If you’re embarrassed about a scar, or if a scar restricts movement or causes pain, you’ve undoubtedly been searching for a remedy – one that reduces or even eliminates the scar and restores your normal skin.
Well, an amazing treatment technique known as red light therapy could be just what you need. Red light therapy is a science-backed treatment that could help minimize visible scars, and even potentially prevent them from forming.
Note: Shop clinical-grade red light therapy panels in the Platinum Therapy Lights store.
How Red Light Therapy Can Minimize and Prevent Scars
Red light therapy, which is also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation, shows great promise as an effective treatment for scars.
Red light is a different type of approach to treating scars. Rather than just minimizing their appearance, red light penetrates tissue and stimulates healing at the cellular level using specific wavelengths of light: from 630 nanometers (nm) to 850 nm.
Human cells respond beneficially to these light waves in much the same way that plant cells respond to natural sunlight: by producing energy and optimizing cell function, which stimulates the body’s self-healing processes.
Improved Cellular Energy Production and Reduced Inflammation
According to a 2013 article co-authored by Harvard researcher and world-renowned photobiomodulation expert Michael Hamblin, red light therapy stimulates cellular energy production and reduces inflammation, which supports tissue repair and regeneration.
This powerful combination of effects can make a world of difference in healing with minimal scarring; and in reducing the appearance of existing scars.
Acute (short-term) inflammation is a normal and necessary part of wound healing. However, chronic inflammation can interfere with the healing process. Inflammation can cause a condition called mitochondrial dysfunction: the inability of the mitochondria (tiny energy-producing organelles in each cell) to function properly and convert raw materials into cellular fuel.
As red and near-infrared (NIR) light photons absorb into the skin, they interact with light-sensitive chromophores within the mitochondria. This sparks an increase in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary fuel of human cells.
This boost in energy gives cells the resources to perform their functions, including self-repair and regeneration.
Which cells benefit from this? All cells that are irradiated by red light benefit from it. This includes cells within the circulatory system, nerve cells (neurons), and fibroblasts, which are the most common cell type in connective tissue and are responsible for the synthesis of collagen and elastin proteins.
Another way to accelerate the healing process is to increase circulation to the damaged skin.
Red light therapy boosts the production of endothelial cells, which are the cells that make up the tiny blood and lymph capillaries close to the surface of the skin. According to a 2017 study by researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin, red light also increases vessel diameter (known as vasodilation), which promotes circulation.
Increasing blood flow through new blood vessels brings oxygen and nutrients to the site of the wound. Increasing lymph flow removes waste that could cause infection.
The vasodilating effect of red light therapy can accelerate the healing process.
Intradermal Collagen Density Increase
Red light therapy is well-known for its skin rejuvenation benefits, such as reducing fine lines and wrinkles, smoothing skin complexion, and reducing sunspots and other photodamage. The same mechanisms that make skin look more youthful can be applied to reducing scarring.
Because of the role collagen plays in the development of scars, it may seem counterintuitive to use red light therapy to increase collagen production. But it’s not the amount of collagen that causes scars – it’s the way the collagen is organized.
During skin regeneration, which is a constant, ongoing process, fibroblasts produce an organized lattice of collagen and elastin proteins. This process results in what we see and feel as healthy skin. The latticework is extremely strong and resilient and allows the skin to stretch and move freely.
After an injury or surgery, however, when the body is in emergency-response mode, the healing response is rapid and intense – the immune system aims to close the wound as fast as possible. How it looks afterward is not the body’s concern.
Instead of a latticework, the collagen organizes in side-by-side bands much like bridges that are built as quickly as possible to cross the gap and close it. This network is much weaker than the normal latticework of skin and does not contain elastin, which means it can't stretch. This is why scars on joints are inflexible and make it difficult and painful to move.
To compensate for the weak structure of scar tissue and to better protect the body, this new tissue becomes thicker. The result is a visible scar.
Scarring is a pretty genius self-preservation mechanism; it’s a fast and effective way to close a wound. But if the cells in the skin regenerate about once a month, why don’t scars disappear over time?
At the lowermost layers of the scar, newly formed cells push older cells to the surface. Here’s the key, however: the emerging cells develop the same characteristics as the cells they are replacing. So, cells in contact with scar cells will become new scar cells, rather than normal skin cells.
The way red light could help prevent scarring is by stimulating normal fibroblast growth and normal collagen synthesis and organization.
During a 2019 study, researchers from SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University observed the effects of red light therapy on scar prevention. They discovered that the treatment modulates the processes involved in skin fibrosis, meaning excessive growth of collagen proteins. Thus, red light therapy was found to help create healthy skin rather than scars.
Increased Elastin Production
One of the main characteristics of scars is that they are very inflexible, which is caused by how the collagen proteins are organized: in rows next to each other to quickly form a bridge across the wound. Another factor in the inflexibility of scars is the lack of elastin proteins since elastin is what allows the skin to stretch. Boosting elastin synthesis is important for softening the scar over time and restoring normal joint movement.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that red light is an effective treatment for boosting elastin production. The study used a combination of red light (640 nm) and NIR light (830 nm) to address all of the layers of the skin.
While this study was focused on the effects of low-level red and near-infrared light therapy on aging, it is also applicable to scar reduction. This is because emerging cells that will eventually work their way to the surface (to the epidermis) need to be supple and strong.
Stem Cell Activation
Stem cells are the body’s “potentials,” meaning unspecialized cells. They are key to healing because they have the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. There are two types:
- One type is generated from fully developed tissues including the skin; these types of stem cells will take on the characteristics of their neighboring cells and become the cells that make up your skin
- Most stem cells are formed in the bone marrow. These cells remain in standby mode to develop into any type of specialized cell.
In the presence of a skin wound, stem cells can become normal, healthy skin (dermal) cells with different genetic makeup than scar cells.
The 2013 article previously cited states that low-power light therapy activates stem cells to increase tissue repair and healing.
How Does Red Light Therapy Compare to Low-Level Laser Therapy?
The terms “low-level laser therapy” and “low-level light therapy” are often used interchangeably, and even share the same acronym: LLLT. They are not the same, however; they represent two different techniques.
Low-level lasers, also referred to as “cold” lasers, are often used in dermatology to smooth skin, which makes them an attractive option for removing scars such as acne scars.
The procedure involves using intensely focused light to remove the outer layer of the skin's surface (epidermis) to reduce skin roughness and stimulate the growth of new, healthy skin.
This treatment is often performed by a dermatologist because lasers could potentially irritate and in rare cases, burn.
Laser therapy is an effective treatment for scarring that results from acne. But since multiple laser light treatments are needed, this could be an expensive way to reduce scarring. (Treatment frequency and duration will depend on the size, thickness, and age of the scar).
Light-Emitting Diode Therapy
In contrast with laser therapy, low-level light therapy (aka, red light therapy) uses devices with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. These deliver safe, non-invasive, non-irritating wavelengths of visible and invisible light to the skin, which stimulates the body's self-healing mechanisms.
All light therapy devices available for consumer purchase are not necessarily created equal. Some lack power, and some lack the most beneficial wavelengths for skin health.
The Key to Preventing Scars: Fast Action
Like many areas of health, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to scar formation. This means you should treat your wounds immediately after an injury or surgery before the scars fully form.
Preventing scars requires fast action. The application of red light therapy as soon as possible to a wound could help reduce scar appearance and promote the growth of healthy new skin.
Armed with the understanding of how red light therapy can aid the healing process and minimize scars, what about scars you already have?
Minimizing and Softening Existing Scars
Treating existing scars is typically a longer process than scar prevention. Existing scars are often thick, and given that dermal cells regenerate about once a month (and not all at once), the process of replacing scars as they slough off could be lengthy.
You could get the best results by using a treatment such as red light therapy, which activates the key mechanisms of healing. In addition, it supports the emerging cells along with boosting the production of necessary proteins like collagen and elastin.
You don't need to visit a dermatologist or undergo expensive laser light therapy treatments. You can use LED light therapy devices in the comfort of home to accelerate wound healing, boost elastin and collagen production, and even enjoy some skin rejuvenation along with other full-body health benefits.
At-Home LED Red Light Scar Treatment
One of the first questions people ask when considering treating scars at home with an LED red light device is, “How quickly can red light therapy remove my scar?”
The answer depends on the age of the scar (older scars tend to be more difficult to treat and may never disappear completely); the size and depth of the scar; and the frequency and consistency of treatment.
Generally, effective results can be observed between eight and twelve weeks of consistent treatment.
Steps to Success
Along with treating the wound as quickly as possible with red light, there are a few ways to accelerate the process of healing and scar reduction.
The Right Light Therapy Device
For the best results, use only a high-powered, high-quality LED device. Be sure to choose one that delivers the light output necessary to successfully penetrate the skin to a depth where new skin cell stimulation can occur. In searching for red light devices, you’ll undoubtedly see a variety of masks and handheld devices, but these simply don’t have enough power.
When comparing LED light therapy devices, look for “mW/cm2,” which stands for milliwatts per centimeter squared. This is the measure of irradiance, meaning the amount of energy that absorbs into the body. The higher this number, the more powerful the device.
The PlatinumLED Therapy Lights BIOMAX 600 panel, for instance, delivers 174 mW/cm2, which is significantly more than its competitors.
What does this mean for you? The more energy the light has, the deeper it will absorb into your skin. And remember, scars are typically thicker than healthy skin, so you need a powerful light to get down to the skin layers where new cells are formed.
You will get more light power energy, as well as a greater treatment area, with a larger device such as the BIOMAX 900; but a compact device like the BIOMAX 300 or BIOMAX 450 can give you great results in a travel-friendly and space-saving version.
Deep Penetrating Wavelengths
Red light therapy often refers to both visible red wavelengths (630–660 nm) and invisible NIR wavelengths (810–850 nm). For best results, you’ll want to use them together.
Red light treatments penetrate and support all the layers of skin tissue. Scars tend to be thick, however, and you’ll need the deeper penetration ability of near-infrared wavelengths to benefit the cells beneath the scar.
A combination of red and NIR wavelengths will allow you to treat every layer of the skin simultaneously instead of doing one red light treatment for skin health and near-infrared light treatment to address potential inflammation beneath the skin, which could be affecting healing.
Only one device on the market features a proprietary spectrum of five different red and NIR wavelengths in a ratio that ensures the most comprehensive coverage and benefits: the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights BIOMAX series.
You’ll enjoy the benefits of 630, 660, 810, 830, and 850 nm red and NIR light simultaneously for faster and more profound results. This combination will also give you the most power to treat other physical conditions like arthritis pain, chronic skin conditions like psoriasis, peripheral neuropathy, hair loss, and more.
Skin cells are regenerating all the time. Consistent treatment is important to fully support your skin in healing with minimal scarring or to soften and reduce the appearance of existing scars.
To treat a scar, expose the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes every other day (approximately four times per week), at a distance of 6” to 12” from the device. Depending on the size and depth of the scar, continue treatment for one to six months. (This method also works on minimizing the appearance of stretch marks.)
Red Light Therapy for Acne Scars
Pitted scars on the face can result from chickenpox or acne. Chemical peels, dermabrasion, collagen injections, and punch grafts help minimize the “grapefruit” appearance of these scars and smooth out skin roughness, but these treatments often have unwanted side effects.
Red light therapy is widely used to achieve a healthy skin tone. It could be used to restore smooth skin over time through improved intradermal collagen density increase, better circulation, and improved cellular functioning.
A 2015 study suggests that treatment with red light may improve inflammatory acne and acne scarring, especially when combined with non-comedogenic and comedolytic agents such as topical retinoids.
Prevention Is Always Better than a Cure
As effective as red light promises to be for treating scars, its real benefit comes in potentially preventing them in the first place by treating acne and reducing breakouts.
Blue light is a popular treatment for acne because it kills bacteria on the skin.
During an older 2009 study, researchers successfully combined blue and red light to reduce patients’ acne lesions, which in itself could reduce acne scar formation.
A combination of good hygiene, mindful eating (#1 is to eliminate sugar and other inflammatory foods), the right skincare products, and regular red light treatments, could be another way to reduce acne-causing bacteria on the skin surface while supporting healthy skin at the cellular level.
Red Light Therapy for Surgical Scars
Fine-line (“white”) scars result from cuts or surgery (such as a C-section), leaving a visible line. Red light can be used to soften the scar tissue and support healthy normal skin formation in the deeper layers of the skin to replace the scar cells as they slough off over time.
A 2013 study by Brazilian researchers followed 90 patients who had undergone sternum surgery, to determine the effects of red light therapy on pain and the healing process.
Patients in the red light treatment group experienced reduced pain, less excess blood, fewer complications, less incision bleeding, and fewer ruptures of wounds; together, these could mean faster wound closure and therefore less scarring.
Red Light Therapy for Injury-Related Scars
Scars from injuries can happen anywhere on the body. Depending on their location, scars may restrict movement and cause discomfort or pain.
A 2018 review examined several studies on red light and animal wound healing. Across these studies, the reviewers found that red light therapy increased wound contraction and tensile strength, which often results in less scarring. Shortened healing times could mean less opportunity for scars to continue developing.
With injury-related scars, it's important to use near-infrared light treatment to benefit the emerging cells well below the surface of the scar, especially if it's a raised scar.
Keloid scars result from out-of-control collagen growth in deep wounds. Unlike other scars, Keloid scars keep growing even after the wound has healed and scarring may extend beyond the injured area. Keloid scars are often painful, itchy, and may restrict movement.
A 2015 study found that red light inhibits keloid proliferation, and suggests that it could be a viable treatment for keloids and other fibrotic skin disorders.
Hypertrophic Scars and Contracture Scars
Thick, raised scars known as hypertrophic scars also result from excess collagen, but there is no scar growth outside of the boundary of the injury. Red light treatments can safely and effectively reduce hypertrophic scar sizes and appearance, according to some studies.
Contracture scars are often caused by burns. A tough layer of collagen forms over the burned area causing painful tightness that can affect the nerves and muscles and restrict movement.
Red light could help minimize hypertrophic and contracture scars by regulating collagen synthesis in the skin that is growing beneath the scar.
A 2015 study on the effects of red light therapy on burn healing found that the best results and fastest tissue repair come from the fast application of red light to the burn. This is especially true during the proliferative phase, which is when the skin is rebuilt at the wound site.
A 2018 animal trial observed the effects of red light on animals with burns. The treatment group showed significant anti-inflammatory effects and migration and proliferation of fibroblasts just seven days after treatment, leading to accelerated healing.
An older (2004) study involved 19 patients with burn scars. After treatment with 670 nm red light twice a week for eight weeks, the treatment group demonstrated improved healing, and 17 out of the 19 scars showed improvement after the treatment.
What People Are Saying: Red Light Therapy for Scars Reviews
Red Light Therapy for Scars Before and After
Although everyone is different and results can vary, here’s a sampling of images of scars that were successfully treated with red light therapy.
Daniel Barolet and Annie Boucher, “Prophylactic low‐level light therapy for the treatment of hypertrophic scars and keloids: A case series,” Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, August 2010.
From Scarred to Unmarred with Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is a natural, safe, and non-invasive way to support the healing process for skin wounds including burns, surgical incisions, and cuts and scrapes that leave scars. The treatment could offer pain relief as well as accelerated healing with minimal scarring.
Red light stimulates the production of normal, high-functioning skin cells that will gradually replace the abnormal cells present within a scar. Over time, you could see scars become less prominent, along with functional benefits like softer scars on elbows and other joints.
You can now treat unsightly and embarrassing scars in the comfort of your own home – and the benefits of red light don’t stop there. From treating acne and wrinkles to psoriasis and eczema, red light can be a valuable part of your overall skincare routine. These related articles will give you even more information.
If you’re ready to start minimizing the appearance of scars, check out the most powerful LED light therapy devices on the planet: the Platinum Therapy Lights BIOMAX series.