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Red Light Therapy For Scars: Healing Your Skin From Within

Last Reviewed on February 1, 2024

Discover how red light therapy can reduce the appearance of scars and rejuvenate your skin. Learn everything about this pain-free and natural treatment.

You might be wondering whether red light therapy can help to reduce scars. Red light therapy has been proven to assist with plenty of skin injuries – including different kinds of scars and blemishes.

We’ve looked into all the research and scientific studies to learn how red light therapy (RLT) may reduce the appearance of scars.

This article will look at how RLT can benefit you in terms of limiting scarring and getting rid of existing scars, as well as how you can use red light therapy at home with amazing results.

Red Light Therapy Benefits For Scars

If you’re not familiar with how RLT works, here’s a quick breakdown:

Red light therapy, also called low-level light therapy (LLLT), is a non-invasive, pain-free, and natural treatment that uses different wavelengths (usually red and near-infrared light) to stimulate your cells, improving cellular function and boosting cellular energy. This heals your body, reducing pain and inflammation [1].

What does this mean for scars?

Laser and LED therapies have been shown to aesthetically treat scars, a process called photorejuvenation. It promotes the formation of collagen and new tissues, creating new, healthy skin [1].

Illustration of different scar types on human body

Let’s look at how RLT can be used to treat different kinds of scars.

Atrophic Scars

Atrophic scars are scars in the skin. Common examples of these kinds of scars are acne or chickenpox scars. They cause the skin to have an uneven appearance.

Red light therapy may be used for treating acne and other atrophic scars. A clinical trial involving 20 patients found low-level laser therapy to result in “objective and subjective improvements in acne scarring” [2]. This is backed by another study that found LLLT to be “safe and effective for the treatment of acne scarring” [3]. It’s thought that the treatment normalizes collagen production, which can help “raise” the scar to the skin’s “normal” level.

Red light can also be used to improve skin texture, thanks to its ability to increase fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and collagen synthesis in your skin [4]. By boosting FGF, your body can repair skin damage more effectively, minimizing the appearance of scars.

Hypertrophic Scars

Hypertrophic scars are raised scars that form due to an overactive healing process, stemming from too much collagen production.

There are different kinds of raised scars that can benefit from red and near-infrared light treatment.

Contracture Scars

Contracture scars are most commonly the result of burn injuries. A burn scar forms when collagen forms across the entire burned area, resulting in a tight scar that can reduce movement.

In one clinical study, 89% of patients reported visible improvements in their burns scars after using 670 nm low-level laser [5]. It is most effective if the red light is applied to the scar during the proliferative phase, i.e. when new skin is still being “rebuilt” over the wound [6].

Keloid Scars

A keloid scar is another type of thick, raised scar. It can occur after almost any skin injury.

One study looking at the impact of low-level laser therapy on hypertrophic scars in children found that, after three months of treatment, there was a significant decrease in the scar’s appearance. Researchers concluded red light therapy to be a safe treatment for raised scars [7].

Red light treatments can also inhibit keloid fibroblast proliferation [8]. This can help reduce the excess collagen produced, minimizing the appearance of keloid scars.

Surgical Scars

Surgical incisions often leave fine, white scars.

Red light-emitting diode (LED) therapy can soften the scar tissue while promoting healthy skin development within the deeper skin layers. After enough time, the scar cells may be replaced by healthy cells.

One study investigated the effects of RLT (640 nm) on patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). After red light treatments, patients reported less pain and bleeding, fewer re-opened wounds, and an overall faster recovery time. This also means faster wound closure and less scarring [9].

Patient with a scar on knee from surgery

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a form of scarring that occurs when the skin is rapidly stretched, resulting in tears in the dermis layer. This damage to the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers initially appears as reddish or purplish lines and may look indented. Over time, stretch marks can fade to a lighter color, resembling more traditional scars.

While they don’t pose any medical risk, they are often a cosmetic concern. Using red light therapy for stretch marks can reduce their appearance, although completely removing them is difficult.

Close-up of thigh with stretch marks

How Does Red Light Therapy Work For Scars?

The good news is that RLT is very promising for the treatment of scars, as proven by several clinical trials.

Beyond minimizing the appearance of a scar, RLT uses wavelengths of light (usually 630 to 850 nm) to penetrate the skin and tissue, stimulating healing within your cells.

Here’s how RLT works to prevent and treat scars:

Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a healthy short-term effect of wound healing, but chronic inflammation can slow healing and increase the amount of scarring.

As red light penetrates the skin cells, it boosts cellular energy production by stimulating the mitochondria within your cells to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the “energy currency” of our cells. This increase in energy allows cells to start repairing and regenerating [1].

Over time, this can reduce the size and depth of scars as healthy, normal skin is formed.

Increases Blood Flow

One great way to speed up your skin’s healing process is by increasing blood flow to the injured area.

RLT improves blood circulation by:

  • Widening blood vessels (vasodilation), allowing more blood to reach the wound [10]
  • Forming new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which further supports the healing process [11]

These changes bring more oxygen and nutrients to the wound site, accelerating healing and decreasing scar formation.

Normalizes Collagen

When you consider that scars are mainly formed because of excess collagen, you might wonder how increased collagen can help reduce scarring.

It’s important to know it’s not exactly the amount of collagen that causes a scar to form; instead, it’s how the collagen is organized.

Our bodies are constantly producing new skin. During this process, fibroblasts produce both elastin and collagen and organize it in a sort of lattice.

After surgery or an injury, your body’s emergency response kicks in to trigger rapid healing – it wants to close the wound ASAP. Instead of an intricate lattice pattern, collagen forms in thick bands to close the gap in your skin. There’s no elastin in sight, which is why scars can’t stretch.

RLT helps with skin rejuvenation by stimulating fibroblasts to produce elastin and collagen as they normally would. This not only prevents scarring but can also cause scars to appear thinner over time [12].

Medical scan images showing collagen density at time intervals t0 and t30
Image Credit: Wunsch A, Matuschka K. A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014;32(2):93-100. doi:10.1089/pho.2013.3616

Increases Elastin

As we mentioned, scars are tight because they lack elastin.

Red light stimulates elastin production which can soften the scar, allowing normal movement to return. One study that investigated the impact of RLT on skin found a noticeable increase in elastin production [13]. Although the study wasn’t directly related to scar prevention, we can assume that it will have similar effects during wound healing.

Activates Stem Cells

Stem cells are unspecialized cells in the body that can develop into any kind of specific cell. These cells are key to wound healing and skin production.

Stem cells can be formed either in bone marrow (where they’re on standby for when needed) or in developed tissues like the skin (where they tend to take the shape of their neighboring cells).

In the presence of a wound, stem cells can turn into normal, healthy skin cells (and not scar tissue). An analysis of 46 studies found red light therapy to increase stem cell proliferation [14]. This can lead to an increase in tissue repair, reducing scarring.

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Scars

Now that you know exactly how red light therapy works in the scar prevention and healing process, you might be wondering how you can apply it in your day-to-day life.

  • Choose the Right Device: There are various at-home red light therapy devices available, such as LED masks and skincare wands. Choose one that uses both red and near-infrared (NIR) light wavelengths. Make sure it’s convenient for you to use because you’ll need consistent treatments to see results.
  • Prepare the Area: Before starting the therapy, clean the scarred area thoroughly. This ensures maximum effectiveness of the light treatment.
  • Proper Usage: Position the device about 6 inches away from the skin. The light should be directed at the scarred area. For handheld devices, keep them stationary over each section of the scar.
  • Duration & Frequency: Typically, sessions should last around 15-20 minutes. It’s recommended to use red light therapy at least three times a week. Consistency is key for seeing results.
  • Monitoring Progress: Keep a photo log of the scar’s appearance to track changes and improvements. This will help you assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make necessary adjustments.

Here’s a quick look at some popular at-home red light therapy device types.

  • Panels: Red light therapy panels are covered in LEDs that emit red and NIR light. They can be used to cover a wider treatment area, making them ideal for large scars anywhere on the body.
  • LED Face Masks: Red light therapy face masks can be used to effectively treat acne scars or any scarring on the face.
  • Skincare Wands: Red light therapy wands are perfect for targeting smaller scars that are primarily on the face.

FAQs: Red Light Therapy For Scars

Here are some frequently asked questions about red light and scars.

Is Red Light Therapy Good For Scars?

Yes, red light therapy can help prevent scars from forming and speed up wound healing. RLT devices can also be used to reduce the appearance of scars and improve scar flexibility.

Scar healing before and after treatment

Is Red Light Therapy Good For New Scars?

Yes! You can use RLT to help the wound heal, which will result in thinner, softer scars. It can also help to shrink new scars.

Does Red Light Therapy Work On Old Scars?

Yes. It will require a longer treatment period, but LED red light therapy has been proven to reduce the size and thickness of old scars.

Can I Use Red Light Therapy On A C-Section Scar?

Yes, red LED light therapy will not only reduce the pain and inflammation at the incision site but also help to soften your C-section scar.

Close-up of abdominal scar with hands on hips

What Color LED Light Is Best For Acne Scars?

Red is the best color LED light to treat acne scars. It penetrates the skin, helping the scars heal and disappear from within.

Final Thoughts

Red light therapy may be a wonder-treatment for scars. It not only helps with scar prevention when applied after an injury or surgery but also helps to break down and reduce the size of existing scars.

For effective home treatment, it’s important to select the right red LED light therapy device, use it consistently (about 15-20 minutes per session, three times a week), and monitor progress.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/ 
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16781297/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16180221/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2811573/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25749659/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29974280/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24337350/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25485805/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24337350/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699925/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35074677/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31307501/
  13. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622%2819%2933160-3/fulltext
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32013851/
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

John Ni, BSc.

John, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, serves as a respected scientific reviewer at TherapeuticBeams.com. His expertise extends across various domains, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and dermatology. He contributes to publications like Royal Society of Chemistry, Drug Topics, and Practical Dermatology.

John Ni, Content Editor & Scientific Review

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