This Is What Color Therapy Is All About—and How to Try It at Home

You probably love your favorite color for a reason.

We all have a favorite color, a preferred palette, or a few hues that evoke good feelings. Maybe your favorite color is a calming blue, an energizing orange, or perhaps even a fiery red that pumps you up for the day. All are excellent choices and could play a significant role in boosting your mental or physical health.

In its essence, color therapy, or chromotherapy, is the practice of using colors to help treat mental distress and even physical pain. "Many aspects of human psychological functioning are affected by colors," according to a 2019 study. "Wavelengths in the visible region produce biological effects in molecules, living cells, tissues, and enzymes."

For some people, color therapy could be simple, inexpensive, and life-changing. "Color therapy can be a wonderfully therapeutic way to find out where you're at emotionally," says Constance Hart, a color therapy expert and the founder of Conscious Colors. "We know obvious things like, 'I'm angry right now,' 'I'm sad,' or 'I'm feeling really happy,' but a color palette is where we can find more nuances."

Though in its infancy, this science is gaining a lot more traction, especially when tied to another therapeutic practice, light therapy. "Color and light therapy have been used to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions," says Padma Gulur, MD, professor of anesthesiology and a population health executive vice chair at Duke University. "Bright light therapy is used in mood and emotional disorders, such as depression, and green light has been shown to decrease the severity of migraines."

And those trendy blue-light blocking glasses you wear? Those count as color therapy, too. "Blue light filters are also commonly recommended for people who look at computer screens for extended periods of time to avoid headaches, dry eyes," Dr. Gulur says.

Ready to dive further into the rainbow? Here's everything you need to know about color therapy and how it works.

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The History of Color Therapy

As the authors of the Analysis of Chromotherapy study explain, the practice of color therapy has been around since the days of ancient Egypt, Greece, China, and India. The researchers also point out how the Ancient Egyptians utilized sunlight, as well as color, for healing.

"In the hermetic traditions, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used colored minerals, stones, crystals, salves, and dyes as remedies and painted treatment sanctuaries in various shades of colors," the authors wrote. "In ancient Greece, the physical nature of color was dominant. Color was intrinsic to healing, which involved restoring balance. Garments, oils, plasters, ointments, and salves were used to treat disease. The Greeks were unaware of biological changes in the body as a result of color treatment; nevertheless, they had blind faith in the healing properties of colors."

Though a lot has changed with medicine over the last few millennia, the fascination with how color can help heal our bodies and minds continues as modern-day healthcare professionals integrate color therapy into their practices as a complementary treatment.

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Who Is Color Therapy for?

The AmeriDisability website importantly notes that color therapy is not scientifically proven to help remedy diseases and disorders. However, anecdotally, it's been reported to help in a number of situations, like "positively impacting academic performance" and assisting with "aggressive/hostile behavior." It could also reduce the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and learning disabilities. While not a primary treatment, in some people it could help alleviate physical ailments like epilepsy, insomnia, migraine, and vision disorders.

According to self-described "color therapist and color time consultant" Walaa, the benefits could be even more profound. "Color therapy can really help you dive in and go to these deep places inside of you that you were usually afraid of going to, like the emotional blocks and traumatic spots," she says.

How? Because our perception of colors comes from our brains translating light waves of varying lengths and frequencies. "These light waves have corresponding thoughts, feelings, and numbers. They all vibrate in a different bandwidth," she says. "Whenever you're attracted to a color or working with a color, it's your subconscious mind that is actually attracted to it." In other words, your brain is reacting to the colors it senses. Hypothetically, a mental health provider can use color therapy as a tool to gain insight into the thought patterns that drive your behavior. Color, Walaa adds, "is like a treasure map that says 'this is what you need to work on first.'"

And, if Dr. Gulur's current research on color therapy pans out, pain sufferers could be seeing a lot more green light in their futures. "Our research focuses on the use of green-colored eyeglasses to improve pain and decrease the use of pain medications, specifically opioids. We have also found that green light has a positive effect on anxiety," she explains of her NIH-funded study. "While this approach is simple and our goal is to make this technology widely available, I would advise patients to be careful when trying this at home. Some lenses do not provide the correct spectrum of light, which may have negative effects."

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How to Get Started With Color Therapy

If you're currently seeing a physician or mental health provider, ask about your current treatments and potential treatment options. Try reaching out to experts like Walaa (who offers color readings, one-on-one coaching, group workshops, and more) and Hart (who offers classes and one-on-one sessions).

But you don't have to do (or spend) much. In fact, you could dip your toes into the practice of color therapy just by looking outside. "You can find it in your own environment and for free," she says. "I'm looking out the window at my beautiful garden, and I've got pink and magenta and yellow and green and blue pots and violet. Basically, I've set up a whole rainbow of opportunities there."

Hart suggests gathering objects in your environment and sitting in front of them to see which colors spark emotion. Next, those interested in color therapy can try arranging their closet or bookshelves by color.

"Once something is arranged by color, then there's a deeper opportunity to see which colors are an attractor and which colors you feel repelled by," she adds. "This is an opening way to start discovering the color therapy process, which is mainly around connecting our emotions with colors and discovering which colors help us in a time of need."

The best use for color therapy, both experts say, is as a tool for emotional wellness. All you need to do is open your mind and your eyes. "Color," Walaa says, "can transform our lives and help us live a life with meaning."

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  2. Noseda R, Bernstein CA, Nir RR, et al. Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways. Brain. 2016;139(7):1971-1986. doi:10.1093/brain/aww119

  3. Zhao ZC, Zhou Y, Tan G, Li J. Research progress about the effect and prevention of blue light on eyes. Int J Ophthalmol. 2018;11(12):1999-2003. doi:10.18240/ijo.2018.12.20

  4. Azeemi ST, Raza SM. A critical analysis of chromotherapy and its scientific evolution. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005;2(4):481-488. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh137

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