The Origins of Light Therapy

Modern humans often face similar problems to those that lived on Earth thousands of years ago. Our journey through life leaves us in a pursuit; for health, for happiness, for wellbeing. Those that came before us were in the same pursuit. Our ancestors desired relief from the struggles of illness, healing from chronic pain, energy rejuvenation, and the list goes on. Through strife, they found solutions by harnessing the power of light and heat therapy. As time passed, innovative techniques and new light therapy solutions were discovered and are utilized today. To appreciate today’s technology, such as far infrared light (FIR) therapy, we must start from the beginning of light therapy.


While many ancient civilizations have some history of light therapy integrated into their culture, some date back further than others. As far back as 500 B.C, ancient Greece and Egypt were the first to harness the healing powers of the sun by building special temples designed as healing institutes. Heliopolis, an ancient Greek city otherwise known as “City of the Sun” not only implemented the use of the sun’s light, but also integrated color therapy into their practices. Similarly, ancient Egyptian civilizations embraced one of their gods, Ra, who was seen as the physical sun. Both egyptians and ancient greek cultures dedicated these temples to healing through the use of the sun and dyed color cloth that promoted wellbeing. 


Although the history of light therapy dates long ago, there was an extensive period of time where no new revelations were made. The progression of light therapy remained stagnant for hundreds of years. The next breakthrough for light therapy was the understanding that the sun’s light could be used not only for promoting physical wellbeing, but mental wellbeing too. This wasn’t until 1818 when France’s Jean-Etienne Dominique Esquirol discovered that exposure to light was beneficial for those suffering from mental health issues. After his discovery, he designed many hospitals to promote more natural light for mental health. Simultaneously, skin conditions and tuberculosis were in trial for being treated through sun exposure. This was just the momentum society needed once again to turn over a new leaf in the powers of light therapy. 


Shortly after, the modern understanding of light as therapy was introduced by Florence Nightingale in the 1850’s when Nightingale insisted that an abundance of light should be used to restore health. Meanwhile, Neils Finsen, a doctor from the Faroe Islands, was working on the treatment of smallpox scarring using red light and skin tuberculosis ultraviolet (UV) light. Dr. Finsen later went on to receive a Nobel Prize for Medicine for his treatments in 1903. 

Just after that, Dr. John Kellogg visited Dr. Finsen to learn about the use of light therapy in healing. Dr. Kellogg then invented the incandescent light bath which had profound healing results. At the time, Dr. Kellogg was unaware that far infrared light was responsible for this healing power. Light therapy had previously been used to treat skin conditions, manage orthopedic conditions, support in cancer care, and alleviate chronic pain. However, Dr. Kellogg’s light bath was a breakthrough in the endless possibilities of infrared light. As Dr. Kellogg returned to Sydney, Australia, he treated depression, obesity, diabetes, scurvy, erythema, edema, retinopathy of prematurity, cardiac surgery complications, and expanded the support for cancer care using light. 

It wasn’t until 1965 that NASA discovered the effects of light on human physiology and Dr. Kellogg’s use of far infrared light was put together. Today, light therapy is also utilized in the treatment of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and brain injuries. Not only have the possibilities for healing and treatment expanded since the discovery of light therapy, but the different types of light therapies can be distinguished for different uses. While red light therapy can be very beneficial for surface level conditions such as acne, inflammation and other skin issues, the more recent discovery of far infrared light therapy can be beneficial for improving circulation, mood, revitalizing the body, and healing to name a few. 

Light therapy itself dates back thousands of years ago and the importance of using it still remains today. Innovative technology such as infrared saunas, biomats, PEMF therapy mats, and red light masks push the limits for how light therapy can be accessed and what it can treat. It’s difficult to guess where the advancement of light technology will end, but it sure is interesting understanding the origins. 

To learn more about light therapy, as well as discover infrared light therapy options suitable for you, check out the RenWell collection. 




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