Shedding Light On Mental Health: A Guide To Phototherapy


It’s no secret that anyone can experience mental health problems. 

In fact, a 2017 study revealed that there are over 790 million people around the globe who are dealing with a mental health disorder. About 284 million people (3.8%) are suffering from anxiety, and another 264 million (3.4%) are diagnosed with depression. 

Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available to achieve strength and recovery from mental illnesses. One increasingly popular treatment is phototherapy. Studies are being conducted on how phototherapy benefits specific mental illnesses such as depression. If you want a deep dive into the technology and benefits of phototherapy for depression, you can read more at LightTherapy.org.

However, if this concept of treatment is pretty new to you, understanding the basics is fundamental. In this article, you’ll learn about things you should know about phototherapy and how it will benefit your mental well-being. 

What is Phototherapy?

Phototherapy, also known as light therapy or bright light therapy, is a type of treatment that exposes you to a specific artificial light source. This light source is thought to have an effect on the chemicals in the brain that affect our moods, feelings, and sleeping patterns. 


It is mostly used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as “winter blues”, which is a common type of depression. It can also be used for a variety of mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder (MDD) and sleep disorders, as well as some kinds of cancers and treating skin conditions in newborns.

Phototherapy is appealing to most people because of the fact that it is generally safe. It is a non-invasive procedure and only comes with minor side effects such as eye strain or headaches. But this can be minimized by reducing the usage time of a light therapy device.

How Does Phototherapy Work?

Phototherapy compensates for the lack of exposure to sunlight, which may contribute to major depressive illnesses, sometimes with and due to seasonal patterns. 

During a session, a patient sits near a lamp or lightbox that emits bright light, mimicking the natural sunlight and allowing the skin to absorb the light for a specific time. 

The standard output for a phototherapy box is about 2,500 – 10,000 lux (the measure of light brightness).

The length of the session depends on the strength of the phototherapy and how well you can handle the treatment. In general, it is recommended that you soak in 10,000 lux power for 30 minutes every morning. However, for those new to phototherapy, you may need shorter initial treatments. 

How Does Phototherapy Affect Your Mental Health?

Continuous research is still being conducted on how or why exactly phototherapy works. However, studies show that the treatment offers relief from symptoms for most people. 

That said, some of the theories on how phototherapy affects your mental health include:

  • Triggers Serotonin Production

Light exposure provided by a phototherapy lamp is believed to mimic natural light and trigger the production of serotonin, which is the “happy” chemical in the brain. This hormone plays a critical part in the proper functioning of the body and mind, impacting your motor skills, emotions, and mood. 

  • Resets The Circadian Rhythm

Exposure to light therapy in the morning can jumpstart the body’s clock and reset your circadian rhythm. This is why phototherapy is also used for improving sleep issues since it helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle. 

Similarly, it is also used to treat jet lag and help people acclimate to a new time zone. 

  • Contributes To Good Sleep Patterns

There’s a definite link between depression and lack of sleep. One of the common signs of depression is insomnia or the inability to fall or stay asleep.

As mentioned, light therapy helps with improving sleep issues. By doing so, you can also potentially reduce the risk of mental health disorders.

What Are the Types Of Phototherapy? 

Most lightboxes and other phototherapy devices use a full-spectrum fluorescent light. However, certain types of phototherapies can offer benefits for your mental health.

  • Red Light

Red light is one of the two most researched types of light therapy. It uses light in red and near-infrared wavelengths that can penetrate through the skin and provide a phototherapeutic effect in your tissues. 

There’s growing evidence suggesting that red light can provide immediate improvement in a depressed mood after a single light session. Research also shows that red light is somewhat effective in treating wounds, joint and muscle pain, and ulcers. Also, it shows promising results in fading scars by boosting collagen production and improving hair growth.

  • Blue Light

Blue light is the other most researched type of light therapy. Studies show that blue light is superior to other lights in the spectrum for improving mental health. Like red light, blue light is also mainly used for helping those with depression and SAD. 

Unlike red light, blue light doesn’t penetrate beyond your skin. However, it does have a profound effect on skin conditions such as sun damage and acne. Certain blue light wavelengths are found to be effective at killing bacteria that cause acne. 

In addition, blue light is also used for skin cancer prevention and to remove cancerous skin lesions. 

  • Green Light

Green light is still in the experimental phase. However, according to a study, green light is said to be beneficial for those who tend to suffer from migraines. This may be because of the fact that the color green is associated with Mother Nature and is a calming color. 


Phototherapy may still need more research to strengthen its benefits. Many people, however, are living proof that it does work in relieving mental health issues and improving one’s mood.

As an easy and safe treatment, phototherapy is fast becoming an appealing coping solution for those with mental health conditions. If this type of therapy piques your interest, it is best to consult with a health practitioner to reap the benefits of this alternative form of treatment.