Red Light Therapy Scams Explained! Where did we go wrong?
Red Light Therapy has become increasingly popular over the past 10 years since it has broken the barriers into mainstream acceptance. There are now a myriad of companies selling red light panels and all vying to be the “best” in their own self-defined way. But have some companies crossed the line into scam-like or fraudulent activities?
Red Light Therapy Popularity:
Red light therapy has become popular for a growing number of reasons, including:
- The impressive body of science now behind it easily accessed on Pubmed.
- Customers and users of red light therapy sharing their good results and recommending it by word-of-mouth.
- Large marketing campaigns especially through social media, podcasts, and health influencers.
- Relatively cheap and affordable at-home technology enabled by LED panels.
With such compelling marketing and evidence with very low risk and investment, we know that red light therapy works and is beneficial in many ways. However, the science often admits that there is still a lot we don’t know about how to properly use this therapy.
Always looming in the back of people’s mind’s is that it could be a scam. Especially in Western medicine, it is hard to accept that wavelengths obtained for free from the sun can be beneficial in so many ways, especially when the exact mechanisms of red light therapy are still up for debate.
Well, this perfect storm of compelling scientific benefits combined with confusion about proper treatment methods creates the perfect environment for scammers and charlatans to swoop in.
Legitimate Technology, Dubious Companies
The biohacking industry recently suffered a blow when a Molecular Hydrogen company called Trusii was revealed to be a scam. Even though Molecular Hydrogen, like Red Light Therapy, is strongly science based and can help a lot of people – we always need to watch out for companies that cross the line into fraud.
Of course, any industry can have bad companies who may be falsely representing their products, making illegitimate claims, and misleading the consumer. Most laws for false advertising fall under the FTC, the FDA, and individual state’s Attorney General’s office.
The laws are quite clear on proper advertising, so will go over some of the top scams that are still resonating through the red light therapy industry today.
False Intensity Claims:
The intensity of a red light therapy panel is one of the most important aspects to understand it’s relevance to clinical efficacy. It has become a primary selling point for consumers, as well as a basis for comparison for customers who are shopping around.
We have shown many times that most companies are falsely representing their intensity claims, usually by over 2 times the real amount! The root cause being that companies have used cheap solar power meters to measure their devices which are obviously not calibrated properly for red light therapy wavelengths and the sensitivity of the photodiode leads to dramatically higher readings than reality.
Learn to recognize the two biggest culprits of false advertising in the red light therapy industry are the TENMARS TM-206 and the TES 1333 solar power meters.
GembaRed isn’t the first or only ones to point out this discrepancy, influencers like Alex Tarris, and Ari Whitten have directly pointed out the lies and potential scams behind intensity marketing. Alex Fergus had even revealed in 2019 that all of the panels he measured were significantly lower intensity than what most of the companies claimed or implied of being “>100 mW/cm^2 at 6 inches away.” Even Dr. Hamblin has been directly asked if solar power meters are acceptable for usage, and he said no.
Where Dr. Hamblin’s expertise reminds us that anyone skilled in the art of LLLT, PBM, or Red Light Therapy would immediately recognize that solar power meters are inappropriate, which is why we still haven’t found any PBM studies that use solar power meters.
Here is where it gets interesting. Many companies now have 3rd party data which directly conflicts with their own advertising based on solar power meter measurements. Indeed, they may even wave around a 3rd party test report in one hand, while still falsely representing their intensity based on their original solar power meter measurements on their product pages. Several companies even make statements directly against solar power meters, but still the basis for their “>100mW/cm^2” numbers on their product page are rooted in the solar power meter measurements.
So originally, it is likely that most companies had accidentally falsely represented their intensity with Solar Power Meters. They were likely ignorant because are not experts in Red Light Therapy, and their suppliers in China were grow light producers that already were using solar power meters.
Now with their own 3rd party data and GembaRed’s awareness campaigns – there really isn’t much excuse anymore to keep up the façade of intensity advertising.
Unfortunately, rather than give up the charade – companies believe they have found clever workarounds for established laws and cases. This charade has gone on for years, so now we have to unravel it case by case.
FTC Guidance on False Advertising:
Of course, the law is clear here regardless of ignorance or intent:
“The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers.” [source]
Note how the first sentence covers if advertising is unfair or deceptive. Is it unfair to the consumer that they aren’t provided with the accurate intensity measurements at relevant treatment distances? Is it deceptive to use 3rd party data to imply that their intensity claims are correct? We would strongly think so.
We really shouldn’t have to point out lawsuits where a product was falsely advertised and the company failed to deliver the claim:
- Western Digital falsely represented their hard drive size by only 7% and were sued.
- Internet service providers have been sued for not providing the internet speeds they claimed.
- Volkswagon had to update their claim of 22 MPG down to 21 MPG in a massive lawsuit about fuel economy and emissions.
- And most famously, Subway was sued that their “footlong” sandwiches were not actually a foot long.
I even made 2 dollars in a class action lawsuit because RedBull did not give me wings. Like literal wings didn’t sprout out of my back and let me fly away (as they often portrayed in their cartoonish television advertisements). So we know how careful companies need to be in this day and age of outlandish class action lawsuits.
Now if customers are aware that they received a product that did not deliver the advertised intensity, then under federal protection (and often state laws too) they have a right to a refund, financial compensation, or a return.
“Pay customers back: The person or company that broke the law may have to return any money they got because of the bad ad.” [source]
If lawsuits can be brought against Western Digital for false advertising their hard drive size by only 7%, imagine what could happen if companies are caught false advertising over 100% of the real intensity!
Changing Measurements and Standards:
Now lets get into an interesting one. When companies started getting 3rd party measurements, rather than simply telling the truth and apologizing – they came up with a clever workaround.
Or, so they thought.
For many years red light panel companies have established that the intensity in mW/cm^2 (at treatment distance) is the most important standard measurement for determining efficacy and comparison. Indeed, we can see most clinical studies and experts in the industry also uphold intensity as the standard for scientific usage.
However, as soon as they had 3rd party data in hand, some companies pivoted their marketing towards their measurements of Total Optical Watts and Total Joules delivered – rather than stick to the industry standard for intensity in mW/cm^2 at 6 inches away.
Several law agencies and researchers have already weighed in on this topic with regards to false advertising:
Instead of revealing their true intensity (which is much lower than originally advertised) gotten by the 3rd party measurements, many companies think they circumvented the law by changing the units and standard for advertising. Which, by legal definition and any amount of logic, is still misleading.
And of course this also leads to Incomplete comparison and Inconsistent comparison misleading tactics, where companies would use this new measurement of Total Optical Watts to claim superiority, and conveniently avoid comparison based on intensity (which they would have been inferior).
So far, none of my competitors’ customers have been able to explain to me the significance of Total Optical Watts or Total Joules in terms of relevant clinical usage. They just calculate dose by the incorrect advertised intensity. Since that is the standard, and that is the intensity they were falsely led to believe.
Not only are customers calculating dose vastly wrong, they are concerned of overdosing when they compare these falsely-high intensities to the clinical research. These high intensities, if real, would quickly become a concern for the eyes or gonads.
And indeed, there are not many full-body light therapy studies to even tell us how to properly use Total Optical Watts instead of intensity in these contexts. They typically use intensity anyway. Because that is the standard.
Even if these companies were successful in this pivot away from intensity at treatment distance towards Total Optical Watts or Total Joules, most companies left some remnant of “>100mW/cm^2” directly on their product page. Which brings us back to the original deception based on solar power meter measurements.
Implied Fine Print or Asterisk?
It seems like some companies are trying to outsmart their customers and the laws by creating a trail of breadcrumbs to the truth of their real intensity and deceptions with solar power meters. Perhaps they could claim that they have some implied fine print or disclaimer buried in their blogs or FAQ as a legal defense.
Even if there was a disclaimer, asterisk, or “fine print” section buried in a company’s blog clarifying that their solar power meter measurements are inaccurate and only for comparison purposes – the misleading nature is quite clear:
“Avoid fine print disclaimers. Fine-print disclaimers usually fail to change the general impression given by an advertisement so companies cannot create a misleading ad and then print the truth in the fine print.”
“Asterisks can be used to provide additional information about the product or service. However, they should not be used to contradict or change the meaning of the original claim.”
Literally… you can’t lie about your product, then just hyperlink to a disclaimer or use an asterisk or fine print that tells the customer the real truth which contradicts the claim on the product page. To be clear, companies aren’t even offering a clear asterisk or disclaimer towards the truth at this point. But if in their delusional world they thought they did through implication, it wouldn’t be sufficient to circumvent the law.
Everyone Else is Doing it!
Most companies’ final defense is “well, everyone else is using solar power meters.” Which is the most absurd defense we could imagine. This “red light panel industry” has become a tiny little world of made-up measurements and claims. When the large body of scientific literature, real experts, and real professional companies know to use the proper measurement techniques.
Even some red light panel companies (like GembaRed, MitoGen, and CytoLED) are eschewing solar power meters and are forthcoming with more accurate measurements. We hope this list grows of honest and diligent red light panel companies who are trying to legitimize this industry and be in line with the science.
As we mentioned, anyone skilled in the art of photobiomodulation knows that solar power meters are NOT the standard for measuring intensity in this industry (hint: this means most red light panel companies aren’t experts nor do they employ experts if they originally used solar power meters). Again, there is no changing the measurement standard simply because many red light therapy companies ignorantly trusted the solar power meter measurements from their Chinese grow light suppliers.
The FTC makes quite clear:
“Sellers are responsible for claims they make about their products and services.” [source]
Each individual company is legally responsible for their own claims. Period. Companies need to stop gaslighting people and misdirecting blame elsewhere.
Are all of these companies truly playing a game of Chicken to see who becomes honest first?
Other Problematic Practices:
We have observed many companies might be misleading consumers into believing they are FDA Approved when they are only FDA Registered (big difference). Note, GembaRed is not FDA registered nor were most "1st generation" red light therapy panels. Since LED Red Light Therapy seems to fall under the FDA's general wellness product guidelines it may not be required to register at this point. Getting FDA Registered appeared to be more of an unnecessary marketing stunt with very little FDA oversight into the actual products.
Recently the TruthInAdvertising.org issued an Ad Alert for Mito Red Light. They found improper usage of the FDA Logo on Mito Red Light's website (twice!), which is a big red flag because the FDA does not grant permission to private companies to use their logo even if they are FDA registered. Doing so would falsely imply direct affiliation with the FDA, which would be misleading to the consumer. As well the TruthInAdvertising took the opportunity to point out other unapproved claims, and that Class II medical device registration is not a rigorous process and is just some paperwork.
Similar to the Trusii debacle, companies may be implying they offer unapproved medical claims about their products (especially combined with their false FDA status). Don’t even get us started about dubious medical claims (or superiority claims) surrounding certain pulse frequencies, Solfeggio, and Nogier frequencies.
Maybe we could talk about how most red light panels promote users to stand at least 4-6 inches away from their panels, even though most people skilled in the art of photobiomodulation know to use skin contact. Thus, furthering them away from clinical relevancy and promoting inefficient dosing methods.
Better yet, we could talk about how we can only find 5 studies (out of over 5,000 studies on LLLT/PBM) on full-body red light therapy despite many customers being hypnotized that they need giant full-body panels. And that many of these companies at least started out by selling retrofitted grow lights found on Alibaba at a fabulous margin (including us).
Even though we see repeatedly that red light panels offer 660nm Red and 850nm NIR light as the standard offering, which seems to imply this combination is the "best" since nearly everyone is doing it. We have found that especially 850nm isn't particularly popular in the clinical studies. And our assertion is that both of these wavelengths are cheap and mass produced - 660nm for the grow light industry and 850nm for the infrared camera industry. Their usage and combination is not particularly science based but more based on price and availability.
Perhaps many companies are also glossing over the biphasic dose response and the importance of time for dosing, while they keep increasing their intensity and implying that higher intensity delivers superior benefits in shorter timeframes. Is there evidence for these claims and implications? Not much, and perhaps the opposite is true as it leads to a lack of benefits.
You can see in all of the hyperlinks above that we have spent many years politely unraveling the truth of the Red Light Therapy industry, just now we have finally put it all together for your convenience.
The biggest issue still plaguing the Red Light Panel industry is the deceptive marketing of intensity.
Are companies worried about losing their competitive advantage? Losing sales? Upsetting existing customers? Or bringing down legal action upon themselves for coming clean? In the long run companies are setting themselves up for legal action from the FTC, FDA, recalls, fines, class action lawsuits from their own customers, or lawsuits from their competitors.
GembaRed LLC started our business from day 1 using a 3rd party lab for measurements and transparently displaying our results. It didn’t seem like a revolutionary or controversial thing at the time. The owner of GembaRed LLC was not an expert in photobiomodulation, but he did have enough engineering expertise to seek out proper measurement methods for his products.
Unfortunately, that makes GembaRed the ONLY company in the unique position to be calling out these deceptions. It may be our moral obligation to do so, even if we risk ourselves being attacked by competitors to shut us up.
And GembaRed does have legal precedent under the Lantham Act to sue our competitors for false advertising. Especially for financial damages since we started business in January 2018 and we have often been unfairly represented in books, reviews, and to savvy consumers doing comparison shopping.
Of course, we don’t want to initiate legal actions when the answer seems quite simple and obvious. Just be honest and accurate in intensity advertising. Not only do they avoid legal implications, in the long run it will build trust with the consumer that companies were brave enough to come forward and rectify their advertising. The first big company in this standoff will have a huge marketing advantage that they can claim they offer the real truth compared to their competitors.
What we at GembaRed haven’t figured out is the exact motivation why companies may be withholding the truth. We have often walked people through step by step and even pleaded with them.
Are they motivated by:
- Evidence: The evidence and testimonials from experts are clear, measurements are falsely high with solar power meters (by a large margin).
- Legal: Federal law is not only clear, it can’t be circumvented with misleading tactics.
- Moral: It is unethical and unfair to customers (and competitors) to false advertise.
- Medical: Incorrect intensity claims will affect the customers’ dosing strategy and medical outcomes.
- Financial: Regulatory action and legal actions could be quite expensive.
Obviously if we assume that companies are completely morally bankrupt and ignore the first 4 motivations, we don’t understand that they would take the financial risks of a potential recall or lawsuits. Why would they pay lawyers to defend them, when it is cheaper just to update their website with the truth?
This had us stumped for a long time. If it isn’t about money, what is the real problem? Isn’t it always about money?
We got a hint recently when it seemed companies were recklessly worried about their online reputation.
That's it! It is EGO! How could we have been so naïve? Of course its ego. Money is just a proxy for ego.
What drives ego? How can we motivate someone with a big ego to do the right thing? Is it fear based? Perhaps that they need to admit they were wrong (try getting an Egomaniac to admit they were wrong, they get hysterical and irrational). Maybe it’s an overcompensation for a lack of intellect? Hmmm…
Study On Intelligence vs. Lies:
Lets finish by taking a look at an interesting study.
Researchers gave participants a traditional 6-sided die and allowed them to roll it in private. The participant would self-report the number that they had gotten, and would get a larger payment for reporting that they got a higher number. So, there was some financial incentive for the people to lie about the result.
The researchers also performed an intelligence test on each participant, and developed a correlation between the results. They found a highly suspicious and extremely improbable amount of low-intelligence scorers were reporting the maximum value, 6. They also found the high-intelligence group were reporting a suspiciously improbably amount of 4’s although overall they tended to fit closer to the expected probability outcome. Rarely did the low-intellect people report 1’s, 2’s, or 3’s.
Of course, there is high financial incentive for companies to lie about intensity. And it seems many companies are patting themselves on the back for their elaborate misdirection, as well as getting a massive ego-boost for seemingly outsmarting federal laws and their own customers.
Lack of intellect often leads to lying because the person may not have the creativity or long-term vision to play by the rules. Even if they have high intelligence and choose to make a “lesser” lie of a 4, their actions are still highly suspicious and often contradictory when they would have been better off making the full lie anyway.
“The low-intelligence liars overwhelmingly went big — most of them claimed they rolled a six, which gave them the highest payoff. But the high-intelligence liars were more modest.” [source]
So it’s the high-intelligence people who rolled a 1, 2, or 3 that had to make a hard moral choice to tell the truth and forfeit some money. That’s the ultimate test that this red light therapy industry is currently facing.
Can red light panel companies shed some ego to admit they were wrong, while simultaneously proving they have the morality and intelligence to do the right thing? They already failed one intelligence test by using solar power meters in the first place, can they afford to fail another one?
Thank you for reading. We hope this was illuminating for you. (yes, that pun was intended because we are brave and take full responsibility for our puns)
Owner, GembaRed LLC
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