A (brief) History of Colour Therapy

Ancient times Ancient Egyptians built spa type rooms that allowed light to come through the windows. The windows were paned with coloured glass so that when the sun shone through it bathed them in their chosen colour.
1500BC Documents, written in Indian Sanskrit, mention the use of coloured lights to heal physical ailments
1260 French medic, Henri De Mondeville (1260-1320) recorded using red light to successfully treat smallpox and also left his patients with minimal smallpox scarring.
1665 The infamous Isaac Newton experimented with light passing through prisms (now known as the process of refraction). He discovered that white light is made up of the colours associated with the rainbow. Isaac Newton was the first person to understand the rainbow and its spectrum of colours!
1876 Augustus Pleasanton used blue light to stimulate secretory glands and the nervous system; he found it to be very effective in treating a variety of diseases, especially those accompanied by pain.
1878 Edwin Babbitt published ‘The Principles of Light and Color’. He developed the Chromo disc for treating patients using specific colours and Solar Elixirs (water charged by the sun), made by irradiating water with sunlight and filtering it with special filters. He found that the ‘sensitised’ water had special healing properties. Solar tinctures are still manufactured today and are used very effectively by colour therapists.
1890-1900’s Ultra-violet was discovered to have a powerful anti-bacterial action. Neils Ryberg Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in treating skin tuberculosis with ultra-violet light.

Dinshah Ghadiali developed the Spectro-Chrome system of healing after 23 years of exhaustive scientific evaluation. This was based on the relationship between colors and specific areas of the body.

1920 Dr. Kate Baldwin, Chief Surgeon at Philadelphia Woman’s Hospital, used Dinshah’s methods for many years and is quoted as saying “…after nearly 37 years of active hospital and private practice in medicine and surgery, I can produce quicker and more accurate results with colours than with any or all other methods combined – and with less strain on the patient…”.

Harry Riley Spitler developed the principles of Syntonics (from ‘syntony’ – to bring into balance) in which light is used to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. His College of Syntonic Optometry is now at the forefront of developments in ocular phototherapy. Spitler is generally considered to be the father of coloured light phototherapy.

1940’s Emmitt Knott developed a haemoirradiation machine. He went further than Dinshah and Spitler and administered light to the whole body by irradiating just a small volume of blood. Knott found that irradiating just 50-100cc of blood with ultra-violet light and re-transfusion back into the patient had a dramatic impact in the treatment of puerperal sepsis, peritonitis, encephalitis, polio and herpes simplex. By 1947, around 80,000 patients had been treated with success rates of 50-80%.
Due to the discovery of antibiotics light therapies were pushed aside. Also with the conflicts of the world wars these therapies were ‘forgotten’ about until the 1970’s
1970s- 80’s John Ott demonstrated that different wavelengths of light have specific influences on cellular function in both plants and animals. He coined the term ‘mal-illumination’ (a condition similar to malnutrition, caused by poor, unbalanced diets) and suggested that humans may be subjecting themselves to this condition by spending so much time under artificial lights. He helped develop the first ‘full-spectrum’ fluorescent tube and in the early 1970s and undertook a study on the effects of ‘full-spectrum’ light on school children. Behaviour and academic performance improved markedly. John Ott published a series of seven articles (1980’s through 1990’s) in the International Journal of Biosocial Research – a medical journal out of Tacoma, Washington – that was titled ‘Color and Light: Their Effects on Plants, Animals, and People’, the articles summed up Ott’s decades of independent research on the effects of natural light.
1980’s-90s Fritz Hollwich discovered significantly increased levels of stress hormones (ACTH & cortisol) in people working under artificial ‘cool-white’ fluorescent tubes. Further to his findings, ‘cool-white’ fluorescent tubes are now banned in German medical establishments.

Canadian Harry Wohlfarth validated Hollwich’s findings and examined the effects of different colours on classroom performance.

Laser-based light therapy was used in many clinical and experimental settings which led to non-invasive treatment of illnesses.

NASA applied the use of light emitting diodes (LED)-based light therapy units for healing wounds in astronauts (wounds take longer to heal in zero-gravity conditions).

2000s In 2002, the US FDA (Food & Drug Administration) cleared blue-light therapy for acne treatment.

In 2012, Vancouver General Hospital started using light therapy and cut post-surgery infections by 39%.

This history is just another reminder that these new technologies are not really new and are just a reinvention or rediscovery of therapies from a long time ago. This happens constantly within the beauty and aesthetic industry and it a reminder of how they can relate to medical practices.