free debate

May 11, 2011

Light Relief: Flashy Lights and Deceptive Advertising

We have all seen infomercials for products that seem silly, if not useless. I went through a phase where I would actually watch infomercials for the sheer ridiculousness of the advertising. The advertising of some products however I think can cause harm such as in the case of a product called Light Relief.

I think the best way to review Light Relief is to go through the claims they make on their website. First, however, I want to describe their product. Light Relief is is a hand held unit that contains 59 Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The majority of these LEDs give off visible light the same way any handheld flashlight would. 24 of them are emitting infrared light. Infrared light is just another color of light which we can't see, but which we sometimes experience as heat. I would be quite surprised if the heat coming off those 19 LEDs would even equal that of a heating pad. So with that foundation let's move on to the real question: does it work? Light Relief makes two main claims on their website. I want to look at each of these individually.

Claim 1: "[Light Relief] relieves muscle and joint pain, improves flexibility"
Anyone who has used a hot pad knows that heat can relieve minor muscle and joint pain. This is nothing new to medical science. Light Relief, however, is unlikely to even work as well as something like a heating pad. The reason is infrared radiation actually covers a wide range of wavelengths of light. In order to get the effect they are claiming you would need to focus the LEDs to specific wavelengths. I have not found any evidence that Light Relief has done this.

Claim 2. "[Light Relief is] safe, non-toxic and FDA-cleared"
This one is a little more tricky. The language used in this statement could confused just about anyone who isn't at least a little familiar with how the FDA works. The FDA approves products for two separate things, safety and effectiveness. Light Relief has been approved for safety but not effectiveness. How do I know? At the bottom of their webpage, in small dark font on a dark background, are the words "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease." These words are a huge red flag on any product. Imagine if a new drug entered the market and admitted that they had not show the FDA the product worked. This is an equivalent admission by Light Relief. I have little doubt that their product is as safe as a flashlight, but if it doesn't work, why should we care?

So in the end I am left with one question. How is Light Relief (~$80) different from a standard LED flashlight (~$10) or a heating pad (~$20)? I know flashlights that do more and heating pads have actually been studied and shown to work. My advice, if you want to spend some money to make light, get one of these.