Is Red or Infrared Light Dangerous for the Eyes? – Eye Protection Guide Part 1
In an earlier blog we addressed the fact that high-intensity panels would be a concern for eye safety. However, we know that most red light panels don’t deliver anywhere close to the intensity they claim. That is a good thing for your eyes!
In this blog we will assuage your concerns and give practical tips to protecting your eyes, especially in response to some recent fearmongering stemming from derivative blog posts written by pathological liars.
Can Near-Infrared Light Cause Cataracts?
They can easily scare you with references like this recent study that induced cataracts in Rabbits with Near-Infrared light at 808nm. That fear can turn into trust for the person victimizing you, then they can turn around and sell you a crummy eBook or product without a disclosure.
But, when I tell you the context that the intensity was 1.27 W/cm^2 (yes, 1,270 mW/cm^2) for 6 continuous minutes, then you realize that your panel is 28 times less intensity and you hopefully aren’t staring directly at the LEDs the entire time… then you realize that you probably aren’t in much danger.
Another study exposed the rabbits' eyes to Near-Infrared Heat Lamps for 5 or 10 minutes continuously at only 20 cm (about 8 inches) away!  Those poor rabbits never stood a chance. Of course we know not to be so close to heat lamps and definitely not to stare at them for so long.
[IMG 1] How many rabbits need to die until we realize the obvious? Don't stare directly at high powered heat lamps and lasers at close range for long periods of time.
And we see cataracts develop with long-term occupational exposure to Near-Infrared, Infrared, or Heat. Often it is foundry workers, bakery workers, or glassblowers who are at risk to develop cataracts, but this is due to many years of daily exposure for many hours a day. Sometimes called the "glassblower's cataract."
So it is wise to be respectful of infrared and your eyes, but these situations are far from the heat, intensity, or duration of exposure that we normally get from responsible usage of LED red light panels.
The purpose for this blog:
We do have a LOT of practical tips to help calm your fears and to use your LED panels safely and appropriately. You may still want to wear protective eyewear after you read this article, but at least you will do so with the best possible information.
Note we are ONLY referring to typical LED panels currently on the market. Lasers must ALWAYS use appropriate eye protection as specified by the manufacturers. LEDs are generally considered safe, even for the eyes. That is why they are not regulated by the FDA as tightly as Lasers.
Red and NIR is Beneficial to the Eyes in Low Doses:
A popular CNN article highlighted positive study results using red lights on the eyes. In it they used 670nm Red light at 40mW/cm^2 for 3 minutes per treatment to produce positive results! 
Even 830nm Near-Infrared has been used to slow vision loss in rodents. 
And Red Light can even mitigate and ameliorate retinal damage from blue light! 
Bright light exposure in the morning can help anchor your circadian rhythm!
So if Red and Near Infrared light have been reported as beneficial to the eyes, then what is all the fuss about?
The "dose" makes the poison:
As we know, the biphasic dose response theory would tell us that low levels of red and NIR are beneficial to the eyes, and high intensity may start to become a danger for the eyes.
Why Red Light Panels can be uncomfortable and concerningly bright:
A very common frequently asked question we get from new customers is:
“This panel is REALLY bright! Are you sure it is safe for my eyes?!”
And ironically this question even comes from customers of my GembaRed Groove and Rex panels – which are often ridiculed as some of the LOWEST INTENSITY panels on the market.
So why would our customers be reporting brightness and eye-concerns for a relatively low intensity panel? And even more so from our higher-powered “next generation” series of lights?
Indoor living is not exposing us to enough bright light:
Remember, humanity is currently living in a mostly indoor lifestyle. The brightness and intensity for ambient indoor lighting, computer screens, and cell phone screens are a small fraction of the intensity compared to sunlight or red light therapy panels.
For example, typical indoor lighting is about 300 lux and less than 0.1 mW/cm^2. Whereas even our GembaRed Groove emits 5,000 lux and 7 mW/cm^2 of intensity. That can be over 16 times the brightness you are typically exposed to! So it is completely normal for these panels to feel uncomfortably bright at first.
[IMG 2] It is easy to be shocked at the initial brightness from red light therapy, because we aren't used to such bright lights!
Its like when people are trapped in a cave for a month and then suddenly are let outside, their eyes will be very sensitive to light! Often they need to slowly acclimate back to seeing normal amounts of light.
That is our current lifestyle right now! When we suddenly start using a bright red light panel, we need to take this into consideration and perhaps give ourselves time and proper exposure to acclimate to such a bright device.
Common Side-Effects While Acclimating to your Bright Red Light Panels:
During the normal adjustment period you might experience some or all of these effects:
- Overwhelming or disorienting bright lights that overpowers your vision perception.
- Squinting, or urge to close your eyes, or avert your eyes (that is a good thing).
- Seeing “spots” during and after treatment.
- Color vision and perception is altered, usually everything looks “greenish.”
Usually the spots and greenish hue altering your vision will diminish over about 5 minutes after the treatment has ended. If they don’t go away for a long time, consider contacting a professional or practicing some more eye protection tips below.
As you do more sessions with your red light panel, these side effects will become less and less, and the spots will go away faster. This is all part of how your eyes will strengthen and adapt to bright lights!
Overall it is a very good thing considering our modern lifestyle which has been deficient in bright lights!
Some Reasons you might want eye protection from red or near-infrared light therapy:
- You experience headaches, eyestrain, or discomfort during or after your sessions.
- You feel heat, dryness in the eyes, or other warning signs that the intensity might be too much for your eyes.
- You experience blurred vision after your sessions (maybe check with a doctor).
- The device intensity is known to be too high for eye safety.
- The device manufacturer recommends using eye protection.
- Perhaps starting with eye protection while your eyes acclimates to bright lights.
- You want to be careful and cautious about potential unknown long-term effects.
- You are doing treatment at night and don’t want to mess up your circadian rhythm (it keeps you awake at night after your sessions).
- You need to drive or do delicate tasks immediately after treatment and don’t want the “spots” or discoloration affecting your performance or safety while operating equipment.
- You want to use high-intensity light close to the face for the skin benefits, but need to protect your eyes from accidental over-exposure.
- Pre-existing photosensitivity or photophobia.
- Pre-existing eye conditions or contraindications (check with your doctor).
- You are taking photo-sensitizing medications (check with your doctor).
- To avoid high-flicker from cheap panels affecting your brain.
The top tips for eye safety and comfort!
Here are tips for eye comfort without needing eye protection!
- Get 3rd party data on intensity to know how to use your product safely.
- Use wider beam angles like 60 degrees or 90 degrees on the face/eyes (narrower beam angles like 30 degrees tend to be more uncomfortable and harsh on the eyes).
- Use lightly frosted lenses (GembaRed Reboot) or Prismatic Lenses (GembaRed Beam) for softer diffusion that are easier on the eyes.
- Setup the light so it is indirect exposure to the eyes.
- Increase the distance away from the light.
- Don’t stare directly at the LEDs, look off to the side of the panel.
- Turn off half the LEDs (Red or NIR, if available).
- Close your eyes (up to 70% of light is reflected from the skin, the rest is diffused more gently through your eyelids).
Coming next – the ultimate eyewear and eye protection review!
After all of this hopefully you understand why red light panels can seem uncomfortably bright. There will definitely be an adjustment period where the lights seem overly bright, minor eyestrain, seeing spots, and vision discoloration will be normal.
In those cases you might want to start with our mitigation tips like increasing your distance away, closing your eyes, or wearing some protective goggles or eyewear.
Often the main reasons that companies are providing eyewear is more for the comfort and perhaps less about the dangers of low-intensity Red and NIR eye exposure. Or perhaps they are doing it for liability reasons and to comply with some industry standards, standards which are probably overly cautious and mostly apply to industrial workplace exposure.
While we know there are many potential benefits to responsible Red/NIR exposure to the eyes, you may still opt to wear eye protection for a number of reasons if you still experience distress, photosensitivity, want to practice extra caution, pre-existing medical conditions, or it is simply more comfortable for you.
Stay tuned for our next blog where we review the top eyewear and eye protection choices and help you find the perfect one for your needs!
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Aly EM, Mohamed ES. Effect of infrared radiation on the lens. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2011;59(2):97-101. doi:10.4103/0301-4738.77010
Harpreet Shinhmar, MSc, Manjot Grewal, BSc, Sobha Sivaprasad, MBBS, PhD, Chris Hogg, Victor Chong, MBBS, PhD, Magella Neveu, PhD, Glen Jeffery, DPhil, Optically Improved Mitochondrial Function Redeems Aged Human Visual Decline, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 75, Issue 9, September 2020, Pages e49–e52, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glaa155
Gopalakrishnan, S., Mehrvar, S., Maleki, S. et al. Photobiomodulation preserves mitochondrial redox state and is retinoprotective in a rodent model of retinitis pigmentosa. Sci Rep 10, 20382 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77290-w
Heinig N, Schumann U, Calzia D, et al. Photobiomodulation Mediates Neuroprotection against Blue Light Induced Retinal Photoreceptor Degeneration. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(7):2370. Published 2020 Mar 30. doi:10.3390/ijms21072370