While red light therapy is known for treating a large (and growing) number of issues, its very discovery can be attributed to its wound-healing properties. While Hungarian scientist Endre Mester failed in his attempt to cure malignant tumors in rats with a low-powered laser, he noticed that the rats’ surgical incisions were healing faster. Later, while using red LED lights to boost plant growth (a more successful endeavor than Mester’s), researchers at NASA also remarked that their own skin lesions were healing faster after exposure to the light. Thus, a new field of therapeutic treatment was launched (space pun intended).
From a Rouge customer: So far the device seems to work as advertised. It’s easy to use (I just set it on my counter, plugged it in and sat in front of it for ten minutes at a time) and seems to be helping in healing my skin.
There are loads of research articles exploring red light therapy’s ability to heal wounds and reduce the appearance of scars spanning the last few decades. While the mechanisms behind red light therapy are not always entirely clear, there has been some headway in that regard in recent years, particularly relating to tissue regeneration and healing. Here’s an overview of these mechanisms.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work to Heal Wounds and Scars?
The power of red light therapy lies primary in its ability to increase cellular energy. In a nutshell, when light at wavelengths in the red and near-infrared range reach the cell, it triggers a biochemical reaction within the mitochondria, enabling them to use oxygen more efficiently to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the vehicle that transports energy throughout the body, allowing it to fulfill its thousands of functions. This increased cellular energy benefits the body in innumerable ways, including improved skin regeneration. Here are some of the related mechanisms that researchers have found to play a role in red light therapy treatment for wounds and 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. Wound healing consists of many phases and collagen plays an important part in each of these phases. For instance, it attracts fibroblasts and keratinocytes to the wound site, both of which are key players in both debridement and rebuilding of the damaged tissues (the latter is done using collagen produced by fibroblasts, in a symbiotic twist).
Formation of new blood vessels
Red light therapy has also been shown to trigger angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels. The angiogenic response is crucial to wound healing as it allows immune cells, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the site while simultaneously removing debris. It also 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.)
Another effect of red light therapy is the release of nitric oxide, the body’s natural vasodilator. Much like angiogenesis, improved blood flow allows for easier access to the wound site for elements necessary for healing, as well as the removal of waste, pathogens, and debris.
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, however; over time, 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.
Macrophages are specialized cells generally responsible for detecting, engulfing and destroying pathogens and toxic agents. There are two phenotypes, M1 and M2. M1 has the added job of triggering an inflammatory response, while M2 macrophages produce a healing and repair response. Red light therapy has been shown to change macrophage phenotypes from M1 to M2, thereby reducing inflammation and speeding up the repair process.
Reorganization of scar tissue
While there are several studies documenting red light therapy’s effectiveness at reducing the appearance of scars, the exact mechanisms behind this are still a little murky. Some researchers suggest that it may have something to do with the way new tissue forms post-trauma. In order to prevent infection and further injury, the body must work fast to protect and heal wounds. This means new tissue is thrown together in a bit of a slapdash manner, as opposed to the neat lattice of collagen found in normal tissue. And the reason scars tend to remain is that when new scars are formed, new fibroblasts are formed as well, which reproduce the same scar tissue. There is some evidence to suggest that red light therapy may modulate the processes that lead to this abnormal tissue formation, allowing healthy collagen patterns to reform.
Who Can Benefit from Red Light Therapy for Wound and Scar Healing?
Red light therapy treatment for healing wounds and scars has many applications that stand to benefit a wide range of people. Those with pronounced scars that cause them psychological distress (check out this article on red light therapy for stretch marks); diabetics, whose wounds are notoriously slow to heal; postoperative patients; or people who simply want their skinned knee or sliced hand to heal faster.
There could also be a societal impact, as well: when used post-traumatic injury or post-surgery, red light therapy could potentially reduce the total time each patient spends in hospital, as well as the number of follow-ups for changing dressing or checking for infection. Add to that the mountain of evidence demonstrating red light therapy’s effectiveness in reducing pain, and you’ve got a tremendously powerful tool that may help ease some of the burden on the healthcare system.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
One of the primary reasons so much research is being dedicated to red light therapy as a potential treatment for a large number of issues is that it’s 100% safe to use. Not only are there no known risks associated with the treatment, even with daily use, there are no major side effects, either (some people may experience some mild, temporary redness and tightness, which is not at all harmful).
Another advantage of red light therapy is that it has innumerable uses, so once your wounds have healed or your scars have improved, you can keep using your device to improve your health and appearance in myriad other ways. Want to know how red light therapy might benefit you? Check out our blog!
Ready to use your body’s own energy potential to promote faster, healthier skin regeneration? Shop the Rouge family of red light therapy devices today, and give your healing skin the care it deserves!