Brian Cochran

Light therapy has a history that stretches back to the ancient Greco-Roman times, so it may seem ironic to dub it the next big thing in spa treatments. But the numbers don't lie; light therapy is already very popular in Europe, with the Sunspectra™ 9000 from Sybaritic, Inc., (one type of light therapy apparatus) raking in a quarter of a million dollars in sales last year in the German market alone. Japan, too, has caught the light therapy bug: the Nikkei rating of top 100 products to watch in the new millennium, published in the September 1999 issue of Trendy, recently ranked the Sunspectra™ 9000 a "smash hit."

Why are spa owners choosing to install these machines rather than another wet room, massage table, or aromatherapy station? It helps to know the many benefits of light treatment. In part, the answer is our natural human connection to sunlight, which produces essential vitamin D in our bodies. In studies, vitamin D has been shown to be beneficial in cases of osteoporosis, arthritis, and some dental conditions. It also helps absorption of nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in our bodies. Beyond the benefits of vitamin D, sunlight also regulates the production of melatonin, a substance produced by the pineal gland in our brains that regulates our sleep cycle.

Lack of sunlight can have detrimental effects on our energy levels, moods, and sleep cycle. Depression, lethargy, and even aggravated medical conditions, like asthma and, again, osteoporosis, can result. In a culture that spends the majority of its time indoors, lack of sunlight may not only be unwelcome, it can also be unhealthy.

In 1980, Dr. Alfred Lewy and Dr. Thomas Wehr identified a syndrome called Seasonal Affected Disorder, or SAD, associated with the lack of sunlight in winter climates. They learned that shining bright light on patients who suffered from SAD helped to counteract the syndrome. Spa light therapy is based in part on their research, and a treatment of only about 20 minutes a week can make a huge difference in a person affected with SAD, according to light therapy proponents.

But light therapy machines like the Sunspectra™ 9000 are not limited to bright light for their therapeutic treatments. Color, full spectrum light, and strobe light, the three modalities of light used in the Sunspectra system, all have their own individual benefits (all three or any combination can be used in the treatment).

Light therapy proponents believe that our bodies are sensitive to different colors of light and that we take what we need from them. In brief, specific colors provide certain benefits as follows:

Red: Creates energy and strength, heightens sexuality, rejuvenates, adds vitality, stimulates blood circulation

Orange: Stimulates the lymphatic system, releases blocked energies within organs

Yellow: Stimulates, cleanses circulatory system and skin, improves concentration

Green: Heals, balances, purifies

Blue: Relaxes and reduces stress, calms

Violet: Calms metabolic system, controls appetite, and calms nerves

Full spectrum light is meant to mimic real sunlight with a pure, bright, white light. Though the light has all the benefits of sunlight, it contains no harmful UV rays that might harm the skin. This is the treatment most useful to those who suffer from SAD.

Finally, strobe lighting stimulates nerve endings; it grabs your neurons and shakes them awake, since neural pathways report only changing stimuli. There are two types of flickering light therapy: one that involves color and one that does not. Non-color strobe light therapy is recommended for more serious conditions and is especially effective for women with severe PMS, children with learning disabilities, and people with chronic pain. Studies by Dr. Norman Shealy indicate that hormone levels and certain neurochemicals actually do change after strobe or flickering light therapy. Typically, people with these conditions should undergo strobe light therapy for about 20 minutes per day for the best results.

Color strobe light therapy uses the color ranges described above in varying degrees and accelerations to bring out deep-seated emotional problems; the goal is to treat and release these difficulties. Color strobe light therapy should be supervised by a licensed psychotherapist in order to achieve the desired results.

Though psychotherapy doesn't usually play a part in most spa treatments, spas do use light therapy in conjunction with other, more typical spa therapies. The Sunspectra 9000's Colorbath™ treatment is recommended for use with cellulite reduction, body wraps, masks, slimming services, stress reduction, thalassotherapy, hydrotherapy, jet lag, sleep problems, and skin cleansing and detoxification. The Colorbath™ treatment can be programmed in combination with a dry heat sauna, therapeutic back heat, cool face air, aromatherapy, and stereo sound for a pleasing and personalized spa experience for your customer.