By Danielle Pavliv and Sandy Wang
National Center for Health Research
Wouldn’t it be great if we could lose weight without having to diet or exercise? For years, millions of us have tried pills, injections, “natural” herbs and even berries that are supposed to help us shed pounds – but these usually don’t work.The latest magical way to lose weight is infrared light, also known as “red light therapy.”
Infrared therapy is also suggested for pain management, jaundice, eczema, wrinkles, scars, improved blood circulation and to help wound and burns heal faster. That doesn’t mean it actually works for any of those things. But in this article, we’re focusing on whether it works to help you look thinner.1
Red light therapy uses near infrared light, usually from lasers, lamps, or tanning bed-like devices. We are told to either lie down or sit in front of the light for a specific amount of time on a regular basis (usually once a day). One popular device on the market is the infrared body wrap,consisting of large silicone bandages or pads that emit infrared light around the legs, torso and arms. In addition, red light therapy is supposed to improve the appearance of cellulite and help shape the body. ABC’s “The Lookout,” did an undercover video on this trend of infrared weight loss in 2013. Undercover reporter, JuJu Chang tried the fit body wrap, which claimed that you can burn up to 1400 calories an hour doing nothing. Juju’s producer, Erin, cycled in a box that emitted red light and could supposedly burn up to 1000 calories in just a half an hour. Neither of these devices worked.2 To watch this video, click here.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Few scientific evidence exists to support the claims that infrared light, whether administered by lamp, laser or while in a body wrap, can help people lose weight or shape their body. Nevertheless, in 2010, the FDA cleared a laser called Zerona, manufactured by Erchonia Medical Inc., which uses red light therapy to remove “unwanted” fat without surgical procedures. The company conducted a clinical trial of 67 people who either got six laser treatment or six sham treatments over a two week period. Patients treated by the Zerona laser lost an inch off their waists and hips, and lost almost an inch from each thigh. However, 2 weeks after treatment ended, the fat was starting to return.3 4 No weight was lost.
So, if weight wasn’t lost, how did the patients get thinner? And did that change when they drank water or other liquids? How long did it last? the company didn’t show that, and oddly, the FDA was satisfied with just 2 weeks of information. So, nobody knows how well Zerona really works.
What we do know is that if this treatment worked, it would probably be very popular. Instead, according to online reviews, most people who purchase the Zerona treatment in clinics say that the doctors “strongly recommend” that patients exercise daily, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and refrain from drinking alcohol and caffeine. Some say they were told to wear compression undergarment(s) around their target area(s) throughout their treatment period. It was also optional, but recommended for patients to take the Curva supplement, which contained ingredients such as Niacin, L-carnitine, Ginko Biloba, Omega 3, and Green Tea extract.5 In other words, any benefit of Zerona may have been the result of other changes in exercise, eating, or drinking. And, some people who tried Zerona said it did not hep them at all. Zerona treatment costs $1,500-$2,000 for just six sessions, so you can imagine how angry people are if it doesn’t work.
The FDA has approved several infrared devices for temporary pain relief and to increase local blood circulation. But no other uses of infrared therapy have been approved by the FDA for reducing body fat.6 In fact, the FDA has penalized manufacturers of several devices for labeling materials containing “false or misleading statements or information” and marketing for uses other than those approved by the FDA.7
If you want to lose weight, skip the infrared light therapy — it’s expensive and it doesn’t work. Want to lose inches instead of weight? There is no clear evidence that it works for most patients or that it lasts after the treatment stops.
All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.
This article was updated in 2016.
- LED light therapy accelerated healing pain reduction red near infrared. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.elixa.com/light/healing.htm ▲
- Infrared Weight Loss – ABC news video. (2013). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from href=”http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/infrared-weight-loss-19766175″>http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/infrared-weight-loss-19766175 ▲
- Rettner, R. (2010). FDA Approves Fat-Busting Laser, But Do Results Last? Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/10085-fda-approves-fat-busting-laser-results.html ▲
- http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/510k/k120257.pdf ▲
- Cosmedic Lazer MedSpa. (2011). Recommended Zerona Protocol. Retrieved March 09, 2016, from http://www.lazermedspa.com/protocol.html ▲
- 510(k) Summary: GRT LITE Model PRO-8A Light Therapy System. Food and Drug Administration. Feb 3 2006. Available at: href=”http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cdrh_docs/pdf5/K050668.pdf”>http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cdrh_docs/pdf5/K050668.pdf. ▲
- Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations. Food and Drug Administration. May 4 2004. Available at: href=”http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2004/ucm146842.htm?utm_campaign=Google2&utm_source=fdaSearch&utm_medium=website&utm_term=light%20therapy&utm_content=3″>http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2004/ucm146842.htm?utm_campaign=Google2&utm_source=fdaSearch&utm_medium=website&utm_term=light%20therapy&utm_content=3 ▲