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What Are Therapeutic Lights?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Therapeutic lights are devices used in alternative treatments for conditions such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Light therapy is also sometimes used to help improve wakefulness in people with chronic fatigue. Some dermatologists even recommend using therapeutic lights for skin conditions such as acne and fine lines. Therapeutic lighting works by balancing out certain hormone levels in the body and by keeping people's natural internal clocks set to an optimal rhythm. Using these types of therapeutic lights for depression has been shown to release natural mood-lifting chemicals in the brain as well.

Light therapy can often be effective for SAD that commonly strikes some people during the winter months. Some people who live in regions with limited winter sunlight can also develop this type of depression. People with a genetic predisposition to general depression are usually more likely to develop symptoms of SAD such as lethargy and appetite changes. Many doctors believe that this problem is tied to a drop in melatonin levels in the body during seasonal changes, and the use of therapeutic lights can help with this problem. Light therapy lamps are generally available in a range of sizes and are usually powered with a standard electrical cord plugged into a wall outlet.

Patients diagnosed with a form of major depressive disorder can also sometimes benefit from therapeutic lights combined with other treatments. Physicians often report that using therapeutic lights needs to be done on a consistent basis in order to see improvements. Light boxes for these treatments are designed to mimic the brightness of the sun, although some light therapy lamps can be adjusted to varying levels of brightness. Many depression sufferers are instructed to sit roughly 2 feet (about 0.6 meters) from a light box for between 30 and 60 minutes per day. Light therapy sessions are often done in the morning, although some people report good results from sitting in front of a light box in the early evening as well.

Therapeutic lighting for common skin problems is normally added to a regular skin-care routine. Skin-care specialists sometimes offer facial treatments with lamps that beam concentrated colored lights on the skin's surface. Blue light can be helpful for reducing the excess oil in acne-prone skin, and red light can improve the texture of skin that is prone to dryness and small wrinkles. Skin light therapy can also be done at home with small handheld therapeutic light devices.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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