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What Is Color Therapy? Here's How to Use This Light Treatment to Uplift Your Mood

Rebecca Norris
·6-min read

Getty Images

Keeping up with the surge of “cure-all” wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they’re worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they’re just hype.

ICYMI: Color therapy has been on the rise for the past few years. Of course, you may have accidentally turned a blind eye, considering that the scientifically-proven method for a mind and body boost is often layered into another type of treatment. Most commonly, color therapy or chromotherapy is an aspect of infrared heat treatments (but more on that later). The point is this long-studied wellness method has been inching its way into the spotlight in the stealthiest of ways.

As pretty as color therapy is, it goes much further than simply being pleasing to the eyes. With that in mind, we chatted with a couple of doctors about everything there is to know about the under-the-radar trend. Who knows? By the end of this article you might just realize you’ve experienced color therapy under the guise of another treatment. And, if not, you’re sure to want to when all is said and done.

What is chromotherapy?

Let’s break down the word, shall we? "Chromo" means color and "therapy" relates to healing. As such, chromotherapy is healing via color. More specifically, naturopathic doctor Dr. Gabrielle Francis says that “chromotherapy is a method of treatment for disease and imbalances that applies the use of visible color from the electromagnetic spectrum of light.”

All visible colors of light fall somewhere on the ultraviolet and infrared spectrum of light. And, depending on where a particular color lands, it has a specific wavelength and vibration of energy. As a result, Dr. Francis, who is a wellness advisor for Love Wellness, says that when the color is applied to the body with an energy source, such as heat (aha! the reason for color-changing saunas, revealed!), it can have a healing impact on the organs or tissue exposed.

While this may seem awfully newfangled, Dr. Francis says that the use of color in healing actually dates all the way back to ancient systems in Egypt, India, China, and Greece. “Its methods were also used by the alchemists of Europe and North Africa,” she adds, noting that modern uses of color and light therapy exist in Western medicine as well.

What are the different methods of chromotherapy?

The most accessible form of color healing is—you guessed it—within infrared saunas that are equipped with chromotherapy options. While wealthy people can afford to put these saunas in their homes, everyday folks can enjoy the benefits of a chromotherapy sauna experience at places like HigherDose, which has locations in New York City.

While combining color with heat is easily the most effective way to benefit from chromotherapy, there are other ways to experience mind and body boosts as a result of color. According to intuitive medicine doctor Dr. Olivia Audrey, one such way is to close yourself into a colored room. However, you can also bathe in colored water (hence the allure of colorful bath bombs) or don a pair of colored contact lenses or glasses. Whichever method you choose, the point is to surround yourself with color.

Beyond the most accessible forms of chromotherapy, Dr. Francis shares that there are advanced Western medicine applications of color and phototherapy to treat everything from inflammation and tumors to other metabolic disorders. An example of this is crystal beds in which crystals are aligned in a row and light is streamed through them to not only deliver the healing benefits of color but the crystal energy as well.

What are the benefits of chromotherapy?

According to a comprehensive analysis published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2005, chromotherapy, as a system of treatment, can benefit anyone and everyone thanks to its harmony with nature. “Everything that exists in this world is a combination of different colors,” the author wrote.

More specifically, Dr. Audrey says that chromotherapy’s benefits range from decreased swelling and inflammation and regulated mood to detoxification, improved sleep, and accelerated healing overall. Of course, as confirmed by Vanderbilt University’s psychology department, each color has different benefits. Check out what they are below.

Red: It can energize and stimulate you. “Red light can relieve fatigue and help reduce pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles,” Dr. Francis adds.

Orange: It can uplift and also stimulate you. “Orange light also promotes energy, focus, concentration,” Dr. Francis adds. “It lifts mood and supports digestion and weight loss as well.”

Yellow: It can purify, detoxify, and uplift you. “Yellow light lifts mood and improves clarity and well-being,” Dr. Francis says.

Green: It can detoxify, balance, and calm you down. “Green light balances hormones, calms nerves, opens the heart, and increases compassion,” Dr. Francis says.

Blue: It can detoxify and make you calm. “Blue light helps with headaches and insomnia; it relieves anxiety and depression and improves expression and communication,” Dr. Francis says.

Purple: It can calm and reduce stress. “Purple light calms the mind, helps mental clarity and well-being, boosts concentration, is used for anxiety and depression, and enhances a sense of peace and connection,” Dr. Francis shares.

Are there any side effects to color therapy?

Depending on the colors used in a chromotherapy session, Dr. Audrey says that side effects can range from hunger to general agitation. Which, if you think about it, makes sense considering some colors promote circulation and thought and may lead to overanalyzing. Additionally, she says that difficulty falling asleep is another side effect as some colors are revitalizing and work wonders to wake you up. For this reason, it’s important to be mindful of the colors you’re using throughout the day so as not to become so calm that you fall asleep in the morning or so awake that you can’t fall asleep at night.

A final word

Everyone can benefit from exposure to color. If you don’t have the ability to book a chromotherapy treatment at this time, Dr. Francis says that wearing color to reflect a mood or to balance a bad mood can be a game-changer. “Why not make the colors you wear every day be part of your self-care therapy?” she suggests. “I highly recommend feng shui, which uses color in the home and space to create energetic balance.”

Not sure how the color of your clothes can count as color therapy? Know this: Color therapy has been used under the radar for decades and centuries, permeating everything from the lighting in restaurants to the lighting in spas, doctor’s offices, and other settings. “Color therapy has been used to entice appetite, decompress, and focus emotions of patients and clients for hundreds of years,” Dr. Audrey concludes.

So don’t overthink it; just embrace the colors of your choosing and watch how they make your energy and mood unfold in your daily life.