Light energy of discrete wavelengths supplied via lasers and broadband intense pulsed light have been used therapeutically for many years. In vitro models complement clinical studies, especially for the elucidation of underlying mechanisms of action. Clarification that light energy reaches the cells is necessary when developing protocols for the treatment of cells using in vitro models. Few studies report on energy loss in cell culture equipment. The ability of energy from light with therapeutic potential to reach cells in culture needs to be determined; this includes determining the proportion of light energy lost within standard cell culture media and cell culture vessels. The energy absorption of cell culture media, with/without the pH indicator dye phenol red, and the loss of energy within different plastics and glassware used typically for in vitro cell culture were investigated using intense pulsed light and a yellow pulsed dye laser. Media containing phenol red have a distinctive absorption peak (560 nm) absent in phenol red-free media and restored by the addition of phenol red. For both light sources, energy loss was lowest in standard polystyrene tissue culture flasks or multi-well plates and highest in polypropylene vessels or glass tubes. The effects of phenol red-free media on the absorption of energy varied with the light source used. Phenol red-free media are the media of choice; polystyrene vessels with flat surfaces such as culture flasks or multi-well plates should be used in preference to polypropylene or glass vessels.