How Red Light Therapy Treats Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are unsightly, often embarrassing, and hard to get rid of on your own. Given the amazing, clinically proven skin-rejuvenating effects of red light therapy, it’s no wonder people are turning to it to improve the appearance of their skin. In this article, we’ll discuss how red light therapy for stretch marks can restore the normal appearance of your skin, along with your confidence. But first, some basic information about what stretch marks are and how they form.
Why Do We Get Stretch Marks, and Why Won't They Go Away?
A stretch mark is a type of scar called a striae, meaning "thin, narrow scar." In people who develop stretch marks, skin has stretched faster than it can grow, such as during pregnancy, growth spurts, or rapid fat or muscle gain. The abrupt stretching causes the collagen and elastin proteins, which are responsible for the skin’s structure and elasticity, to rupture. This, in turn, causes the dermis to tear.
As the dermis tears, the body’s healing mechanisms spring into action to close the wound as quickly as possible to prevent infection and further damage.
Normally, as skin regenerates and grows, it’s an elegantly organized latticework of collagen and elastin proteins. But when the skin tears, the body doesn’t have time to build an elegant structure to fill in the gap. Time is of the essence in any wound repair, including torn skin.
The collagen clumps together hurriedly, aiming for efficient closure of the wound before infection can set in. “Scarring is the result of a system that has learned to respond extremely quickly to a wound,” says Dr. John Newman, a cosmetic surgeon and researcher at the Laser Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach.
This haphazard process results in tough and functional but unattractive tissue—what we know as a scar. “It is kind of like nailing down a crisscross of two-by-fours over a hole in a deck,” says Newman. “It seals the hole, but it doesn’t look very nice.”
Newly formed stretch marks are darker than the surrounding skin, and can be slightly raised, itchy, or painful. If they’re left untreated, they become permanent scars. Their color will lighten and their appearance will fade and recede below the top layer of surrounding skin.
The bigger mystery is why stretch marks don’t disappear over time as skin regenerates. The key lies in the information that emerging cells receive from adult cells in the area. Skin cells, whether they’re normal cells or scar cells, regenerate about once every 30 days. Growth of new skin cells begins at the bottom-most layer of the scar and older (dying) cells are pushed to the surface where they naturally slough off.
However, Neuman explains, emerging cells “learn” from their immediate neighbors and predecessors, and develop the same characteristics as the cells they are replacing. As a result, any emerging cell in contact with scar cells will become new scar tissue rather than normal skin tissue.
That’s why it’s often said that stretch marks are forever.
Most Common Treatments... Don't Work
If you have tried to get rid of stretch marks, perhaps you’ve used specialized creams that contain retinoids. These work to some extent, but only if you catch your stretch marks early and treat them while they're still forming. Retinoids work by stimulating collagen production. They can, however, cause irritation in sensitive individuals, and doctors often recommend that pregnant women avoid anything containing retinoids.
Another common treatment, known as microdermabrasion, essentially involves “sandblasting” the skin with tiny crystals. This sloughs off dead skin cells and stimulates the production of collagen. Microdermabrasion is a fairly harsh treatment that can lead to irritation and damage, especially to sensitive skin.
The most extreme treatment for stretch marks is plastic surgery, such as a mini tummy-tuck. This may be effective, but there are risks associated with any invasive procedure, as well as the high cost. Also, the procedure will not prevent future stretch marks from forming, and has no effect on the overall health or elasticity of your skin.
Is there a better option for restoring the appearance of skin? The answer is yes, absolutely.
Red Light Therapy for Stretch Marks
Also known as photobiomodulation and low-level light therapy (LLLT), red light therapy is used to improve the appearance of skin, reduce signs of aging, treat chronic skin conditions, reduce scarring, and promote skin wound healing.
When red light therapy is used, wavelengths of visible red light and invisible near-infrared (NIR) light are applied to the skin with devices that have LED bulbs. Wavelengths of light are measured in nanometers (nm), with red light ranging from 630nm to 660nm, and NIR light ranging from 810nm to 850nm. Human cells respond favorably to these wavelengths in a way that’s similar to how natural sunlight affects plant cells: by stimulating production of more energy and optimization of cell function.
When red light is shone on bare skin, it soaks into the mitochondria, which are colloquially referred to as the powerhouses or energy factories of cells. The mitochondria are, in turn, stimulated to produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary cellular fuel. This energizes cells to perform their normal functions, from fighting off pathogens to performing repair and regeneration.
Innumerable studies have shown red light therapy’s effectiveness for treating a multitude of conditions. One of these, published in 2014, showed red light’s ability to stimulate tissue repair and regeneration and thus, reduce the appearance of scarring. The authors of the study write: “The non-invasive nature and almost complete absence of side-effects encourages further testing in dermatology.”
It may seem a bit far-fetched to hear that increasing the energy production within cells can influence healing—but it’s true. Tired cells can’t perform well, as Dr. Anthony Komaroff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, explains: “If you feel you don't have enough energy, it can be because your body has problems producing enough ATP and thus providing cells with enough energy.”
Healthy, energized cells, however, can benefit health in innumerable ways, including facilitating healing.
Normalized Collagen Production
Collagen is a protein that makes up about 80% of the skin, and is what creates the skin’s structure.
Since stretch marks are the result of haphazard overproduction of collagen, why would it be beneficial to increase collagen production? The key is to stimulate balanced collagen production as new tissue forms in the deepest layers of the scar.
Organizing collagen into a normal latticework means the new tissue will be softer and more elastic (think of a network of fibers that, like stilts, offer support to the outer layers of skin); in scars like stretch marks, this network is more like a pile of sticks: it still supports the skin, but because there is no organization but a haphazard pile, its movement is severely restricted and it feels tough to the touch. Restoring the normal latticework helps support new skin cells that actually move with your movements; this results in softer-feeling stretch marks over time, and minimizes the formation of new ones.
Red light promotes the formation of normal, healthy skin cells (i.e. not scar tissue) as new cells form at the lowermost layers of the scar
Red light has been used successfully to improve overall skin tone. Red light is best known for stimulating collagen production; but there's more to the story.
Improved Blood Flow
Proper healing relies on good circulation to the skin. Red light promotes proliferation of endothelial cells, which make up the inner layer of capillaries (the tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body).This was the focus of a 2017 study by a team of researchers from Austria, who found that red light consistently increased migration and proliferation of endothelial cells.
Without proper blood circulation there would be no healing, since endothelial cells also deliver white blood cells to the sites where they’re needed. In the case of skin wound healing, white blood cells are necessary to protect the vulnerable area from infection while the wound closes up.
Acute inflammation results in the redness that’s noticeable in fresh stretch marks. This is a normal and necessary part of the tissue regeneration process. Acute inflammation, which is a function of the immune system, actually sets the stage for normal tissue repair and regeneration. Inflammation is quickly followed by the production of new skin structures—which, as previously described, are hastily assembled to ensure that the torn skin doesn’t become infected.
But sometimes the inflammatory process continues after the wound has healed, leading to chronic inflammation. It can lead to a variety of widespread problems throughout the body, including disease. "Some inflammation is good,” says Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Too much is often bad. The goal is to recognize when inflammation is simply doing its job, and when it can potentially cause problems."
Hundreds of studies have shown how red light therapy can significantly reduce inflammation. Many of these were conducted by Dr. Michael A. Hamblin, who is an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and a noted expert on red light therapy. In the final report of a 2017 study, Hamblin refers to red light therapy’s “pronounced anti-inflammatory effects.”
Reducing inflammation may also help reduce scarring, and can therefore help minimize the appearance of newly forming stretch marks.
Mobilize Stem Cells
During the skin-rebuilding phase, stem cells, which are unspecialized "master" cells, mobilize to the site and develop into most any type of specialized cells that are needed by the body. Ideally they develop into normal skin cells, rather than scar tissue, to replenish cells that were damaged or destroyed as a result of skin tearing.
Red light has been shown to activate stem cells. As Barbara Gefvert, editor-in-chief of BioOptics World, explains: “Recent research shows … that noninvasive application of light can boost the natural growth of an individual's own stem cells to enable exciting new treatments.” Stem cells can assist with the tissue regeneration process, and stimulate normal and healthy behavior in existing cells. This can prevent the formation of new stretch marks, and gradually reduce appearance of existing stretch marks.
Treating Stretch Marks at Home Using a Red Light Panel
Using red and near infrared light therapy for stretch marks has never been easier. Instead of multiple visits to a dermatologist or other healthcare provider, you can self-administer red light in the comfort and convenience of your own home.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Young stretch marks are easier to treat than old ones.
If you treat scars when they’re still in the tissue regeneration phase, you’ll get more satisfactory results than if you wait until they are older than six months, and have faded to thinner, paler lines. Once scar tissue is well established and thicker, it takes longer and is more challenging to treat.
It is possible for thick stretch marks to be made thinner and for depressed striae to become flatter. But you should expect that minimizing the appearance of old skin wounds will take repeated treatments over a period of several months or years depending on the size, thickness, depth, and age of the scars.
2. Red light therapy is safe and effective, and does not require multiple visits to a clinic.
LED red light therapy is not the same as laser therapy, which you may have heard of as a treatment for various skin conditions. Lasers can either be ablative (removing the top layers of skin to promote collagen production) or non-ablative, meaning energy is delivered below the surface of the dermis to stimulate biological processes.
This is similar to how LED devices work: they shine concentrated beams of red or near infrared light onto the affected area, where the red light interacts with the cells to spark the (previously discussed) biological processes.
The upside is that lasers are as effective as LEDs; the downside is that they have to be administered by a healthcare professional, at a clinic or office, and the costs can add up significantly over time.
You can self-administer LED light therapy at home, safely and effectively, and save money in the long run.
3. To get the results you want, you will need an LED panel that delivers high light energy output.
You may have seen small, handheld wands for sale on the Internet. Unless you plan to use them for a very tiny area, and don’t mind regularly recharging batteries, it’s best to avoid these devices.
Instead, we’d recommend you check out our BIO and BIOMAX series. With both you get powerful irradiation (energy output), the most beneficial and widely studied wavelengths of red and NIR light, and unbeatable long-term results.
4. You will get the best outcome using a combination of red and near-infrared NIR light.
Red light stimulates cellular activity in the top layers of the dermis, while NIR’s longer wavelengths absorb deeper into tissues. This combination is so beneficial because each layer of the skin and underlying tissues will be treated, instead of just the top layer or the underlying tissues.
You can choose a combination of 660nm (red) and 850nm (NIR) wavelengths in the PlatinumLED BIO series. Or, the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series uses five different wavelengths of red and NIR light simultaneously. Each wavelength has a different penetration depth so you are assured that you will experience the rejuvenating effects of red light therapy in every layer.
New Home for Treating Stretch Marks
Red light therapy stimulates skin cells to perform at their peak, so that healthy new skin cells can gradually replace scar tissue as the surface scar cells naturally slough off.
You will enjoy added benefits from using a quality LED panel. Many people who start using red light to treat a specific condition quickly discover hidden benefits they weren’t expecting: fewer fine lines and wrinkles, faster recovery from exercise, reduced pain, better sleep… the list goes on. If you’re interested in learning more about the amazing potential of red light therapy, visit the PlatinumLED blog for a collection of informative articles.