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From Darkness to Light

Light therapy is becoming more and more popular for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The Need for Light Therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common affliction in winter. Most of us don't have the luxury of outdoor sun exposure during this time of year. Here in the beautiful Flathead Valley, the clouds will move in and cover the towns for days and the sun becomes a fond memory. All over the world, however, people are suffering from a schedule that lets in very little natural light. We spend all day inside, or extend our days well into the night when melatonin is trying to get us to sleep.

Most of us don't think of how much "bad" light we're letting in. In this day and age, we're getting a glow from every screen around us, as well as lights on our chargers and other hardware such as microwaves or security cameras. All of this light confounds our brain and makes it difficult for melatonin production to occur. With less melatonin, there's less sleep--and increased eyestrain, headaches, fatigue and irritability.

Artificial light has long been seen as a viable treatment for SAD, but opinions have varied over the years on which type of light a person needs. It was originally thought that a tanning bed would suffice; time has shown that most tanning beds release UVA light waves when what you need is UVB. To get the right light, you need a light therapy device.

The Science of Light Therapy

Light therapy has a simple premise: it exposes your body to red and near-infrared wavelengths that positively affect your body. But on a deeper level, it gets complex. Do you remember your cell diagrams from seventh grade? The mitochondria make ATP, one of the energetic bases for our entire body. When you're stressed, ATP production decreases because our cells make more nitric oxide. When the latter overloads the former, the cells can die.

The process of releasing nitric oxide and creating ATP is called cellular respiration. When your skin is exposed to red or near-infrared light, it helps the mitochondria eliminate bad things from inside your cells and start producing more ATP. Once your body has a better balance in this respect, it's stronger, healthier, and ready to fight off infection. Light therapy works particularly well for skin because it has been shown to increase collagen production and improve complexion.

With all of this benefit, it may seem surprising that light therapy is still new to most people. In the past, light therapy boxes were generally only available to spas, estheticians and certain doctors. These days, you can buy them anywhere from Amazon to Walgreens.

What to Look For in a Light Therapy Device

When searching for your own light therapy supplementation, there are several factors you want to consider:

  • Transparent information - Light therapy devices should give all of their specs immediately. They should tell you the wavelength of the light (600-675 nanometers for red light and 800-875 nanometers for infrared light is best) and the power delivered (15-20 joules per squared centimeter of device output--full-body ones should have an output of around 200,000 joules.) You want to make sure that product is approved by the FDA and that it has been independently reviewed and verified from sources outside the company. This is vital, because a poorly-tested product can deliver the wrong light, which can be hazardous to your health.

  • Size - The ideal light therapy device should be able to treat your entire body. Relics of previous decades had you sunning your neck or face; now, to be effective, a full-body treatment is recommended. Companies like Joovv make various sizes of light therapy panels that can be fixed or mobile, depending on your needs.

  • Source - There's a reason why so many products end up on Amazon, and it has to do with their efficacy and certification. Don't just search for "light therapy" on Prime and buy the cheapest thing you see. Many of these products are not FDA approved, come from other countries, and are produced simply to increase profits for the company with no accountability. Read a full list of FDA-approved photobiomodulation devices here. Any device approved by the FDA will have what's called a 510(k) clearance.

If you're looking for other tips on dealing with SAD, check out our previous blog post! Now that we're a couple of weeks into the new year, take time to consider what blue light is affecting you in your home. When the sun goes down, what lights are still on? What devices are you looking at all day? How are your sleep patterns? How much time do you spend inside?

In addition to the right light, make sure you're keeping your skin hydrated, protected and luminous. January is a great time to stock up on refills so you don't have to think about it in the months ahead. Topical skin care is more important than ever in these months when fresh fruits and vegetables aren't always available. Apply that serum while we're waiting for watermelon season to return!

What do you do to keep yourself uplifted during the dark winter months? Leave us a comment.

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