Barbara Sekulovska PhD, Msc is the co-founder of Luminousred – with over 4000 studies in the industry, they claim to be able to supercharge your cells using the increasingly popular ‘red light therapy’. Having begun their journey as customers and found a need for community, education, and high-quality devices, Barbara and co-founder Thomas made the shift into becoming entrepreneurs. Establishing their own red light district with the incentive to deliver a holistic and safe mode of therapy to the masses, these light workers are innovating an industry-first in the world of photobiomodulation, and aren’t afraid to get real about the latest questions and controversies remaining in this emerging field.
The biomechanical feat of nature that is the human body communicates in electrical currencies. The molecular machinery of life is able to both emit and absorb photons (light particles) as a form of cellular chit chat.
Companies such as Luminousred state that on this basis, the human health span can be enhanced using certain wavelengths of light designed to stimulate cellular energy production, in order to aid a range of processes from wound healing to mood enhancement and anti-inflammatory processes.
Like a plant, humans need water, sunlight, fresh air and nourishment. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a recognised condition in which variations in natural light affect mood, hormones and food cravings. For some people, these seasonal episodes can have a severe impact on overall wellbeing.
The exact causes are not fully understood by mainstream medicine, however it is believed that the link to reduced sun exposure might stop part of the brain (hypothalamus) from working optimally. This affects melatonin levels causing disrupted sleep patterns and circadian rhythm, as well as serotonin – affecting mood and appetite.
It’s believed that some people are more prone to SAD than others as a result of their genes, as it appears to run in families. The main treatment recommendations are: lifestyle measures to lower stress and increase light exposure, light therapy using a light box that mimics sun exposure, talking therapies including CBT and counselling, and anti-depressants (SSRIs).
While not designed to be a prescriptive medical device, this highlights the role that some light-based gadgets seek to play within the overall health and wellness market. Luminousred recommend reviewing information from the following two study links.
Tell us a little more about your background and how you came to found LR?
Like many in the health industry, our journey started with personal injury and sickness. Red-light therapy really stuck with us.
I was always a biohacker – I just didn’t always know it. Following a personal experience with burnout when I was 23, I researched the topic of exhaustion and happiness to find the answers I had been looking for all along.
This led me first to my PhD and subsequently to founding Luminousred. Our company and the products we create are a way for me to share the incredible benefits of red light therapy with our customers worldwide. I believe in Luminousred because it helps us return to the basics of nature – the power of sunlight and the potential of our natural bodies. The amazing technology we use is simply how we get there.
What is photobiomodulation and why is it good for you?
Red light therapy is an innovative biohacking technique that uses red and near-infrared light to supercharge your cells: stimulating your natural processes for recovery, rejuvenation, and growth.
Luminousred channels the power of this proven, researched-backed method into a powerful product range that helps your body to help itself. Specifically, red and near-infrared light in the wavelength spectrum of 600-900nm enter your skin and cells (more specifically your mitochondria) and create more cellular energy (or ATP, adenosine triphosphate). Our bodies can use this surplus for multiple processes including:
- Healthier skin
- Faster Muscle recovery
- Pain Relief and Less Inflammation
- Balanced Hormonal Production
- Hair Regrowth
- Weight loss
What are some of the most interesting findings from the research – and who mostly funds these studies?
The benefits of red light on health and wellbeing are supported by the results of countless scientific studies. The main thing all benefits have in common – our cells absorb this specific kind of light and use the added potential. A mixture of companies and funding agencies including the NIH, CDMRP, USAFOSR, and CIMIT fund the research.
Does the research shed any more light on the role of things like bioluminescence in nature?
I’m not sure about that, but when it comes to human-use, the research does indicate that photobiomodulation (PBM) combined with other hacks and lifestyle choices has a positive synergistic effect on health.
For example, adding cold thermogenesis before PBM, or putting Methylene blue on your tongue (a photosensitive substance) can increase tissue penetration depth. If you add in basic lifestyle changes such as daily movement and adequate nutrition – you’ll have an incredible baseline for a long and healthy life.
How does LR compare to a salon LED device?
First and foremost, with us you get more than a machine. You get experts with you on board and 1:1 guidance for a year!
Because we know dosing is impacted by many factors (such as skin colour, sex, skin fattiness, body hair and more) and every person is different, we think there needs to be more guidance for finding your ideal dose and reaping all the benefits of PBM.
We stand out on a technical level for a few reasons:
- Our intelligent external communication unit allows you to customise your Luminousred setup: you can upgrade your device along the way, or link multiple devices together.
- An extensive wavelength spectrum: our device features two wavelength settings (660nm + 850nm) for red and near-infrared light – the two most effective wavelengths from 4500+ studies.
- Intensity: at its peak, your Luminousred device offers more than 100mw/cm² of red-light intensity.
- Unique LED Technology: our devices utilise a unique type of LED. Each diode has a life expectancy of over 50,000 hours, delivering reliable, effective treatment for the illuminated area.
All in all we strive to have a product that is meticulously engineered, third-party tested and certified (safe!), while offering great value for money.
What other tools and lifestyle changes have you found both have, and have not worked for you in your holistic health journey?
Other great bio-hacks are breath-work and cold thermogenesis. Having a healthy baseline by ticking the essential movement and dietary factors is an additional no-brainer.
For me, losing focus of the essentials has detrimental effects, these are the simple things that fill my cup. As soon as I start to add too much ‘of the good stuff’ into my routine it gets messy, and the efficacy goes down, which makes me not stick to my routine – creating a negative feedback loop.
For my co-founder Thomas, a few daily supplements have been found to make a real difference. Protective omega 3s are an example of that – but they have to be sourced responsibly, especially as more harmful ingredients like toxic residue from polluted oceans begin to have a cumulative effect on our bodies and environments.
What kinds of feedback have you had from customers (the good, the bad and the ugly)?
+ Great, high-quality products and personalised service.
+ Speed of client response and problem resolution
– Some customers struggle with proper set-up and connection the first time around
– Shipping delays because of the recent supply chain crunch that has also hampered our delivery time
What does spirituality mean to you?
For me, I find spirituality something grounding. It is something I need to feel safe – the belief that things will work out as they’re meant to, even if it doesn’t always seem that way the moment. ]
I try to implement this daily in my routine: using breath-work and letting my thoughts go; listening to music way too loud, and dancing in my infrared sauna! It’s these small, weird things that get me outside of my head and into my heart more.
For Thomas – spirituality means not knowing completely, but believing in what might be.
Did you fundraise for your business?
No! We are 100% self-funded and have not received big grants or funding from external parties until this point. This is something we want to change in 2022. It would be great to be able to allocate more resources, and spread our message and knowledge on a bigger platform – in order to drive innovation even further.
What difficulties have you faced and how did you get around them?
- An (almost) lawsuit from the biggest PBM company out there. It was mostly a scare tactic claiming that we were infringing on patents that had been submitted but not yet approved. This happened at the start of 2020 and lead to us innovating our product further, in order to focus on what we really wanted to do with our light machines – help others.
- Being clear on what resources we needed for each step of the business. We are luckily part of the Science Park Graz, which is a high-tech incubator for start-ups in Austria (where we are based). This made us part of a bigger network of likeminded people, including experts in their fields and mentors. Together with our four mentors we regularly sit down and strategically plan out our next steps (business months and years). This helps us to move in a cohesive direction, while still being open to new and exciting possibilities that might come our way.
- Challenges with scaling up in the long-term. Not burning ourselves out too quickly – there’s a lot on our plate including building out teams, systems and processes, focusing on innovating, growing our product portfolio, and exploring new markets ourselves. Luckily we have access to a great deal of people that might’ve felt like us in their own journeys. These are truly humbling experiences that we strive to learn from.
Tell us a little more about how and where the products are manufactured, and what setting up the supply chain process was like?
Our products are produced in Shenzhen, China. Like many other companies, we strive to be at the forefront of technological advancements, and this location allows us to do that. Our product is developed by our network of LED experts – in the US, EU and beyond.
This provides stunning technology that means quality performance every time. Designed in Europe, we utilise our expertise in lighting design and psychology to create a stylish, European product with an emphasis on form and function.
The most important aspect to us was ‘failing fast’ and that meant getting out into the market as quick as possible in order to do so. The product you see today is the 7th iteration of the one we started with. We are a lean business that takes in feedback from our users and the market and combines this input with deep knowledge in lighting design and innovation management to co-create something great.
Setting up a supply chain meant finding experts in a variety of fields linked to production and innovative technology, and getting them to believe in our ideas and make it a reality. Other than that, we try to focus on the essentials and keep the supply chain as quick and short as possible, using only the best forwarders and processing teams to bring the machines from A to B on a global scale.
What challenges have arisen, and what sacrifices have been made?
The biggest challenge we have faced in our four-year company history was the COVID-19 pandemic. The interest in holistic health and biohacking technologies has risen a lot, so we managed to scale up quite quickly.
However over the last 2 years of the pandemic, we have seen disruptions in the supply chain causing shipping, production costs and delays all to increase; which is bad timing in tandem with the growth of our team.
This has meant an increase in shipping costs (from free to $70 USD), and a bit of a longer waiting time (from 8-10 days to 15 business days). All other of our offers and services remain at the same price and quality.
What unforeseen opportunities have arisen?
The rise of the B2B partnerships! We are blown away by the interest we’ve gotten over the last 1.5 years and have decided to form a bigger, Austrian based company called Luminous Labs. This will not only focus on the B2C biohacking realm with Luminousred, but will build a bigger product portfolio for the B2B sector. This is something we want to take on starting in 2022 – making new products for businesses.
When you first launched, what brought the most traction and momentum for you? And what hasn’t worked so well?
Believe it or not, word of mouth. From the get-go, we got many engaged followers on our social media platforms (Instagram especially), we did not publish ads but made educational and sharable content that people were really longing for, and we plan to continue in this vain.
This was also one of the main drivers behind our founding ethic. In our own PBM journey, we were missing a kick-ass machine and hands-on help with usage. As a psychologist myself, I wanted to change this from the get-go and the interest we have received in this kind of communication has further cemented the need for that.
What doesn’t work so well is going down the typical social media ads / influencer type route – the market is quite saturated with inauthentic or bought product reviews and testimonials, and we cannot and don’t want to compete like that.
What’s the smallest change that’s given the biggest return?
Leading with the heart. One of our mission statements is to:
“Take time for mindful reflection and honouring our successes, doing what we want when and how we want. Only when we thrive, does our business thrive”.
Especially when things in the start-up realm get crazy (as they do daily), we come back to this and see an immediate change in drive and output.
Tell us a little more about your PhD research in philosophy
Thomas’ research focuses on whether our character influences the interpretation of how we perceive the world around us, and I am focusing on burnout and engagement (wellbeing and happiness) in Austrian employees.
We both believe that there are self-nourishing elements around that we need to tap into more. We strive to have more of the ‘good’ (whatever that means to each person) and to transmute the bad into something better. This applies to our environments, who we spend our time with, and what we spend our time on. There are many tweaks we can make to the way we live in order to be our best selves.
What motivates you?
For me it’s seeing that we help people. We get so many messages from daily users and it’s rewarding to see people engage with the content that we put it because they find it helpful. I find it fascinating that shining a light on our bodies and allowing our cells to make magic with it can influence us so deeply!
For Thomas it’s doing the right thing. He likes the saying – you can run as fast as you can, or you can simply jump into a river that runs faster… That’s what he wants to do.
What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?
Fear: Not doing what we love and are passionate about.
Lesson: Even if it hurts, do what fulfils you.
Failure: Not questioning things enough.
Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?
Yes! In fact, we have four. They are experts in business model development, strategic planning, sparring, branding and most importantly, they all have a good heart and are good listeners for when we go deep into our emotional wellbeing needs.
If you did not have your own company, what would you be doing?
I think I would probably be a coach, and Thomas would be a monk and farmer in a monastery!
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I have organisational talent and can find beauty in everything, I like to see the bigger picture and am a die-hard optimist. Thomas is a visionary and great at connecting the dots, he sees the finer details in everything and has no-fear while being a crazy idea machine.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
Because we are also a couple (!) we grew even closer during this process. Our communication skills are next level, and we see things in a more relaxed way nowadays. What is life about if it’s not striving to be your best person, with your person?
If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do and to see list?
Taking alllll the time we want, cherishing every moment. And creating.
Personal Product Review
Having previously experimented with both in-salon LED treatments and at-home masks, I know first hand how difficult it is to find high quality products that don’t come with unjustified mark-ups. As someone with sensitive skin, I get bouts of Perioral Dermatitis, especially during the winter months or after wearing a face mask for too long (all that lovely condensation).
In the mainstream medical world, Perioral Dermatitis is one of those many enigmas where the exact cause is not well understood – but it is known that some effective treatments include antibiotics, stress reduction and light therapy. This may suggest that there is a gut health and mind-body issue at play, it is also believed to be related to hormonal imbalances (I have a form of PCOS).
At 548 euros the device is in the high-end bracket of the market, but I would agree that it outperforms many salon and home devices in its strength, adjustability, service, reliability and quality. It is also fairly straightforward to set-up, and despite its size, would still be portable if taking it away on vacation.
I also like that LR take a holistic approach to their products, offering a 1-1 service and community package. Given that some element of talking-therapy or CBT is included in mainstream SAD treatment, the personalised guidance from Luminous Red could be said to take the role of coaching – highlighting the importance of synergising product-use with sustainable lifestyle changes for better long-term results.
While the skin will naturally heal on its own over time, I do feel like adjuncts such as red light therapy can help to speed up the process. Having something visible on your face like Perioral Dermatitis can also be a stressful experience. It sounds trivial but visibly peeling skin that feels sore and only seems to be made worse by the abundance of recommend lotions and potions online, can really knock both your desire to socialise and your confidence.
Having a product such as Luminous Red can help to alleviate some of the frustration, as getting more stressed about the condition only reinforces it in a negative feedback loop. I therefore find the morning or bed-time ritual of using it to be meditative and holistically therapeutic.
Of the many competitors that exist on the market, I think it’s an added bonus that you can put a face to the name, that the founders have personal experiences both on the research and practical sides of this industry, and that the supply chain is fairly transparent.
While I would consider the overall cost an investment, I do think that the product package offers value, and that with the increase in our use of technology, chronic stimulation and blue light exposure, taking the opportunity to tap into a few different states and wavelengths is part of a holistic solution.