Photobiomodulation-based (LLLT) therapies show tantalizing promise for treatment of skin diseases. Confidence in this approach is blighted however by lamentable inconsistency in published experimental designs, and so complicates interpretation. Here we interrogate the appropriateness of a range of previously-reported treatment parameters, including light wavelength, irradiance and radiant exposure, as well as cell culture conditions (e.g., serum concentration, cell confluency, medium refreshment, direct/indirect treatment, oxygen concentration, etc.), in primary cultures of normal human dermal fibroblasts exposed to visible and near infra-red (NIR) light. Apart from irradiance, all study parameters impacted significantly on fibroblast metabolic activity. Moreover, when cells were grown at atmospheric O2 levels (i.e. 20%) short wavelength light inhibited cell metabolism, while negligible effects were seen with long visible and NIR wavelength. By contrast, NIR stimulated cells when exposed to dermal tissue oxygen levels (approx. 2%). The impact of culture conditions was further seen when inhibitory effects of short wavelength light were reduced with increasing serum concentration and cell confluency. We conclude that a significant source of problematic interpretations in photobiomodulation reports derives from poor optimization of study design. Further development of this field using in vitro/ex vivo models should embrace significant standardization of study design, ideally within a design-of-experiment setting.