Classically known as heliotherapy, light therapy is exposure to artificial light to treat psychological disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), non-seasonal depression, circadian rhythm sleep disorders and jet lag, sleep disorder in Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, acne vulgaris, psoriasis, vitiligo and skin cancer are also being treated using light therapy. If you think light therapy is a latest advent of modern scientific knowledge and research, you might be surprised as you read further. History of light therapy dates back to the Greeks who had a firm belief that exposure to light is beneficial to a human body.
Light therapy in the ancient times
Even when man did not know of vitamin D from the sun or highly dangerous ultraviolet rays from it, sun was worshiped as a health giving deity. It was believed sunlight re-balances the four humors. The 10th century Chinese medical literature and Buddhist writings from 200 CE show sunlight as a major component to treat many diseases in addition to herbs and plants. Similarly, Indian medical literature dated back to the 1500 BCE shows evidence of people taking help from the sun's light to treat non pigmented parts of skin. This light is, therefore, long before any scientific evidence surfaced, believed to have healing powers which was ultimately proved to be correct centuries later.
The modern science of light therapy
A modern perspective was added to this idea of healing through light when the first artificial light source was created by a Danish-Faroese-Icelandic physician Niels Finsen. He is known as the father of modern phototherapy and rightly so because he was the first one to receive a noble prize for his work on therapeutic and psychological effects from man made source of light.
From 1920s to 30s, light therapy became all the rage and manufacturers in Europe and America started producing light sources emitting ultraviolet light that also became widely popular for cosmetic tanning other than their medicinal use.
Today, the use of ultraviolet light is rare, as the risks associated with it have become widely known, and light therapy is used with much caution. Home light therapy devices are a common thing and can be used after consultation with the doctor. LED light therapy is FDA approved process that is safe, effective and painless.
Light therapy and ground breaking discoveries
The idea of photo stimulation through wavelengths at a certain angle which was first discovered in 1960 is still viable today. Its best example being new-borns exposed to early morning sunlight to treat neonatal jaundice.
Another important discovery that led to extensive use of light therapy was when cancer researchers found out that a single red frequency when used in addition with tropical creams kills skin cancer cells. The reason why light therapy today plays a major role in curing skin cancer.
Research has shown red light to stimulate collagen production and healing in the skin while blue light works best for stubborn acne cases. For this reason a combination of both is used to treat many skin conditions today.