Light Therapy for Headaches and Migraines

Light therapy has been used for more than 100 years to treat a wide variety of conditions and symptoms. In fact, Niels Finsen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903 for the invention, which he called phototherapy. 

By the 1960s, researchers and medical professionals were using light therapy, called LED therapy, for a wide variety of physical conditions, including joint and soft tissue injuries, arthritis, and chronic pain. Research at the time indicated that patients using LED therapy with physical therapy recovered from physical injuries up to 50 times faster than those who used physical therapy alone. This is due to light therapy’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties. 

By the 1990s, light therapies had stretched into the cosmetic world. Not only was light therapy used to even skin texture and reduce signs of aging, researchers have also found that light therapy kills bacteria and activates the immune system and is an effective treatment for skin conditions such as psoriasis, keratosis, and acne.

In the early 2000s, researchers found that light therapy also has a direct effect on the production and secretion of two important chemicals in the brain, serotonin and melatonin. Because of this powerful relationship, light therapy was found to be highly effective in treating a variety of emotional and mental conditions including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, dementia, and more.

Today, light therapy is still being used for all these conditions. In this article we will examine the use of light therapy as an effective treatment for headaches and migraines. 



What is Light Therapy?


Light therapy is a method of treating certain medical conditions using exposure to artificial light. During treatments, you will sit near, hold, or wear a product which emits a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. This type of light affects the brain chemicals most closely linked with mood (serotonin) and sleep (melatonin), which in turn affect many functions of the brain and body.

Over the last century, light therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide variety of physical, emotional, and mental conditions. It produces proven health benefits including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and creates a measurable change in brain chemistry. 

Light therapy is also referred to as phototherapy, LED therapy, or bright light therapy. 


Light Therapy for Headaches and Migraines


The relationship between light and headaches is complicated. Many people who are experiencing a headache or migraine experience photophobia, a sensitivity to light. However, researchers have found that different wavelengths, colors, and types of light affect headaches very differently. Light therapy devices use infrared lights, a different type of light than ultraviolet (UV). Infrared lights interact with photoreceptors in the brain differently than other types of light, and this in turn sends a different signal to the cerebral cortex of the brain, where headache and migraine pain is perceived.

Additionally, different colors of light can produce different results. Like wearing a pair of sunglasses which block out certain wavelengths, a light therapy device can block certain colors and wavelengths and only allow a small range of light to come through. Devices which concentrate green light have been found to be the most effective in treating headaches and migraines. 

Conversely, blue light has been found to be the least effective for treating headaches and migraines. In fact, blue light may be a trigger for some people. Electronics such as phones, tablets, computer monitors, flat screen TVs, and fluorescent light bulbs all emit high levels of blue light. If you are sensitive to electronics or fluorescent lights, you should avoid blue light therapies. Despite this, blue light can still be an effective treatment for some people. 

A 2018 study of people who experienced chronic migraines found that blue light exacerbated symptoms in 18 percent of participants while green light exacerbated symptoms in only 3 percent. 



Different Methods: What Products are Available


Face Masks

Light therapy face masks are worn on the face and may be held on with a strap, allowing you to move around during use. Although these products may vary in price, face masks tend to be an affordable option, making them a great choice for anyone who is new to light therapy treatments. Many face masks offer the ability to select between different colors or wavelengths of light, usually including red, blue, and green. These specific colors produce different results, and green wavelengths have been found to be the most effective in treating headaches and migraines. So, you may want to look for a face mask that allows you to use concentrated green light.


Body Wraps and Pads

There are a wide variety of body wraps and pads which are meant to be worn or placed on the body. Some use elastic bands or Velcro to hold them in place, so you can move around while wearing them. Others you simply rest on your body as you relax in place. Wraps or pads meant to be placed on the forehead or around the face can be an effective option for headaches and migraines.


Handheld Devices

Many of the handheld light therapy devices on the market are aimed at treating skin conditions and fighting the signs of facial aging. It is common for these devices to focus only one wavelength of light, so the light is red, blue, or green. Green wavelengths have been found to be the most effective for headaches and migraines, so green handheld devices which are placed on the face and forehead are the most effective choice for headaches and migraines. Because these devices are smaller, they are easy for treatments on-the-go, and they tend to be less expensive. However, a larger device is likely more effective for regular treatments.


Lamps and Light Boxes

Light therapy lamps can look like an ordinary reading lamp while light boxes usually have a wider panel of light bulbs. To use these products, you will need to sit in front of the device with the light shining on you. For headaches and migraines, this is an effective option, especially if you sit with the light shining onto your head and face.



Similar to a tanning bed, a light therapy bed is a plastic or glass bed that you stand or lay in with large panels of light bulbs. Unlike a tanning bed, light therapy beds do not emit ultraviolet (UV) light, so you cannot get a tan from light therapy beds. Light therapy uses a different type of light, called infrared, which acts differently in the body. Light therapy beds are highly effective for people with reduced immune functions or skin conditions which affect a large area of the body. These beds are also an effective treatment for headaches and migraines, but they tend to be quite expensive. Some spas and salons offer light therapy bed treatments for a more affordable option.


Why Use Light Therapy

Low Risk of Temporary Side Effects

Light therapy is considered generally safe for most people. Few people report adverse side effects, and these are typically mild and go away shortly after the treatment. Side effects can include eyestrain, nausea, or irritability. 


Safe to Use with Other Conditions or Medications

Light therapy does not interact with other medications and is not contraindicated for most medical conditions. You should use caution if you have a condition which makes you especially sensitive to light, such as systemic lupus erythematosus. 

It has been used as a safe form of drug-free antidepressant treatment for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. There is a significant amount of research which shows that many people who are taking an antidepressant drug are able to reduce their dosage after using light therapy.



The Takeaway

Headaches and migraines are common health conditions which many people deal with on a regular, or even daily, basis. Headaches can range from slightly uncomfortable to completely intolerable and can impact your daily life, sleep, work schedule, and ability to socialize. 

Light therapy offers a natural and drug-free way to treat headaches and migraines and get back to your life. There are many different products available, making it easier than ever to find the right light therapy device for you. 

Visit for even more ideas and products to treat headaches and migraines using proven, safe, and all-natural tools and remedies.