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#8 The Complete Solution to Human Health in the Modern World
sia la lux
There’s a joke where a mathematician notices some smoke coming out from under a door. He looks inside and sees a fire in the corner of the room. He looks around the room, sees a bucket of water on the desk and proclaims, “ah, a solution exists,” while he promptly exits the room to go work on the next problem. I find myself in a similar situation with the products now being announced.
I’ve managed to figure out effective form faexpect a lot of these will sell out since we have fairly small volumes, but if they don’tctors to deliver every biologically critical portion of the solar spectrum. While these products are not meant to be a replacement for sunlight, I suspect if they were used as such for a person living in a cave, they would fare better than the average city-dweller. Without such a solution, I never would have considered moving to Bellingham, Washington, one of the cloudiest places in the US.
How is health achieved?
There are a few pillars of health/wellness/vitality: diet, exercise, and physical environment (primarily light and temperature). These factors all interact with each other, especially if you include mentality as the 4th pillar. If you eat poorly, you will not feel like exercising, after which you might not sleep well, and then you are more likely to eat poorly the next day, and so on. This problem has never been solved in a scalable way in the modern world, even in wealthy nations.
But 1 of the pillars presents a unique opporunity. Only 1 of these can be built and permantly optimized without further effort. Once in place, it serves as a kernel that can perpetually bootstrap the physio-psychological state that will lead to us going back to solve the other problems for ourselves again and again until it is habituated. This is not just a solution, but I have never seen evidence to suggest there could be any other (within the modern world, of course, we can always go back to living in the wilderness). The only part of the solution that I do not yet have is the thermal aspect — you will need to figure out a way to have a cool sleep environment at a minimum or the whole thing could still unravel (more intense cold and heat exposure are good, but not as critical).
Biologically Active Components of Sunlight
This is what the solar spectrum looks like, more or less, and there are 4 main portions we care about:
Ultraviolet B for vitamin D synthesis. Defined as 280-320nm.
Ultraviolet A for nitric oxide production. Defined as 320-400nm.
Visible light for circadian rhythm. Melanopic spectrum peaks at 480nm.
Near-Infrared light for mitochondria (i.e. everything). 810-850nm
(Deep red is in this category at 670nm)
There are various products to address all of these things poorly. 5 years ago I started scratching away at one of these, and over the past year I figured out how to build products that solve for all of these well.
IRONFORGE and REDFORGE (Near-IR and Red)
Near-IR is what Chroma is most well known for at this time. We unveiled how every other company in this space doesn’t know how to buy a $12 power meter from Amazon to find that their devices pump out 2.3x fewer watts than they claim — and that’s just the “reputable” brands such as Joovv, Platinum, EMR-Tek, etc. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the ridiculously over-priced Novothor beds are also lying about power output) — if you get into some of the ones that are the 20th brand selling the same greenhouse panel lights as all of these, it can be off by 4-5x. Moreover, since most of those products mix red and near-IR in the same device, the near-IR power is lower. You might think it’s as much as 50%, but since the errors in total power are primarily due to the near-IR LEDs, it could be as little as 30%. This is a problem. Near-IR is a lot better than red light for the primary reason that the longer wavelengths are able to penetrate further into tissue, whereas the visible red or deep red light is mostly absorbed in the skin. Red light might do some things 1.5x better than near-infrared at the skin, but near-IR is 10x better for everything else.
I’m not going to go into details on what this light does since as I mentioned it interacts with mitochondria, which gives it its do-everything effects. If you want to dive-in to what that means, you can skim through this spreadsheet summarizing the several thousand studies on the topic, which also lets you see what wavelength and power was used. I became interested in near-IR light after partially tearing a pulley in my finger rock climbing. Some of the main effects people are interested in with near-IR are cognitive and sleep enhancements, better looking skin, hypertrophy and faster recovery from physical training, pains/aches, and hair re-growth.
Our product (the IRONFORGE) packs more near-IR light than most large panels into something the size of a brick so you can get enough near-IR where you actually want it, or pass it around your entire body and actually have it hit your body rather than losing most of the light to the sides because geometry (if you are of a wide rectangular form such as the plant beds that those greenhouse panels are designed for, this may not apply to you). We’re anodizing these now.
Meet the REDFORGE: Since people keep asking us about red light, and since red LEDs are actually cheaper than near-IR LEDs, we decided to make a red light version called REDFORGE and it’s only available in the Black Series, which offers the most power. We split the power 50:50 between 670nm and 630nm LEDs, which are a bit more aligned with the cytochrome c-oxidase absorption peaks, though pricier than the standard 620nm and 660nm that is typically used. You may be wondering why we felt the need the need to add 630 when 670 is probably a bit better, and it has nothing to do with trying to offer more “features.” Near-IR is invisible so it doesn’t make for great marketing. 670nm is even dimmer than 660nm, but by adding in 630nm, we can increase brightness by 1.5x so it looks like more is going on — this will certainly be of uptmost important to everyone who couldn’t be bothered to check the power output of their $5,000 Joovv panel with a $12 plug-in power meter. Most importantly, with that change we can say that the number of lumens on this device is over 9000, which has zero importance for anything.
We also built a near-infrared flashlight that has more near-IR power than a $300 Joovv Go, while concentrating that power into a smaller form factor. I’m not that excited about a device with about an eighth of the power of the IRONFORGE Green Series, but it will be better than the cheapo red lightbulbs on Amazon that have almost no near-infrared in them.
Meet the Chroma Sky Portal (Visible)
This is the product a lot of people have been waiting for and it addresses the most important part of the visible spectrum.
We sold a few crude prototypes of this device and have vastly improved it since then. The idea for this product was actually where Chroma started. In the first iteration we used a fresnel lens to achieve incredibly high brightness, exceeding the melanopic lux of direct sunlight on full brightness. This was overkill and unpleasant. It worked best when setting the brightness somewhere in the 1-10% range, and since the light was so concentrated you had to have your head in exactly the right spot to see it. The prototype was built out of buckets from Home Depot, hot glue, and engineering-style control modules for dimmers — naturally, about half of the people that bought them took us up on our no questions asked return policy, but the other half absolutely loved them because for all the flaws, it was way beyond anything else available.
The Sky Portal is not a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light since there is no such thing as SAD, only modern building induced damage to our health in which the severity of damage follows some distribution. The Sky Portal has no effect on you, only the building, hence the name.
By delivering light from an LED that peaks at 480nm, we can stimulate the melanopsin cells that control the wake-sleep cycle, which is fairly important since typical indoor lighting is about 1% as bright as it is outdoors. Additionally, we have almost zero light in the sub-450nm region, which is your harsh dark blue that you get from white SAD lights — in fact, you even get a hefty dose of this harsh blue light from cheap blue SAD lights that will combine 440nm with 520nm or thereabouts. Perceived color does not inform you of the spectrum! You might notice it looks white in the center and that is due to how cameras work. Brightness also changes perceived hue.
What you need to understand about a lot of the SAD lights out there is they’ve existed for longer than we have known the cells in the eyes that control circadian rhythms exist. No one has actually bothered updating their product in the past 2 decades since that discovery. Most of what you have are things like a startup that Mark Cuban funded to the tune of $800k to make the same shitty SAD lights with nicer fixtures. The only way you see the fixture is be your garbage (mine too) ambient light — if you want a physical thing that looks nice buy a sculpture. The purpose of a light device is to emit light so what matters is the wavelength of those photons, how many of them you have, and the angle they are coming from (light from above is twice as effective, not surprising given where light comes from outside). Until you get that right, why would you even think about trying to make it look pretty? That’s why we use a tripod instead of some custom carbon fiber sculpture arm from ADM Works. We did make it thin though.
Bright light during the day doesn’t just make you feel alert or prevent building-induced depression, it also is critical to how you will sleep that night, how much melatonin your body will produce, and when you will go to bed.
Bonus - near-IR on your head and face:
Since the Sky Portal is shining down on you (held up by a tripod) we figured that would be a good place to include some near-infrared light too. This offers a sort of barbell dosing approach with the Ironforge, which can give you a ton of power in one spot in a short time. By hitting you throughout the day, this offers a better value then low-power head-worn near-IR devices that you’ll eventually want to take off. In addition to cognitive benefits and the possibility that it might alleviate symptoms even for people with neurodegenerative diseases, near-IR to the head is great for sleep. When I was using the near-IR helmet mentioned in a previous newsletter, I was seeing more deep sleep based on my Polar watch. I now have someone else using the helmet with an Oura ring to get more accurate data on that. Front of the head is also ideal for the aesthetic reasons people care about since it hits the face and receding hairlines. Finally, for people that are worried about eye damage from the harsh blue light spike from indoor lights and screens, this is an infinitely better solution. Not only does the soft sky blue light drown out that harmful light by causes the pupils to dilate, the near-IR light also reduces cellular damage.
You can control both channels independently by adjusting from 10 to 90% blue vs near-IR, along with adjusting the overall power (2 dials). With nearly half as much near-IR as our IRONFORGE Green Series, you’re getting about as much near-IR as you’d get from a $1200 Joovv Solo.
This sort of light is the complement of blue-blocking glasses in the evening.
Meet the Chroma D-LIGHT (UVB and UVA)
When I started working on Chroma I knew we would be missing a large piece of the puzzle until we could figure out UV. I never would have imagined we would be releasing a product with UV so soon since I used to be hesitant about working with UV since it can be dangerous. All of that changed when someone sent me a study showing that a narrowband UVB LED with a peak at 293nm is safer than the broad spectrum sunlight provides. Although all UVB light is harmful to some extent, part of the spectrum is far more effective at producing D3, and the spectrum varies in its ability to produce D3 more than the degree of damage varies. This enables an increase in the D3/damage ratio. If you look at the LEDs mentioned, you’ll notice that vendor does not supply those LEDs — in fact, almost no one supplies any LEDs in the 290-300nm range! Eventually, we found an LED manufacturer that agreed to make us custom diodes that peaked at 290nm and had a fairly narrow spectral distribution (some are wider than others).
At first we thought these LEDs were 10x as expensive as other LEDs we had worked with, but we were mistaken — UVB LEDs have incredibly low efficiencies, typically around 2% so for the same radiant output, they were actually several hundred times more expensive… this likely explains why no one has ever release a consumer product that contains these. The most popular UVB light today (Sperti) was designed before the end of World War II and it uses fluorescent UV bulbs, which means it is more likely to lead to skin cancer (the most lethal cancer iirc) than sunlight.
We simply built the D-LIGHT on the same platform as the IRONFORGE. The only change we had to make other than the diodes was the cover plate since polycarbonate blocks UV. We use a 2 piece cover where the top plate is a thick piece of fused silica that lets the UV through.
Running the Numbers:
From the paper the above article was describing:
For example the suberythemal exposure of the skin type II to 0.75 MED from the 293 LED produced 2.3 IUs cm^2 (5.63 ng/cm^2 ) in one half minute compared to a less than half the amount (0.9 IUs; 2.35 ng/cm^2 ) vitamin D3 when the same skin sample was exposed to the sun for more than 60 times longer time (32.15min).
0.75 MED = 24 mJ/cm^2 —> 24 mJ/2.3IU = 10.4 mJ/IU. For the D-LIGHT Pro, we have 12,000 mW of 290nm LEDs, and with about 1.5% radiant efficiency we get 180 mJ/s, or 17.3 IU per second, or 1038 IU per minute. This exceeds the 600 IU recommended minimum, but many people believe amounts closer to 10x this are more appropriate. Another paper showed better results with 290nm than 295nm so we can’t reliably correct for variations of a few nanometers.
The D-LIGHT also has UVA, which is known to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is is a vasodillator and the reason you feel almost instantly relaxed when you step outside and are hit by sunlight. We went with LEDs peaking at 365nm for this since that is the closest option to the peak theoretical quantum yield. UVA goes from 320-400nm, and the shorter the wavelength, the more it damages your DNA so this is probably a lot less damaging than the broad spectrum UVA lights in tanning beds, which definitely increases cancer risk more than sunlight. In sunlight, there is about 40 times more UVA than UVB, but this ratio is higher early in the morning and late in the afternoon. We went with around 60x UVA irradiance with respect to the amount of UVB.
Did we beat the Sun itself on safety?
The elephant in the room with all this spectral optimization is that does not take into account that sunlight includes mechanisms to actively mitigate the cellular damage that is being caused. UVA induced priming of the body to produce its own “sunblock” is one mechanism, but it’s the large amount of red and near-infrared light that makes the biggest difference. I have a bunch of articles in my notes on this so I’m just going to link to all of them [Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Study 4 Study 5 Study 6 Study 7 Study 8 Study 9 Study 10 Study 11 Study 12 Study 13].
On the D-LIGHT Pro, we combine 850nm near-IR, 670nm deep red, and 630nm red in equal amounts. We then max out the space we have to physically cram these diodes onto the board, which roughly maxes out thermal limitations and puts total power close to the IRONFORGE Black Series with UV-power included. Since the UV light is right at the skin, we figured this is an application where a mix of red and near-infrared actually makes sense. The protective effects of red/NIR actually peak later, which lines up with the fact that the sunlight has lots of red light in the evening and then in the morning, before the midday light that has lots of UVB. So for circadian mimicry and possibly optimal results, you might use an IRONFORGE late afternoon and in the morning, and the D-LIGHT around solar noon. With that protocol, combined with the narrow UV spectrums, I suspect you’d have a slight edge on sunlight for Vitamin D safety.
The standard version of the D-LIGHT is the same, except with ~3x fewer UV LEDs and thus 3x less UV power. If you use it 3x longer, you can achieve virtually identical outcomes, but this is less convenient, and you may not achieve your preferred dose. The standard version keeps the 630nm red LEDs, but drops the 670nm and 850nm LEDs.
Vitamin D and Nitric Oxide Context
These are two exemplary compounds to look at because they tell us so much about the medical industry, science, and modern society. They also seems to play a large role in COVID-19 outcomes [Vitamin D Study 1, Vitamin D Study 2, Vitamin D Study 3, Nitric Oxide Review].
While the idea that there are powerful people trying to make us physically weak and apathetic by suppressing healthy levels of sunlight and vitamin D seems a little too far-fetched to me, it might not be necessary to go to such conspiracy theories to see the devestating effects we have today materialize. Perhaps L’Oreal’s anti-sunlight campaign in the 1980s was all it took. These sorts of campaigns can be self-sustaining because the “scientists” that perpetuate memes such as sunlight bad are themselves weakened and thus are only able to operate as superficially intelligent zombies.
Nitric oxide is interesting because it’s incredibly simple, a single nitrogen atom bound to a single oxygen atom, yet we barely understand half of what it does. The complexity of molecules grows at an unimaginably fast rate since it’s not just which atoms and where, but how they can rotate at each bond. The curse of dimensionality shows how foolish many efforts in medicine are — in particular, anyone smart enough to figure out how to somehow overcome all those problems, would first have solved all the problems I have solved since what I am doing is far more trivial. Given that they have not, we can only conclude that the entire industry is rather foolish and serious about the problems they claim to be working on.
Chroma will be going into hibernation post-launch
Unfortunately, there is not enough numerical literacy within the niche of people who care about red light therapy to get ahead by simply building the best products. The grifters have the edge since most of the people can’t figure out that they’re being fooled, and I’m incapable of taking that approach. This means that in order to scale I’d have to do a bunch of clever growth-hacky things, but even that doesn’t actually do much in the grand scheme of things. When startups are raising hundreds of millions to make more drugs, working toward simply displacing Joovv and Novothor is not a goal that motivates me. I’d much rather continue to work in aerospace — and for making money in the short term, I think a new product I’m working on will be far more effective since it addresses COVID-19 directly rather than a niche market (Reflow Labs). That might actually give me the ammunition to tackle these problems with the attention they deserve.
In aerospace, there are people trained to evaluate different technologies so if I go to them and say I can make parts with XYZ strength, they know exactly what that means. There are no experts in being human. Not only are they not experts, their performance is dysmal so I can’t rely on them to operate in logical ways the way aircraft manufacturers will. What I can do is sell to businesses that across enough total people can see a large enough return to figure out how this all works (if you can make employees 10% more productive, that’s huge, the health benefits can be ignored). I can also sell to the military since they are interested in human performance. All those things take more time, which I don’t have. I’d like to do it eventually, but when I was working on my previous aerospace company I imagined it as the 20+ year out retirement plan when I could drop $1b on it an really come out swinging at healthcare industrial complex. So I can’t say whether Chroma will return in 1, 5, 10, or 20 years.
What I can point out is that Chroma has a much better ROI for customers. Joovv makes millions per year and has never built a novel product — instead they line Facebook’s pockets with ad money, patent troll, and intimidate small business owners for pointing out that they are lying to everyone on power output (luckily, I know that math and numerical literacy trumps money so I won’t be intimidated). Every new product being announced here was a result of the small batch of IRONFORGEs we sold several months ago. So I can offer a lot more value by building Reflow Labs and Black Lattice first, and then coming back to this.
For now, all products that we are bringing will only be available for about 3 weeks, after which the store will close. I am doing a clearance discount that will be active for 1 week. The discount code is BLEEDINGEDGE all caps, and it is good for 35% off every single product. Once a product is sold out, that’s it. I expect a lot of these will sell out based on how fast the previous IRONFORGEs sold and this batch is about the same size since we were spread out across so many products.
Some of the products are still being wrapped-up in manufacturing, and others already shipped to our distribution warehouses. We managed to get a warehouse in the EU too so hopefully we can help avoid VAT for everyone, but can’t guarantee it. For IRONFORGE and D-LIGHT, we can ship directly to you if you order before the whole batch ships. Limit 2 of each per person, except flashlights and glasses, which are unlimited.
SKY PORTAL Days from being in stock in the US and EU
IRONFORGE: In stock.
Near-IR Flashlights: Arriving in the US and EU this week, if they haven’t already.
D-LIGHT: Boards being assembled, other components prepped so assembly will finish around end of next week, and then 2-3 weeks to ship to US.
NIGHTSHADES Days from being in stock in US and EU.
If any products are left 3 weeks from now, fantastic, I’ll build a super-array of lights around my desk! Thanks for joining me on this adventure.
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