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Green Light Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

allay lamp next to bed

We’ve all been kept up too late by a computer’s blue light. But it turns out another color - a specific band of green light wavelengths - could actually be beneficial to humans. In fact, light therapy - different hues and wavelengths of light - has been recognized for decades as a useful solution for improving human lives. 

While green light therapy is touted for everything from skin treatment to easing pain and even fighting depression, the majority of these opportunities are still in the early stages of research. However, scientific research pioneered by Dr. Rami Burstein supports green light therapy’s ability to help people who suffer from migraine and photophobia (light sensitivity). So, today, we’ll explore the healing power of the color green and the benefits of this unique form of light therapy.

What is green light therapy used for?

Light therapy has a long history of practice, dating back to when the Inca and many others worshipped the sun as a health-bringing deity. Later, Indian medical literature from 1500 BCE, Buddhist literature from 200 CE, and 10th-century Chinese documents all describe a treatment combining herbs with natural sunlight to treat non-pigmented skin areas. 

Skip ahead hundreds of years and scientists are still fascinated by the power of light. Research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in May of 2010 showed that by dynamically manipulating the color, duration and pattern of light, new therapies could play an important treatment role for disorders including circadian rhythm sleep disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and dementia. 

Even more recently, several studies published over the past few years found that green light has some amazing properties, including not exacerbating migraine headaches as much as other colors of light, and potentially easing the photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light) of migraine sufferers. 

It’s no surprise that the color green could impact humans in such positive ways. Green creates an atmosphere of serenity and calmness, drawing from its reflection in the natural world. And a large body of evidence has shown that spending time in nature, where green is prevalent, is responsible for many measurable beneficial changes in the body. 

For example, according to Time magazine, in one study, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a forest-therapy expert and researcher at Chiba University in Japan, found that people who spent 40 minutes walking in a cedar forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is involved in blood pressure and immune-system function, compared with when they spent 40 minutes walking in a lab. And spending time outside is also good for the heart, and it helps with depression. A large June 2016 study also found that nearly 10% of people with high blood pressure could get their hypertension under control if they spent just 30 minutes or more in a park each week. 

Discover the green light therapy's benefits

Today, green light therapy has a wide variety of potential uses based on early research into its potential contributions to better sleep, pain relief, depression, migraine relief, and skin improvements.

1. Green light therapy for improved sleep

Researchers have found that green light promotes sleep while blue light delays it. In a study conducted by Oxford University, green light produced rapid sleep onset in mice - between 1 and 3 minutes. 

2. Green light therapy for pain relief

Research by Mary Heinricher suggests that light has the potential to engage pain-modulating systems such that normally unharmful inputs are perceived as painful. Her experiments documented substantial light intolerance in patients with fibromyalgia, and raised the possibility that this abnormal photosensitivity could be explained by abnormal engagement of pain-facilitating systems by light.

3. Green light therapy for migraines

Dr. Rami Burstein found that a very special narrow band (520nm +/-10) of green light can help people who suffer from migraine by producing smaller electrical signals in the eyes and brain. This precise band of light’s soothing glow can help them get back to their everyday lives, but interestingly any light outside of that band can actually diminish or even negate the effects.

4. Green light therapy for skin

In LED light therapy for skin, green light targets dark circles, pigmentation, broken capillaries and sunspots, and as a result could have an impact on skin pigmentation. It also calms irritated or over-stimulated skin.

Now that you know a few ways green light therapy has been used, let’s explore the science behind one of the most promising areas of research: its impact on migraine.

Green light therapy for migraine and pain

Migraine is a complex neurological disorder most commonly recognized as a one-sided headache that is accompanied by throbbing, nausea, and extreme sensitivity to light, noise and/or smell. But migraine is more than a headache. It is also associated with difficulty finding words, irritability, anxiety, stress, and countless other symptoms that accompany attacks. And, migraineurs often avoid light because of the disabling pain it causes, interfering with their careers, schooling, and lives overall. But, there have been numerous studies examining the positive impact of green light therapy on migraine. 

One such study, published in Nature Neuroscience in 2010, revealed how light contributes to pain. Researchers had known for years that light increases the intensity of headaches: after all, light sensitivity affects 85 to 90% of those living with migraine. So to explain this phenomenon, Dr. Rami Burstein and his colleagues found inspiration in some unexpected results from blind migraine sufferers.

Despite being unable to see, a group of blind migraineurs who were still able to detect light actually reported that blue light exacerbated their head pain significantly more than any other color of light. These observations helped Dr. Burstein realize there had to be a direct connection that goes from the retina into the part of the brain where neurons that are active during migraine are found. 

Through his research, he and his team discovered a new pathway in the brain that explains how light makes the headache more painful. The pathway begins in the eye as light signals come in, and ends right in a group of nerve cells that tell the brain a headache is happening. When the light signals travel on that pathway and hit that group of neurons, they make the headache more painful.

With those findings in mind, Dr. Burstein recognized an intriguing pattern in the conversations he had with his patients: they often said their headaches were worse on cloudy days. And because light on a cloudy day has different color characteristics than light on a sunny day, he realized the color of light might matter. 

So Dr. Burstein and his team of researchers exposed patients to regular room light and blue, green, amber, and red lights during a migraine attack, learning that blue and red lights exacerbate head pain more than amber or white lights. But even more surprisingly, they also discovered that an extremely narrow band of green light actually eased the intensity of the head pain.

During their next study, published in Brain in 2016, the researchers found that white, blue, amber, and red lights generate larger electrical signals than green light, and as a result the brain areas that receive these signals are significantly more active. Basically, the human retina generates an electrical signal that is smaller in response to green than in response to any other color of light. The smaller activation of the brain by green light explains why it is soothing to someone with migraine: it’s like being on a calm lake rather than a rocky ocean with large waves.

Building on this work, they quickly started testing the narrow band of green light in a headache clinic in Boston, and were amazed to find that green light did not exacerbate the migraine patients’ symptoms or cause any negative side effects, and it helped them resume their lives.

Discover green light therapy’s benefits

For centuries, people have turned to drug-free, natural remedies to fight chronic pain. And already as of 2007, nearly 4 out of 10 adults had used some form of alternative remedy according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics

Green light therapy is attractive for a number of reasons: 

  • It is non-invasive because the patient doesn’t need to undergo surgery or ingest medication of any kind.
  • The patient can control when and how they use it - even using it from the comfort of their home
  • It’s relatively inexpensive. 
  • Plus, there is a big positive from a physician perspective in that light therapy for migraines has not been shown to cause any adverse effect. 
  • And finally, patients are able to mostly go about their lives, working, being with family, doing chores, reading, and more - as usual - while taking advantage of green light’s benefits. 

Overall, seeking out natural approaches to managing recurring migraines can lower the risk and cost of managing the condition. That’s where green light therapy can really help!

Discover light therapy devices

Light therapy devices are plentiful and serve a number of purposes. A few of the most common devices include SAD devices, skin light therapy devices, and green light therapy devices.

1. SAD light therapy

SAD lamps simulate sunlight, which helps trigger the brain to release serotonin - often called the feel-good hormone. For example, the Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp ($49.99) features a simple, modern design, and an intensity of 10,000 lux UV-free, full-spectrum white light that’s designed to imitate the sun at noon. It comes complete with three adjustable brightness settings, and the LED bulbs have an impressive ​50,000-hour lifespan.

2. Skin light therapy devices

If you're looking to amp up your skincare routine, skin therapy devices might be the solution. One such skin light therapy device is the MMSphere ($495), a ring of LED lights that’s hands-free. It’s designed by Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist in New York, and has settings for blue, green, amber and purple light too.

3. Green light therapy devices

Green light therapy devices are uniquely designed to help address pain. One such example is the Allay Lamp, ($299 + free shipping) which provides a natural band of light that can help people with light sensitivity get back to their everyday lives. Dr. Rami Burstein and the engineer who designed and installed the lights for NASA on the space station designed this product, which delivers a precise band of light needed at an affordable cost, and can be used by anyone within their own home. 

A quick recap on green light

Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about green light therapy.

Does light therapy really work?

Dr. Rami Burstein has discovered a precise narrow band of natural light that lets patients see and function without the discomfort of everyday light.

Is green light good for sleep?

Green light has a helpful effect on sleep according to Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Green light therapy impacts lives worldwide

Green light therapy is a fascinating area of scientific exploration, and researchers are learning more every day. While it’s always important to see a physician when you’re experiencing pain, it’s exciting to know that based on what scientists have discovered so far, new inventions are already helping migraine sufferers all over the world.

How could using green light therapy make an impact on your life? Up next: learn why migraines happen.