in insulated systems, observe changing blood flow in the skin, and overheating of electrical apparatus.
    Infrared radiation is popularly known as "heat radiation", but light and electromagnetic waves of any frequency will heat surfaces that absorb them.

    Infrared heating: Infrared radiation can be used as a deliberate heating source. For example it is used in infrared saunas to heat the occupants, and also to remove ice from the wings of aircraft (de-icing). FIR is also gaining popularity as a safe heat therapy method of natural health care & physiotherapy. Infrared can be used in cooking and heating food as it predominantly heats the opaque, absorbent objects, rather than the air around them.
    Infrared heating is also becoming more popular in industrial manufacturing processes, e.g. curing of coatings, forming of plastics, annealing, plastic welding, print drying. In these applications, infrared heaters replace convection ovens and contact heating. Efficiency is achieved by matching the wavelength of the infrared heater to the absorption characteristics of the material.

    (Source: Wikipedia)

  17. An "old" discussion, and posting this link NOT related to the product in question may be frowned upon, but I wanted to present at least one study that supports FIR's therapeutic application.

  18. This product is a scam not unlike magnets and ionic copper bracelets. There are no Randomized Control Trials. Save your money and buy a heating pad. If you do try this and then want your money back, Good Luck!

  19. This is a commitment, so I'm told. You are supposed to use the light for 15 minutes, 4-6 days a week for the first 30 days.....I paid $29.99 for a three months of unlimited visits. So, I'm into it 8 days now and see no results. I will keep you posted! I am scepticle so the placebo effect is not the case.

    1. One can still be susceptible to the placebo effect, even if one claims to be skeptical. We act often in accordance with our biases and faults of our cognitive manners. That's why in order to test a product via the scientific method, double blinding is ideal to reduce bias skewing the interpretation of results.

  20. My Light Relief unit is 10 years old, still working properly. My husband uses it for muscle pain relief after working in the yard and it definitely does work. I even used it on our dog when he had a crushed front paw and the vet was amazed at how quickly he healed. It was about one half the normal time.

    1. Hello Carole, I've added your response :) I'm glad your dog healed quickly.

      Unfortunately you have not given any evidence of it working, just an anecdote. We as human beings are flawed in our perceptions and thus our stories can also be flawed. Because of things like confirmation bias and the placebo effect we can attribute causality to many things that may not actually have an effect.

  21. Hi.Val from Canada. In 2008 I was in 2 car accidents, one I rear ended on a yield and other not my fault. I damaged
    cushioning between bones in knees and tore muscles off my shoulder blade. After
    physiotherapy, chiropractor and that strong but good pain med, Celebrex, I was still in pain after one year. I am much a skeptic of lots until much research or proof. I bought this off tv, tried it because there was money back guarantee, and yes it worked, quite well actually, it is like you don't think it will work, but after a couple times and each time after you notice the difference. And it lasts too. I was quite amazed. It does heat up and sometimes the hand held gets too hot I have to turn down. I use it
    two 20 minute sessions tho not one as
    they advise. I lent it out to a friend and it came back with red lights not working so I am phoning them tomorrow. I loved it for lower
    back pain I also had, but used it mainly for knees and the shoulder blade. I don't have any pain right now to tend to just want it fixed in case i need it again. Also I can tell you that I was in considerable pain so there is no placebo effect here, it just helped me and there is no question to that. Perhaps it may be different for everyone or whatever your type of pain. I had muscle injury and joint pain. Later after an mri, they realized I had torn my meniscus.

    1. Hello Val,

      Well first off, chiros are quacks and do very little so I would avoid them anyhow.

      While I appreciate your story, it is only an anecdote and does not provide any evidence that it works. I would argue there is still a placebo effect in play.

    2. Also, my reply to someone else which is warranted here:
      "One can still be susceptible to the placebo effect, even if one claims to be skeptical. We act often in accordance with our biases and faults of our cognitive manners. That's why in order to test a product via the scientific method, double blinding is ideal to reduce bias skewing the interpretation of results."

  22. Red Light Therapy does not work. It cannot work. Only today could companies pass off those bogus machines on the public. Because people are more foolish today than ever before. They are so self centered and materialistic that they will try anything once. The placebo will keep them coming back for more. Unproven technologies have made fools out of people for centuries. Snake oil. Just how dumb are you people? Ever heard of diet and exercise. The proven methods of good health. And you don't need a machine for it either.

  23. Hi Bill,
    Thank you for your commentary on red light therapy. I was not considering it, but it was nice to hear the words of another skeptic (although that can carry somewhat of a confirmation bias of its own). In any case, many points brought up by yourself and others are valid issues with red light therapy (and other "new scientific discoveries").

    A randomly controlled study is probably not something that would be possible with this sort of technology though for several reasons: pain is subjective in nature (despite the attempts of many to create a pain scale -- personal hypothesis on this is that there are individual differences in nerve cluster density and sensitivity), damage would need to be visible in order to empirically show progress; this would likely require some expensive equipment like fMRI machines or other imagery devices(x-rays are insufficient at detecting inflamed tissue damage, but the are definitely ways to image muscle and connective tissues like ligaments and tendons), and ideally you should have individuals with as identical as possible injuries.

    Qualitative studies do make more sense for this, and they would help to delineate the theory of exactly how this device works / doesn't work.

    1. Thank you Stephen. I agree that pain studies can be problematic due to subjective interpretations.