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Red Light Therapy For Stretch Marks: Improve Your Skin’s Appearance

Last Reviewed on March 1, 2024

Discover how red light therapy can effectively treat stretch marks, boosting collagen production and rejuvenating skin. It’s safe, non-invasive, and suitable for all.

Can red light therapy help with stretch marks? Definitely, and it works especially well when combined with other treatments.

Stretch marks (aka striae distensae) are a form of scar tissue that happens when our skin stretches too quickly. They are common skin conditions that many people experience. 43-88% of stretch marks form during pregnancy, 6-86% form during puberty, and 43% result from obesity [1].

While some may wear these “tiger stripes” as a medal of honor, others are deeply affected by their appearance.

Red light therapy (RLT), also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), uses wavelengths of red or near-infrared light to stimulate collagen production and support skin rejuvenation. It boosts skin health and has proven to be effective in treating scars and stretch marks, especially when combined with laser treatment [2].

Let’s jump right in and explain how red light therapy works, along with its many benefits. It’s 100% safe to use with minimal side effects [3]. And, believe me when I say: your stretch marks are what make you unique, and you are beautiful no matter what!

Does Red Light Therapy Help Stretch Marks?

Before we discuss RLT’s effects on stretch marks, let’s briefly talk about how they form and their different types. This will give important insight into the types of stretch marks that red light therapy works best for.

Many people develop stretch marks as a result of rapid weight gain, and they can be tricky to remove.

Our skin is made up of three layers:

  1. Epidermis (outer layer)
  2. Dermis (middle layer)
  3. Subcutaneous tissue (deepest layer)

Stretch marks occur in the dermis when the skin stretches rapidly and our body’s healing mechanisms can’t keep up. Scarring becomes more prominent after the age of 30 when our bodies naturally start to lose collagen – the protein responsible for our skin’s elasticity, firmness, and hydration [4].

Close-up of stretch marks on skin

At first, they can be raised and red (striae rubrae) and then fade to become lighter, more wrinkled-looking scars (striae alba). This type of scar tissue often affects the following areas:

  • Abdomen
  • Buttocks
  • Breasts
  • Groin
  • Thighs
  • Back

There are also different types of scarring based on their appearance or epidemiology:

  • Striae distensae – stretched skin
  • Striae atrophicans – thinned skin
  • Striae gravidarum – following pregnancy
  • Striae nigra – black scars
  • Striae caerulea – dark blue scars
  • Striae rubrae – red scars
  • Striae albae – white scars [1]

Improves Striae Alba Appearance

In recent years, red light therapy has emerged as a potential treatment for striae alba as seen in a 2018 study. The study was done to see if RLT can be used to treat stretch marks, specifically targeting striae alba.

Red LED light therapy was combined with 2940 nm Er:YAG laser therapy and recombinant bovine basic fibroblast growth factor (rb-bFGF) – a protein that assists with tissue repair. All 30 patients showed significant improvements [5].

Reduces Stretch Mark Length & Width

Red light therapy treatment is a non-invasive therapy that can reduce stretch mark depth.

One study showed that when bipolar radiofrequency was used in conjunction with infrared light therapy, there was a 22% reduction in stretch mark depth after 6 months [6].

Close-up of skin with labeled stretch marks

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

The science behind this treatment lies in its ability to stimulate mitochondrial function which directly impacts skin quality and health [7].

Here’s a brief overview on the cellular activity that red light therapy devices enhance.

Red light boosts mitochondria – the tiny “power plants” of your cells – and boosts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. This leads to:

  • Increased blood flow: Enhanced blood circulation brings more nutrients and oxygen to skin cells and blood vessels, aiding in repair and skin regeneration
  • Promotes wound healing: Red light stimulates cell activity and can accelerate the healing process. This is specifically beneficial to the appearance of stretch marks, as “skin tears” are repaired and healed on a deeper level
  • Reduced inflammation: Red light therapy has anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce the redness and swelling often associated with “fresh” stretch marks. RLT has also shown improvements in sensitive skin and in those suffering from a variety of skin conditions
  • Collagen production: As we mentioned, collagen is vital for skin elasticity and firmness. RLT is an effective way to boost fibroblast production (a.k.a. collagen) on a cellular level [8]

Now, let’s take a deeper look:

Collagen & Elastin Production

A red light therapy device works by targeting the skin’s dermis layer using red and near-infrared (NIR)wavelengths. It penetrates the epidermis and is absorbed by your skin cells. This kicks off a biochemical reaction, which ultimately works to stimulate fibroblast production [7].

Fibroblasts are responsible for producing collagen. Increased collagen levels help repair damaged skin cells, leading to a reduction in the appearance of stretch marks.

Similarly, red and NIR light have shown a boost in elastin production, which is responsible for skin elasticity. An increase in elastin proteins makes it more resilient to stretching, potentially reducing the likelihood of new stretch marks forming [7].

Laser therapy treatment on human skin for stretch marks

Skin Regeneration & Repair

Red light therapy not only works on cell production but also promotes deeper skin healing, such as:

  • Accelerated skin repair: Red light therapy boosts cellular energy, enabling your cells to do their “jobs” more efficiently. These functions include self-repair and regeneration. As a result, more healthy cells are made, resulting in faster healing times of damaged skin cells. These skin rejuvenation benefits are seen not only for stretch marks but also for scarring and wrinkles [9].
  • Reduced inflammation: Newer stretch marks are often red and swollen. Red light therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation [10], which may help improve the healing process. Too much inflammation can lead to potential problems, according to Dr. Robert Shmerling, MD, at Harvard Medical School.
  • Improved skin texture: With increased blood flow and faster wound healing, red light therapy has proven to be an effective treatment in various skin issues. It improves the health and quality of your skin cells, as they receive more of the nutrients and oxygen they need to function [8].

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Stretch Marks

  1. Choose the right red light device: Select a device that is designed specifically for skin treatment, such as panels, belts, or handheld units. Panels are recommended for use on larger areas, like thighs and tummies.
  2. Prepare your skin: Clean the area you want to treat. Remove any lotions, serums, or creams, and make sure your skin is dry.
  3. Set up your device: Different red light models may have different instructions for positioning the device. For instance, panels may require a stand whereas handheld devices need to be held close to the skin.
  4. Duration: Expose stretch marks to the visible red light for about 10 to 20 minutes, three times a week for several weeks. The duration of treatment may vary depending on the severity of your scarring.
  5. Be consistent: As much as we’d love red light therapy to work from the start, you need to understand that skin repair takes time. Being consistent with treatments will yield the best results.
Anecdotally, applying topicals such as tretinoin after red light treatment may yield better results, but more research is needed.

What Are The Side Effects Of Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is 100% safe when used correctly. There have been little to no side effects observed in the many clinical studies conducted. However, those who suffer from lupus or take photosensitive medication should avoid this type of treatment.

There have been anecdotal reports that RLT can aggravate hyperpigmentation and melasma – the cells responsible for skin tone – in darker-skinned individuals. That said, early research has shown the opposite effect in those with melasma [11].

Who Should Not Use Red Light Therapy?

  • Pregnant women
  • Cancer patients – including those who have a history of cancer (to be on the safe side)
  • Lupus sufferers
  • Dark-skinned individuals should consult a dermatologist before treatment

It’s always advised to seek guidance from a trained medical professional before beginning your red light journey.

FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about using red light therapy for stretch marks.

Does Red Light Therapy Work On New Stretch Marks?

Red light therapy is not a cure for stretch marks but can be used as a preventative measure. Low-level light therapy boosts mitochondrial function, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the production of collagen; all of which play a vital role in skin health. These “healing powers” boost elastin production which reduces the likelihood of new stretch marks forming.

What About Old Stretch Marks?

Existing stretch marks are harder to get rid of as they have “solidified” in deeper connective tissue layers. However, red light therapy has shown significant improvements in reducing the appearance of these scars. RLT targets the dermis layer and stimulates collagen and elastin production. While more research is needed, there are anecdotal reports of RLT helping improve the appearance of old stretch marks.

Woman showing stretch marks on thighs

How Often Should I Use Red Light Therapy?

Consistency is key when it comes to your red wavelength treatment. Three 10- to 20-minute sessions per week, for several weeks, should start to show improvements. Some treatments may require 6 months or more, depending on the severity of your scars.

Final Thoughts

Stretch marks are a natural part of life and nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you view your “tiger stripes” as badges of honor or choose to lessen their appearance, red light therapy provides a gentle, non-invasive path to skin rejuvenation.

It’s a safe step towards not just accepting, but loving the skin you’re in, with all its unique stories and beauty.

If you’d like to learn more, check out Therapeutic Beams’ extensive research into the benefits of red light therapy.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436005/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28755402/
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22114-red-light-therapy 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1606623/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28755402/ 
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27020000/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33594706/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5523874/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5891084/ 
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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