Testicle Tanning and Red Light Therapy: Fad or Farce?
Many people have suddenly become aware of Red Light Therapy through the unfortunate means of right-wing mainstream media. They presented a sensational concept of “testicle tanning” in the controversial context of declining testosterone levels in men.
Naturally, the opposing media have torn the entire notion of Red Light Therapy apart. That this prospect of “testicle tanning” is not only a scam and quackery, but potentially harmful when carelessly promoted. They theorize that the mere mention of alternative health modalities is part of a grand misinformation campaign.
Like most polarized news coverage, the truth usually resides somewhere in-between. Both sides have conveniently mis-represented the prospect of Red Light Therapy to serve their own bias and agenda.
Lets see if we can clearly define what they are even talking about, and if there is any credence to either sides’ claims.
If you are familiar with our blog you know that we dig into the peer-reviewed science available to us and see if there are any practical conclusions.
This blog will cover:
- What is “testicle tanning” in the context that was presented?
- Is Red Light Therapy dangerous (for testicles)?
- Is Red Light Therapy legit in any way?
- Red Light Therapy and testicle treatments.
- The real science linking light and testosterone.
Lets get started with the first two sections trying to unravel what we think both sides are saying on this topic.
Poor Introduction and Definition of “testicle tanning”
The right-wing media used the inaccurate term “tanning” when describing Red Light Therapy. It is clear from the documentary trailer they are using a“Red Light Therapy” panel device. There is no UV light that comes from these devices, and thus is in no way considered “tanning”.
The interviewee in the recent news piece, a fitness trainer named McGovern, was quick to plug his affiliated company’s name, Joovv, and laugh along with the incorrect terminology of “tanning”. He could have saved the industry a lot of embarrassment if he offered a polite correction to the misuse of the word “tanning” rather than focusing on endorsing his brand.
The “would you like to supersize your meal” moment also comes when McGovern up-sells us not only to treat the testicles, but your entire body. If curiosity got the better of you, then you would find that his affiliated company’s “Elite” full-body panel is currently selling for $9,499.00.
This is an unfortunate perfect storm of ways to misinterpret the very premise of “testicle tanning” that they are trying to promote. From using the wrong terminology like “tanning” to shilling a nearly ten thousand dollar system to treat an issue that isn’t even accepted as being a problem in the first place.
Is Red Light Therapy Dangerous?
The other side of the media took no time to tear down the entire concept of “testicle tanning” to improve testosterone, and add that is could be unsafe.
Several articles including now WebMD have noted that there is no such thing as a “safe tan” due to the risks of developing skin cancer and melanoma. Which is purposefully misinterpreting the devices that McGovern was referring to because they do not emit UV, thus do not produce a tan or carry any risk of cancer.
In fact, a recent peer-reviewed article notes a slowing of tumor progression and reduction of associated inflammation in skin cancer in mice when treated with red light therapy.  As well, initial discovery of Red Light Therapy is attributed to Endre Mester in the 1960’s who failed to produce skin cancer in rodents, but instead noted the rodents had improved hair growth and healing.
A more logical risk is connecting Red Light Therapy with excessive heating of the testicles. Naturally the testicles are outside the body to keep cooler, and heat is associated with declined function. The clever science-minded fearmongering will tell you that Infrared therapy is associated with heat, and that is bad for your testicles.
Late night television shows compared "testicle tanning" to dropping your balls in a toaster. Which evokes a powerful image of fearmongering, but is far from reality of comparing LEDs to a toaster.
However; Photobiomodulation, is by definition, the non-thermal application of light for biological effects.  The devices and research clearly prefer wavelengths in the range of 600nm to 900nm which are well-regarded as producing the least amount of heat in the body. We do find the range of 800nm to 900nm are indeed technically called “infrared”, but more scientifically known as Near-Infrared. Where Near-Infrared is not considered as heating, but it’s neighbor “Far-Infrared” is more commonly accepted as the heating range of wavelengths.
Thus we see the convenient conflating of “Red Light Therapy” with UV, Far-Infrared, and Heat – although it is technically none of those things, thus carrying none of the supposed risks. If you are still concerned about potential risks we have an extremely thorough blog of the potential risks and contraindications that have been noted in the research so far.
Is Red Light Therapy Legit?
The science of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), predecessor for what is now called Photobiomodulation (PBM), has taken off since the 1960’s. A quick search on PubMed.gov for a keyword like LLLT, a governmental website that aggregates peer-reviewed journal articles, will yield thousands of results. In fact, the trend is that more studies on LLLT and PBM are being published every subsequent year.
The mere reason that Red Light Therapy has even broached mainstream news is indeed due to its scientific and commercial successes recently. Readers of Mens Health are already familiar with the notion of applying red light therapy for testosterone support. And even a popular CNN article has touted the potential beneficial effects of red light therapy for the eyes.
Olympians have used Red Light Therapy for athletic performance and recovery in 2016. Red light therapy is regarded as such a large advantage in athletic performance that one peer-reviewed article notes that it should be addressed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
A NASA LED device has been developed and tested for applications of pain management. Where is seems NASA had also been researching LED therapy for wound healing especially to offset the slow healing experienced in space.
The FDA has cleared or approved dozens of various “Red Light Therapy” devices for purposes of treating a range of conditions such as wrinkles, hair loss, and pain. Of course the FDA is the ultimate authority when it comes to determining if a medical technology is legitimate.
Although it is expected to have skepticism, red light therapy has been firmly established in peer-reviewed science for nearly 80 years with notable applications and approvals from NASA and the FDA.
Can Red Light Therapy Help with Testosterone?
Although Photobiomodulation has been established as its own science with some governmental regulatory nods, the application of photobiomodulation directly to treat testosterone gets flimsy. Of course there has not yet been any FDA filings for the usage of red light therapy for the gentiles, so we must tread lightly.
Reports of testosterone improvements by red light therapy have been mostly anecdotal in nature, and often touted by fitness influencers who have strong financial ties to the brands that they conveniently got the benefits from. Many of these fitness influencers were already quite healthy and fit before using this intervention, which is suspicious because the science tells us that healthy, young cells do not gain much benefit from photobiomodulation. 
Many of my competitors have already cashed in on this trend by writing “educational” articles about how red light therapy can boost testosterone. Although we want it to be true, the studies they reference are small and were conducted on animals, not humans.
A more recent study used the same full-body red light therapy brand that McGovern was endorsing. They measured the testosterone levels in athletes before and after treatment with the full-body device. They found no statistically significant change in testosterone. 
Unfortunately the only science we have shows that there was no effect of red light therapy on testosterone. Of course we should remain open minded that more rigorous research should be conducted with larger trials and different contexts.
The Real Science connecting Light and Testosterone:
Red light therapy has does not have solid science for supporting testosterone, nor are there many reasons to specifically target male genitalia yet in the science.
So where would they have gotten this notion of “tanning” and testosterone in the first place?
There are well established positive associations between Vitamin D levels and testosterone in the scientific literature.   Vitamin D is regarded as the “sunshine hormone” as it can be produced naturally by our skin from sensible sunlight or UVB exposure.
A properly researched UVB lamp or sensible sunlight exposure would have been more science-based to promote to support testosterone.
A more recent December 2021 peer reviewed article looked at the association of Vitamin D deficiency, depression, and serum testosterone levels in middle-aged and elderly men. Due to the clear interrelationship of those 3 factors, the conclusion was that Vitamin D supplementation or sensible sunlight exposure could reduce depression associated with low testosterone. 
One study did use a form of “light therapy” which is instead known as Bright Light Therapy. They used 10,000 lux white light on subjects for 30 minutes per day between 7am and 8am. They found an improvement in testosterone levels, which they associated with the interaction between melatonin (which is directly modulated by bright light) and sexual hormones.
Indeed even WebMD and several other news outlets at the time picked up and reported on the study with bright light therapy in 2016. There wasn’t as much of a political overtone or controversial stance as we are seeing now.
Although sunlight, Vitamin D, and bright light therapy have been associated with testosterone improvements, we cannot seem to find any peer-reviewed published research with actual red light therapy affecting testosterone in humans.
Red Light Therapy is indeed an exceptional wellness modality with rapidly expanding scientific research and ever-growing regulatory approvals. It is certainly not a fad and the interest will only grow in mainstream interest the coming years.
The term “testicle tanning” is very much a farce, in many aspects of the sensational phrase. It was incorrectly used to describe red light therapy, although it has no UV and does not tan the skin. As well there is not enough peer-reviewed published evidence that directly treating human testicles with any form of light therapy would produce a response in testosterone.
However, the science is clear that sensible sunlight exposure, being mindful of Vitamin D levels, and even Bright Light Therapy can support healthy testosterone levels. So, there is a shred of truth buried beneath all of the controversy and pandering. Of course, this sunlight and bright light exposure does not need to be applied to the testicles, those can be covered for modesty.
Red light therapy via LED panels is certainly safe, and quite possibly offers one of the safest forms of a “light therapy”. Since LED-based Red light therapy does not use UV which is associated this skin cancer, nor does it use Far-Infrared which is associated with heating tissue. LEDs are low cost and safer than the lasers that were predominantly used in the original research on LLLT.
When there aren’t highly-compensated influencers pushing their brands, LED light therapy can be quite affordable with “starter” level devices easily found on Amazon that people can try out.
Having proper expectations of what Red Light Therapy can and can not do based in rigorous science is the only way that this industry can gain mainstream acceptance. Hopefully this has helped clairfy this nuanced issue.
Toaster Photo by Photography Maghradze PH from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/toasted-bread-3997309/
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