A Look at the Historical and Modern Use of Phototherapy

I’m a big proponent of using light to promote health and wellness, otherwise known as phototherapy. In fact, phototherapy is the foundation of much of the work that we do at LifeWave. One thing that’s interesting to me about the field, however, is how long it’s been around; people have been using phototherapy to heal a range of afflictions for thousands of years. To get a better understanding of how light can promote health and wellness, let’s take a trip through time and see the historical and modern uses of phototherapy.

Ancient History

Recorded use of light therapy stretches all the way back to Ancient Greece. Greek society cultivated a healthy appreciation for the restorative powers of the sun. The hub for this work, in those days, was Heliopolis, the Greek city of the sun. The city was known as a center for healing, and people would travel there from far-away places for help with curing a wide range of ailments.

These travelers were exposed to sunlight as a form of treatment, but it wasn’t just any old sunlight; it was light that had been refracted by a prism so that the various colors could be isolated. Different colors were then used to produce different health effects. Since the varying colors of visible light are really just different wavelengths of light, this practice represents an early appreciation for how changing the wavelength of light can produce different effects. This is still a foundational principle of phototherapy to this day, with infrared light, ultraviolet light, and visible light all being used for different purposes.

Ancient Egyptians used the power of the sun in a similar way. Like the Greeks, this culture subscribed to the restorative power of refracting light into different colors. The Egyptians built temples with different rooms bathed in different colors of light, which they achieved by passing sunlight through gemstones. Patients were directed to the different colored rooms depending on what they were seeking to treat.

Advent of Science

While looking at the historical uses of light therapy can be interesting and perhaps even a bit telling, it wasn’t until the advent of the scientific method that we came up with a way to test its effectiveness systematically. With the power of science, we were finally able to test the effects of different therapies in an unbiased way to determine how well they worked. This testing opened a window into the nature of light therapy that we’re still exploring to this day.

One of the early ways that phototherapy proved to be restorative for human health was in the treatment of a variety of skin conditions. Perhaps the most dramatic revelation around this work was a story in connection with infant jaundice patients in the 1950s. As the story goes, the thinking at the time was that such patients needed to be kept inside in the dark, away from the so-called harmful effects of the sun. One nurse, however, bucked these orders and brought her patients outside for some natural sun exposure. As it turns out, these patients had more favorable outcomes than infants that were kept inside. Researchers conducted studies on the use of light to treat infant jaundice, and today, light therapy is standard for helping infants overcome the affliction.

Now and Into the Future

These days, phototherapy is a well-respected area of the health and wellness field. Light is used to treat a number of ailments, from immune conditions to seasonal affective disorder. Infrared saunas, heat lamps, and high-intensity luminous devices are all commonplace and often used as part of an overall health and wellness routine. The prevalence of such devices, and even the common recommendation by doctors to get sunlight exposure every day, is an indication of how far the science of phototherapy has come in modern times.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I touched on this topic without mentioning the exciting work that we do at LifeWave. Phototherapy has been at the heart of our endeavors for more than 15 years now, stretching back to my first investigations into stimulating energy and stamina without the use of potentially harmful drugs. Those investigations eventually led me to the creation of our patented phototherapy patches.

These patches can be applied topically by users at various points throughout the body, dictated by the intended use of the patch. They can then reflect specific wavelengths of light back into the body and initiate a host of physiological changes. Through extensive clinical testing, we’ve shown the ability of these patches to produce profound health and wellness effects such as greater support of the healing process, a reduction in minor pain and better sleep.

I think it’s clear that the modern field of phototherapy belongs to a rich history that stretches back thousands of years. It’s my privilege to continue this tradition through my work at LifeWave, supported by clinical research and the ongoing efforts of our scientific partners.

David Schmidt is the CEO of LifeWave, a leading health and wellness company he founded in 2002. More about David Schmidt at https://davidschmidtlifewave.com/