Sunlight is a luxury good when the workday extends past sunset. For those of us in Minneapolis with 9-to-5s, that’s between November 5, when the clocks turn back, and January 18 when sunset hits at 5:01 promptly. During those dark days, we’ll pay almost anything for an angry fix of solar energy. The people who sell light therapy lamps have noticed.
The Joovv Mini 3.0, which entered my life six months ago in a cardboard box, is a red and near-infrared light therapy lamp that sells for $1,000+ to the sorts of people who buy therapy lights for $1,000+. It would be easy to mistake the product for a Lite Brite UV lamp or a mini cereal box, but it is a more serious instrument. If a UV lamp is a triangle, the Joovv is an oboe.
Joovv’s big cultural breakthrough came last year when their tanning lamps were featured in the trailer for Tucker Carlson’s “End of Men” special, which showed a man tanning his genitals. Where some saw an earnest (if unscientific) attempt to raise testosterone levels; others saw an insecure cry for help. But everyone saw the Joovv. And though urologists quickly debunked the claims made on Carlson’s show about testicle tanning, the Joovv couldn’t be so easily dismissed.
Like many alternative therapies, red light therapy comes without conclusive evidence and with mixed opinions within the medical community. There is academic research indicating that red lights – the Joovv’s bulbs emit red light at a 660 nanometer wavelength and near-infrared light at a wavelength of 850 nanometers – can reduce inflammation and improve skin health. In a 2014 study published in the Photomedicine and Laser Surgery Journal, two researchers documented positive results in the skin health of test patients after 30 or so sessions of red light therapy. There are also a number of studies, like this Harvard Medical School joint, where scientists have used lights to treat major depression and anxiety. The problem is that many of these studies are tiny. The Harvard researchers saw improvements in six out of ten patients.
This is all to say that the Joovv illuminates a grey area. So let me focus on my one-person trial, the results of which I found rather shocking.
When I first got the Joovv, I was skeptical. It’s natural, I think, to be skeptical of any company in the wellness space and doubly so of any company that seems to be maintaining a healthy margin by using polyethylene plastics. I wondered if I couldn’t achieve a similar effect standing in front of a roadwork sign on the I-35W. But I was nothing if not curious (and desperate) so I started sitting in front of it in the wee, dark hours of the morning and seeing if something would happen.
The Joovv Mini 3.0 is surprisingly heavy for its size, has a smooth plastic exterior with a handle slot on the back and a stand that’s convenient for positioning. It looks like a chunk of a tanning bed that got carved out and when it’s turned on it feels like a low-grade space heater.
The red light is very strong, so much so that the plastic sunglasses that come with it are an absolute necessity. The light is harsh on the eyes, but feels good on the skin. Every morning, I crank up the Joovv while sipping lemon water and doing a guided meditation. I haven’t made a TikTok about this routine, but only because I’m not totally insufferable. Also, it feels like something specific to me. It helps.
Funnily enough, one of the most transformative parts of my little ritual is really a side effect. As I said, I have to close my eyes to use the Joovv. This forces me to shut out external stimuli. I focus on myself for a teensy sliver of my day. I feel like half-cooked dough thrust into a 350-degree oven. There are worse feelings. I rise.
Does using the Joovv improve my health? Probably not. The truth is that I have clear skin and I don’t have a major depressive disorder or painful joints. But it does make me feel better on December days when I also don’t have the sun. The upside, feeling warm and centered, outweighs the downside, feeling like a Paltrow cultist gooping my way toward glory with a product better suited to the needs of a potted plant.
I’m going to continue using the Joovv well into spring because it makes me feel like I have my life together. That’s enough. I don’t need a double-blind trial to know that I feel better after taking that moment to shut my eyes and feel the heat.