Red-light Therapy for Acne Scars: Is it worth a try?

If you’ve ever hoarded a wave of acne and come out successful, it may feel as if the battle has been won. But many spots and scars stay on your skin long after the breakout has ended. Pitted scars and patches of red pigmentation can last weeks, months, or even years.

The easiest way to tell if you have an acne scar? Close your eyes, and run your fingers over the acne-affected area. If you feel changes in texture, then it is most likely acne scars.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of acne scars, know that while they can be incredibly stubborn to treat, you can do so with the right combination of time, effort, and products and treatments.

There are several promising options available for treating acne scars, from professional treatments to at-home hacks.

One of the most promising and effective ways to heal acne scars is through red light therapy.

A Brief Introduction to Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy (RLT), also known as photobiomodulation (PMB) and low-level light therapy (LLLT), is an innovative biohacking technique that uses red and near-infrared light to supercharge your cells and, as a result, boost overall health and wellness.

The term “red light” includes wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light. It is the most popular and most widely studied form of light treatment, due to its broad range of effects. The main difference between them is that NIR wavelengths are longer and penetrate much deeper into the skin than red light.

When red and NIR light is absorbed into the skin, it affects the body’s cellular health, improving an individual’s health and longevity from the cellular level.

How Red Light Therapy Works

Red light therapy involves shining red and/or NIR light onto the body to stimulate biological processes. When the body is exposed to red light, the light wavelengths stimulate the mitochondria to produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule that produces the energy our body needs to function so that it can heal tissue, cells, and systems.

More than 4000 studies and scientific reviews have been conducted to investigate the physiological effects of red light therapy. The main areas of therapeutic benefit include:

  • collagen production
  • repair and recovery of muscles, and
  • relief from symptoms of illnesses that stem from some type of inflammatory response.

In a nutshell, the power of red light therapy lies primarily in its ability to increase cellular energy.

Why do Acne Scars Happen?

Why do some people have acne scars, but not others?

There are different reasons for this. Genetics is one risk factor for scarring among many others. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if a blood-related experience acne scars, you could as well (AAD).[1] In addition, as the skin ages and loses collagen, scarring tends to occur more frequently.[2]

Your skin creates new collagen as it heals after a breakout because collagen aids in the healing process. However, occasionally it produces either too little or too much, leaving a scar.

It is important to note that acne is an inflammatory condition. According to ADD, delaying acne treatment raises the risk of scarring, since scar development has a lot to do with the extent and duration of skin inflammation.

Scarring, whether temporary or permanent, is a complication of acne that can affect anyone who gets a breakout. However, inflammatory acne sufferers are more likely to experience scarring, because their condition is characterized by a high number of pimples and cysts.[3]

How Can Red Light Therapy Help Heal Acne Scars?

Increased Collagen Production

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is present in all tissues, binding them together and providing structure and elasticity. It has a significant role in each of the several stages of wound healing. For instance, collagen attracts keratinocytes and fibroblasts to the wound site, both of which are essential for the debridement and repair of damaged tissues (the latter is done using collagen produced by fibroblasts, in a symbiotic twist).

Several studies have confirmed that red light therapy can increase collagen production, which results in both faster healing of wounds[4] and scar prevention[5].

The way red light could help prevent scarring is by stimulating normal fibroblast growth and normal collagen synthesis and organization.

Formation of New Blood Vessels

Several studies have found that red light therapy can trigger angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels. The angiogenic response is essential for wound healing because it enables immune cells, oxygen, and nutrients to enter the wound site while simultaneously clearing away debris. As a result, it allows granulation tissue to form (this is the pink, bumpy tissue that characterizes a healing wound. It consists of blood vessels, cytokines, macrophages, and fibroblasts, among other things.)

Increased Circulation

Another way to accelerate the healing process is to increase circulation to the damaged skin. The way red light therapy can help with this is through releasing nitric oxide, which is the body’s natural vasodilator.

Red light therapy also 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.

Increasing blood flow through new blood vessels brings oxygen and nutrients to the site of the wound, which makes it easier for the wound to heal.

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.[6]

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 inflammation is a necessary part of wound healing—its role is to stop bleeding as well as to neutralize and destroy toxic agents that may cause infection. This is only the first phase of wound healing. Over time, however, inflammation gives way to the regeneration phase. Research shows that red light therapy can speed up this process by triggering a change in the macrophages at the wound site.

Increased Elastin Production

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.[7]

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 raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. They are essential 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 produced from fully developed tissues such as the skin. These types will take on the characteristics of their neighboring cells and later 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 cells, which have a different genetic makeup from scar cells.

A 2013 article mentioned that low-power light therapy can activate stem cells to increase tissue repair and healing.[8]

Studies on Red Light Therapy for Scars

In 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

The Key to Preventing Acne Scars

The most crucial thing to preventing acne scars, and scars in general, is quick action.

When it comes to scar formation, you should treat wounds as soon as possible, after an injury or operation to prevent scarring.

Red light therapy should be applied to a wound as soon as possible to help minimize the appearance of scars and encourage the growth of new healthy skin.

That said, prevention is better than cure, as it is in many other areas of health. So start with controlling and treating the acne first. Otherwise, you may just be chasing more scars.

Sample Application: How to Use RLT for Acne Scars

Summary:

Red light therapy is a natural, safe, and non-invasive way to support the healing process for all sorts of skin wounds, including acne scars, but also burns, surgical incisions, and cuts and scrapes.

Red light treatments stimulate the growth of healthy skin cells that are highly efficient and will eventually replace abnormal cells found in scars. In addition to your scars gradually becoming less noticeable over time, you will likely experience other systematic benefits as well, due to the increased cellular energy in your body.

If you’re struggling with acne scars, consider giving red light therapy a try. Check out our high-quality at-home red light devices here.

Sources

[1] https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/derm-treat/scars/causes

[2] https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/derm-treat/scars

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acne/complications/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7950139/

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33788987/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/#!po=61.1111

[7] https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622%2819%2933160-3/fulltext

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/#!po=61.1111

[9] https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-019-3546-6

[10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14764170902777349

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439741/

[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25485805/

Disclaimer:
This blog is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, illness or health issue.