Light Therapy (Phototherapy)

A therapeutic technique using light exposure to treat various health conditions.


Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment method that utilizes exposure to artificial light to address a range of health issues. It involves sitting near a light therapy box, which emits bright light mimicking natural outdoor light. Light therapy is commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sleep disorders, and certain skin conditions. The light exposure is believed to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, helping to regulate circadian rhythms and alleviate symptoms.

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The therapeutic use of light dates back to ancient civilizations, with sun worship and heliotherapy practiced in various cultures. Modern light therapy, however, emerged in the early 1980s when researchers discovered that bright artificial light could effectively treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Since then, light therapy has been extensively studied and applied to a broader range of health conditions. Advancements in technology have led to the development of more sophisticated light therapy devices, making treatment more accessible and convenient for individuals.


  1. Alleviates Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Light therapy is a highly effective treatment for SAD, helping to reduce symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and mood swings.
  2. Regulates Sleep Patterns Exposure to bright light can help regulate the body's circadian rhythms, improving sleep quality and addressing sleep disorders like insomnia and delayed sleep phase syndrome.
  3. Boosts Mood and Energy Light therapy can enhance mood, increase energy levels, and promote overall well-being by stimulating the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and calmness.
  4. Treats Certain Skin Conditions Phototherapy is used to treat various skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo, by reducing inflammation, slowing skin cell growth, and promoting repigmentation.
  5. Non-invasive and Drug-free Light therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that does not involve medication, making it a suitable alternative for individuals who prefer drug-free approaches or cannot tolerate certain medications.
  6. Convenient and Accessible Light therapy devices are available for home use, allowing individuals to undergo treatment conveniently and in the comfort of their own space.

How It Works

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, uses specific wavelengths of light to treat various health conditions. The light is typically administered through a light box or special lamp that emits bright light mimicking natural outdoor light. This light enters the eyes, stimulating the brain and regulating circadian rhythms, which can improve mood, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. Light therapy is believed to affect neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which play crucial roles in regulating mood and sleep. Sessions usually last 20-30 minutes daily, with timing depending on the specific condition being treated.


While light therapy is generally safe, some people may experience side effects such as eye strain, headaches, or nausea. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting light therapy, particularly for those with pre-existing eye conditions or taking medications that increase light sensitivity. Proper positioning and distance from the light source are crucial to ensure effectiveness and prevent discomfort. Consistency in treatment is key, as skipping sessions may reduce the therapy's efficacy. It is also important to use a light therapy device specifically designed for this purpose, as regular lamps may not provide the appropriate light intensity or wavelengths.

How Much It Costs

The cost of light therapy can vary depending on the type of device and treatment duration. Light therapy boxes typically range from $50 to $500, with higher-end models offering more features and larger sizes. Some health insurance plans may cover light therapy if prescribed by a healthcare provider for a specific medical condition. Renting a light therapy device is also an option, with prices ranging from $30 to $70 per month. In-office light therapy sessions with a healthcare professional can cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per session, depending on the provider and location.

Virtual & Online Options

Virtual or online options for light therapy are limited compared to in-person alternatives. While it is possible to purchase a light therapy device online and use it at home, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional beforehand to ensure proper use and safety. In-person light therapy sessions with a qualified practitioner offer the advantage of personalized guidance, progress monitoring, and adjustments based on individual needs. However, at-home light therapy can be more convenient and cost-effective for those with busy schedules or limited access to specialized clinics. Ultimately, the choice between virtual and in-person light therapy depends on personal preferences, availability, and the severity of the condition being treated.


Currently, there are no universally recognized certifications specific to light therapy practitioners. However, healthcare professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and sleep specialists may incorporate light therapy into their treatment plans. These practitioners should hold the appropriate degrees and licenses in their respective fields, such as an MD, Ph.D., or PsyD. Some organizations, like the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, offer training and certificates in light therapy administration for healthcare professionals. While not mandatory, these additional certifications demonstrate a practitioner's expertise and commitment to providing evidence-based light therapy treatments.

Complementary Practices

Light therapy can be combined with other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, exercise, and lifestyle changes to enhance overall well-being. Incorporating a balanced diet, stress reduction techniques, and consistent sleep patterns can further support the benefits of light therapy.

Practitioner Types

Various healthcare professionals can administer or recommend light therapy, including psychiatrists, psychologists, primary care physicians, sleep specialists, and naturopathic doctors. Some massage therapists and acupuncturists may also incorporate light therapy into their treatments.

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  • Q: What is light therapy and how does it work?

    • A: Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment that uses exposure to artificial light to regulate mood, sleep patterns, and other biological rhythms. It works by stimulating the brain's production of neurotransmitters and hormones that affect mood and sleep.
  • Q: What conditions can light therapy treat?

    • A: Light therapy is commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sleep disorders, jet lag, and certain skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It may also help with non-seasonal depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia.
  • Q: How long does a typical light therapy session last?

    • A: A light therapy session usually lasts between 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the condition being treated and the intensity of the light box. Most people undergo light therapy in the morning to mimic natural sunlight and regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Q: Are there any side effects of light therapy?

    • A: Light therapy is generally safe with minimal side effects. Some people may experience eye strain, headaches, nausea, or agitation. These side effects are usually mild and short-lived. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting light therapy to ensure it is suitable for your specific condition.
  • Q: Can I perform light therapy at home?

    • A: Yes, light therapy can be performed at home using a special light box designed for this purpose. It is crucial to choose a high-quality light box that emits the appropriate intensity and type of light. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and your healthcare provider's recommendations for safe and effective use.


Light therapy is a non-invasive and effective treatment for various conditions related to mood, sleep, and circadian rhythms. By mimicking natural sunlight, light therapy can help regulate the body's internal clock and alleviate symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder, sleep disorders, and other health issues. While light therapy is generally safe, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional to determine if it is appropriate for your specific needs and to ensure proper use for optimal results. Incorporating light therapy into a comprehensive treatment plan alongside other complementary practices can promote overall well-being and enhance quality of life.