Light it up

We lay down on a very bright bed to put LED therapy to the test

LED light therapy sounds like the kind of kooky, expensive and unnecessary treatment you might read about on a wellness blog hawking products with dubious scientific authority. After all, LED lights are in every bedroom, restaurant and office. What is the point of buying a specially made product to shine LED lights on you when you can just stand underneath a light in your bathroom? And yet experts have proven that LED (which stands for light-emitting diode) therapy can have real and significant effects on people.

The secret, according to Steve Marchese, CEO of LED-therapy company LightStim, is using a product with the correct specifications (so no, sitting under the LED lights in your office isn’t going to cut it).

LightStim produces the only FDA-cleared LED bed, and the many benefits Marchese attributes to it are pretty astounding. They include reducing arthritic and joint pain, increasing blood circulation, stimulating cells’ production of ATP (a molecule that helps your cells function correctly) and releasing nitric oxide, which in turn can reduce high blood pressure.

Still, experts warn that while the benefits of LED light therapy may be real, the research is far from definitive. “There are so many claims, but nothing is proven so far. We’re just scratching the surface,” said Dr. Daniel Barolet, a dermatologist and an adjunct professor at McGill University School of Medicine who has been researching the effect of LEDs on the skin at his lab since 1998. For instance, while they can improve ATP production and help cells release nitric oxide, there is no research to support the claim that they release enough nitric oxide to reduce high blood pressure.

“The ideal time to use the bed
is when you’re feeling lousy.”
—Steve Marchese

And even if the lights are able to deliver those benefits, beds like LightStim are probably not powerful enough or may not have the required light parameters to have an effect on a large surface area like the body’s.

“I wouldn’t say [the bed] is a Lite-Brite, but it’s a very, very low-powered device that may have an effect, but nothing’s proven,” Barolet said.

Marchese disputes this, claiming that the power of the bed matters less than its other specifications (he declined to divulge the LightStim bed’s power to LLNYC).

Both Marchese and Barolet agree that the LED lights won’t have a negative effect on you. And certainly the research in the field is promising; Barolet points to one study out of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Harvard that found LEDs significantly improved the performance of athletes.

At the moment, the bed is reserved for those with curious minds and deep pockets. Marchese says many of the customers are high-net-worth individuals who keep the beds in their homes.

For those who don’t wish to drop $65,000 to own a bed, however, you can book an appointment at Mzia Shiman Spa at 35 East 67th Street (Shiman is the aesthetician to the Victoria’s Secret Angels) or drop by the Midtown skin care clinic Dangene at 66 East 55th Street, where a session on the bed costs $300.

I booked my appointment at Dangene after a bad night of sleep brought on by spring allergies. This worked out because I wanted to test Marchese’s theory that the ideal time to use the bed is when you’re feeling lousy. 

“It will get you through the day, no problem,” he promised.

Lying on the bed, which I did for 20 minutes on each side, is kind of hot, and it’s not exactly a pleasant experience (then again, what treatment is?). But I felt good when I left, like I took a nap in the sun and didn’t get a headache.

Whether that was due to increased blood flow, a surge of ATP in my cells or just the fact that I was able to take a mini-nap in the middle of the day, I don’t know. But whatever caused my noticeable boost in energy, I’ll take it.