Around 2017-2018 I noticed that many – if not most – of the podcasts I listen to published an episode about red light devices. Red and near-infrared (NIR) low-level light therapy (LLLT) or as it’s perhaps more commonly known, photobiomodulation, took the biohacking world by storm. Although the research and tech wasn’t new by any means, multiple companies in this field appeared around the same time, which seemingly popularized the topic.
After a long time of conducting my own research into the science and benefits of red light photobiomodulation, I finally decided to pull the trigger late 2018. I ended up choosing a device which I think provided a good compromise between price, wavelengths and the power of the unit. After over half a year of experience with the panel, this is my review of the Half Stack red light by Red Light Rising.
Briefly on the Technical Specifications
The Half Stack represents a middle-sized option in Red Light Rising’s lineup. 50×20 cm panel holds 100 LEDs. The six-centimeter thick device weighs five kilos, and it ships with wall hanging cables kit and a suitable power cable for your region.
Half of the LEDs are red with 660 nm wavelength, and the other half represents NIR with 850 nm wavelength. These wavelengths have become pretty much the de facto standard of the industry, although scientific research has studied and found use for other wavelengths in the red and NIR spectrum as well. Both types of LEDs are rated as 3 watts per LED, making the Half Stack a 300 W panel. There are on/off switches for both types, and the LEDs are organized so that every other row is red and the other is NIR.
The LEDs have a bean angle of 60 degrees and provide light intensity of 84 mW/cm2 at 10 centimeters distance. This high intensity is exactly what separates proper panels from the cheap ones, and it should be one of the main attributes to look for when buying a red light panel.
The Science Behind Red and NIR Light Health Benefits
Although this article is not intended to convince you of the benefits of photobiomodulation treatments, let’s set up some base facts. Red light therapy is not some woo-woo, on the contrary: the topic has been studied for decades, and currently there’s roughly 400 new research articles published on it annually. Vladimir Heiskanen and his team have created an open database containing over 4,300 published academic papers analyzing the effects of photobiomodulation on humans and animals. So the science is definitely there, but what about the results?
I highly recommend bookmarking Heiskanen’s comprehensive article “The Therapeutic Effects of Red and Near-Infrared Light”, where he analyzes the existing research in great detail. The reason why red and NIR light are seemingly so effective on a wide variety of things, is because of their wavelength, which allows the light to penetrate skin and tissue way more effectively than other lights on the spectrum. This tissue penetration is the key, as Heiskanen explains in his article:
“Red light and near-infrared are able to induce significant physiological changes inside the tissue. According to modern knowledge, the red light inside the cells activates the mitochondrial enzyme cytochrome c oxidase, improving the mitochondrial respiration and oxygen consumption (de Freitas & Hamblin 2016, Wang et al. 2017).
This shift in cellular metabolism leads to other changes in cell function, eg. gene expression and growth factor production (Prindeze et al. 2012).”
Heiskanen’s article is also available in Finnish (Punainen valo ja lähi-infrapuna sairaustilojen hoidossa) and he has also co-authored an article in Erikoislääkäri-magazine (2/2016) with the same title.
My Experiences with Red Light Therapy
My primary reason for getting a red light device was that I wanted all the help I could get to boost my recovery from a recent back surgery. Albeit the operation was fairly small, I was still put on a strict “no back-bending, no lifting” regime for two months. Two months is hell of a long time not to use your back!
During my recovery I supplemented with collagen powder and anti-inflammatory products. Luckily, we have a couple of premium brands in Finland, such as Puhdas+ and Puhdistamo, which offer very high quality products with often organic ingredients and without fillers. I didn’t do painkillers at all.
I had the Half Stack mounted on a wall, with a couple of different heights to hang it from. This way I could hit not just the area of surgery in the lower back, but also upper back, glutes, basically everything around my spine that was one way or another supporting my back and posture. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to quantify the effects of photobiomodulation treatments, but I’m fairly confident in saying that the remarkable healing of the surgery scar (which at the time of writing is barely noticeable) can be contributed to red light therapy.
Since then, I’ve been using the Half Stack to decrease (and sometimes completely eliminate) DOMS, and generally as a muscle and joint recovery enhancer. I also borrowed the device to my mom to help her after a knee replacement operation.
Pricing, Import Fees and Shipping
When I purchased the Half Stack, it was listed at £350. With the Black Friday discount of 10 %, the final total was £315 as the shipping was free. After the currency conversion, the panel ended up costing €372.74.
Believe it or not, the pricing was one of the main reasons I went with Red Light Rising! Equivalent devices from Joovv – arguably the biggest brand on this market – cost $695 (Mini, 60 LEDs) or $1,195 (Solo, 150 LEDs).
Shipping took a bit over a week. However, I was in for a nasty surprise when the device came from Singapore, not from UK where Red Light Rising is situated. Most likely this meant the light came straight from the factory, but this was not mentioned anywhere on their website. It ended up costing me additional €98.26 in import fees (yeah I know, they are ridiculous in Finland).
However, when looking for information regarding shipping on their site, I found this from their FAQ:
Please note there may be import taxes or customs duties depending on the country you are in. We try to keep these at a minimum, but if you have any questions it is best to ask us, or review your countries local taxes. Usually the customs costs is £15-30. In most cases, we will cover these for you, so please let us know if you do incur any taxes and we will pay them directly.
I decided to test their policy and emailed them about my extra costs. They simply replied asking to provide a PayPal address and they were happy to refund the full amount I had to pay for Finnish Customs. That’s an amazing service on Red Light Rising’s behalf!
Although photobiomodulation seems to be pretty standard stuff in biohacking circles, given the vast amount of scientific research behind it, I’m a bit surprised how little known the benefits of red and NIR light are for the general public. For me, a red light device is not a must-have, but it’s definitely a nice to have. There are cheaper and more accessible way to start your journey into biohacking and preventative healthcare.
The only grievance I have with the Half Stack is the way the device hangs from the wall. Due to the center of mass and the location of the attachment points, it tilts a bit forward instead of riding flat against the wall. I don’t know how other manufacturers have dealt with this, but I’ve understood that Alex Fergus will soon publish a big comparison between Joovv, Red Light Rising and others, and as a part of those reviews he will be addressing mounting of the devices as well. I have an idea in my head about a custom mounting method for the Half Stack, but I’ll leave that for another time.
And remember, as with many biohacks, we’re in fact just trying to go closer to the ways our ancestors lived. In terms of photobiomodulation, the sun is still the best source for all wavelengths of light, including infrared. That was our ancestors’ red light device.
(Un)fortunately, our lives are very different from our ancestors’, and we have to make up for it often with different gadgets, supplements and gym memberships. Being indoors in front of our computers most of the time the sun is up, leaves a lot to be desired by the body. To that end, I’m happy to have a red light panel in my arsenal for living a healthier life and giving my body what it’s designed to have.