Tiger stripes, angel scratches, red lightning: these are some of the many names given to stretch marks to help normalize them and make them a point of pride rather than shame. After all, they’re a symbol of growth and, in some cases, new life. Despite our best efforts, however, stretch marks continue to cause emotional distress and body confidence issues for all genders.
Luckily, red light therapy shows incredible promise with regards to its effectiveness in both treating existing stretch marks and preventing new ones. But how does it work? And, while we’re at it, what even are stretch marks? Read on for a thorough overview of the benefits of red light therapy for stretch marks, and whether at-home red light therapy treatment is the best course of action for you.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, also called striae or striae distensae, are a form of scarring resulting from skin being stretched too quickly, causing the dermis to tear. These lesions usually start off red or purple in color, slightly raised, and sometimes itchy. While they never fully go away, over time they tend to lose pigmentation, settling into a silvery hue, and become indented. The most common causes of stretch marks are:
- Growth spurts during puberty;
- Rapid weight gain;
- Rapid muscle gain from weight training;
Let’s rewind a bit with a short biology refresher. The dermis is the layer of skin between the epidermis and subcutaneous skin tissues. It’s the thickest layer of the skin, and is mainly made up of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is a network of proteins, enzymes, and other non-cellular matter that is present in all tissues and organs, and is the main component in connective tissue. It is essentially a type of scaffolding, providing structure and support to our various tissues.
The dermis is also made up of three types of cells: mast cells, macrophages, and fibroblasts. Mast cells are your skin’s defense system against allergens and hypersensitivity, providing a rapid anti-inflammatory response. Macrophages help your immune system fight against potentially harmful pathogens by detecting, engulfing and destroying germs and even your body’s own infected cells.
Fibroblasts are the main cell responsible for synthesizing the extracellular matrix (ECM) as well as collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein in the ECM. It’s actually the body’s most abundant protein, making up 30-40% of all protein in the body. Collagen fibers form a dense network that is looser in some parts of the dermis and tighter in others. This allows the dermis to properly support nerves and blood vessels while still allowing flexibility.
How Are Stretch Marks Formed?
Stretch marks form when skin is stretched taut at such a rapid rate that the fibroblasts in your dermal cells are not able to sufficiently produce collagen to properly regenerate the skin in time, causing tears in the dermis. In a rush effort to prevent infection, your body repairs the perceived wound in a bit of a slapdash manner, resulting in the formation of scar tissue. Think of how you might respond if the wind tore a hole in your roof during a hurricane. Your goal would be to patch that hole as quickly as possible, without concern for aesthetics.
Unfortunately, once stretch marks make their appearance, they’re there to stay. Collagen in scar tissue is arranged in a different manner compared to regular tissue (that hurricane slapdash patchwork). When scar tissue is formed, new fibroblasts are also formed that reproduce the same scar tissue. Thus, as your skin regenerates, so do stretch marks.
This means that prevention is key when it comes to striae. However, because of the rapidly-developing nature of stretch marks, prevention is not always possible. The good news is that, as mentioned above, they tend to lose pigmentation naturally over time. Plus, there are continual new developments in dermatology that can help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Some of the more common treatments include:
- Retinol-based lotions and oils. Retinol is known to stimulate collagen production.
- Home remedies including olive oil, almond oil, shea butter, frankincense and vitamin E. Many of these treatments have been used by pregnant women around the world since ancient times, and their popularity persists despite a lack of scientific evidence as to their effectiveness.
- Dry brushing and body scrubs. While they don’t directly affect stretch marks, sloughing off dead skin can help with absorption of striae-fighting creams and oils.
- Tanning lotions. Contrary to actual tanning, which can accentuate stretch marks, self-tanners can sometimes help camouflage striae.
- Microneedling. Tiny needles are rolled onto the skin surface, puncturing the skin and triggering your body’s wound-healing response, including collagen and elastin production.
- Ultrasound therapy. Imperceptible sound waves produce vibrations that may cause blood vessels to dilate, improving circulation and bringing more oxygen and nutrients to cells.
- Plastic surgery. Some people with stretch marks as a result of weight gain or pregnancy will opt for surgery to remove excess skin and fat, along with any stretch marks that may be on the excised areas.
Unfortunately, there are significant drawbacks to each of these methods. Some, like the home remedies listed above, appear to be ineffective. Others, like microneedling and retinol creams, appear to have potential, but often at exorbitant cost. For instance, some topical creams can cost upwards of $100 for a few ounces, and it can take months of daily application before seeing results. And ultrasound treatments can cost thousands per session. Finally, invasive surgical procedures such as tummy tucks are quite drastic and, like any surgery, carry a significant amount of risk.
The good news is that red light therapy offers a safe, non-invasive treatment option that is scientifically proven to be effective in both preventing and reducing the appearance of scars and skin lesions, including stretch marks. And the best part? It’s now available at a fraction of the cost of many alternative treatments. But before we get into affordability, let’s delve into how red light therapy works, and how it can help treat stretch marks.
From a Rouge customer: I’m so happy about this light! I have been using it for a few weeks and have noticed a difference in the appearance of stretch marks.
Red Light Therapy fr Stretch Marks: How Does It Work?
Red light therapy, also called low-level light therapy or photobiomodulation, is a safe and painless treatment with a wide - and continually growing! - range of benefits involving just about every aspect of the human body. For further reading on the far-reaching positive effects of red-light therapy, check out this guide.
What Exactly Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a type of treatment through which LED lights emitting concentrated red and near-infrared wavelengths are applied to the skin at close range. These wavelengths penetrate deeper into the skin than any other wavelength on the light spectrum, all the way to the mitochondria of the cell.
The mitochondrion, as you might recall from science class, is the powerhouse of the cell. It’s where energy is synthesized in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and sent off to power your body’s myriad functions. Red light therapy works by creating a biochemical reaction that allows mitochondria to use oxygen more efficiently to synthesize ATP. This results in more efficient functioning of the cell and, by extension, a more optimal functioning of your various organs, including the largest organ in the human body: the skin.
Treating Stretch Marks With Red Light Therapy
Numerous studies in recent years have shown red light therapy to be effective in stimulating skin regeneration and repair, and for treating fibrosis (scarring). There are a few processes by which irradiation with concentrated beams of red and NIR light can significantly prevent the formation of stretch marks, as well as reduce the appearance of those already present. Let’s take a look at some of those processes.
Red light therapy increases cellular energy
To paint a picture of what’s happening at the cellular level, think of your own ability to function as a whole when your energy levels are low, be it through lack of sleep, improper nutrition, or sickness, for example. Performing even the most simple tasks can be a struggle. Cellular functioning is essentially the same but on a microscopic level. When cells are running at an energy deficit it becomes difficult for them to perform their duties. Thus, when fibroblasts are functioning suboptimally, they produce insufficient amounts of collagen, enabling the dermis to more easily tear under duress, and consequently allowing stretch marks to form. As for existing stretch marks, insufficient collagen production can inhibit skin rejuvenation, impairing the healing process that might reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Red light therapy stimulates collagen production
One group of researchers in 2007 performed a randomized, double-blind study on the effectiveness of photobiomodulation on skin rejuvenation. They found a significant increase in not only the activation of fibroblasts, but also in the amount of collagen and elastin fibers surrounding them. A subsequent 2014 study showed similar findings. Both studies concluded that red light therapy is an effective approach for skin rejuvenation.
Red light therapy increases blood flow
Increased circulation benefits the cell and the skin in many ways. First, it allows for more oxygen to reach the cell to be used for ATP synthesis. It’s also important for the transportation of nutrients, without which collagen production would be inhibited. Proper blood flow also allows for the evacuation of cellular waste that could otherwise interfere with collagen production. In sum, increased blood flow results in better functioning of the body’s healing mechanisms, which can positively affect the formation and appearance of stretch marks.
Red light therapy reduces inflammation
New wounds are often red, itchy, and sensitive to the touch, and stretch marks are no exception. In fact, they’re often anthropomorphized as being ‘angry’, which is not necessarily a look people strive for. This perfectly normal reaction is simply inflammation, which is your body’s immune system responding to injury by dilating the surrounding blood vessels and sending in an army of white blood cells to stave off infection and repair the wound.
This inflammation can persist even after wounds have been repaired, however, which is often the case with stretch marks. While they generally fade to a less noticeable color over time, it can be a slow process.
Red light therapy has been found to effectively reduce inflammation by speeding up the healing process, through increased ATP production and improved blood flow. This boost in your body’s healing mechanisms can significantly reduce the time needed for newer stretch marks to naturally fade and blend in with surrounding tissue.
Why At-Home Red Light Therapy Treatment for Stretch Marks Is a Game Changer
What better way to treat so-called red lighting than with red light? Fight fire with fire, as they say.
As we’ve discussed, there are a few treatments for stretch marks on the market. However, they can be ineffective, costly, or, as many are unlucky enough to find out, a combination of both. Red light therapy is widely recognized in the scientific community as being effective for the treatment of a wide range of skin issues, and is a key player in skin rejuvenation and wound healing. So why opt for a personal red light therapy device for the treatment of stretch marks? Let’s take a look.
Red light therapy is 100% safe
While surgery is generally the most effective strategy for eliminating stretch marks (as would be any method that involves the removal of the offensive skin altogether), such invasive procedures can be risky, and can have lengthy recovery times.
Red light therapy, on the other hand, is not only non-invasive (meaning the skin barrier is never breached), there are no known risks or side effects, and it is safe to use every single day. In fact, for best results it’s recommended to apply red light therapy daily, as benefits can only emerge through frequent and repeated use.
Red Light Therapy Is Not Just For Stretch Marks and Skin Issues
The beauty of red light therapy is that, because of the way it enhances cellular functioning in a general sense, it can be applied to treat an incredibly wide range of issues, including:
- Muscle growth, performance, and recovery;
- Weight loss;
- Hair growth;
- Cognitive health;
- Immune health;
- Hormones and sex drive;
- Pain and inflammation;
- Mental health and depression;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Eye health;
- Oral and dental health.
Again, you can read about many of red light therapy’s various benefits here.
And don’t be surprised if you start seeing unexpected benefits. Many users have reported experiencing positive changes in areas they didn’t even know needed improvement. From brighter skin and healthier hair, to a sense of clearheadedness and increased energy, to better sleep: these are just a few of the happy surprises people have encountered with prolonged red light therapy treatment.
Personal red light therapy devices are affordable and offer huge ROI
Until recently, red light therapy was mainly only available in a clinical setting, and treatment using these bulky industrial machines could cost up to $100 per session. For a health regimen that requires consistent, almost daily use to see significant results, this price tag is simply unrealistic for anyone that’s not extremely wealthy.
In spite of this, many spas and clinics advertise red light therapy as either an occasional treatment, or as a series of frequent sessions with an end date. While some issues such as wound healing or sports injuries can be resolved after a few weeks of treatment, the reality is that red light therapy is more of a way of life. A growing number of biohackers, professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and lifestyle influencers are incorporating red light therapy into their daily routines, with extraordinary results.
But you don’t have to be any of those things to reap the remarkable benefits of red light therapy. The treatment is more accessible than ever, with a slew of personal red light therapy devices now on the market at affordable prices.
Rouge Red Light Therapy Panels Are More Powerful and Effective Than the Competition
The market for red light therapy devices is growing, and it can be difficult to wade through all the info and specs necessary to make the best choice for your money. So we did the work for you! We recently sent our second largest panel, the Rouge Pro, for third-party testing to see how it stacks up. The Pro outperforms both the Joovv Solo and the MitoMax in terms of energy output, power, strength and number of LEDs, and beam angle (a narrower angle delivers a higher concentration of light). Check out the results in detail here.
Rouge’s family of red light therapy panels are available in several sizes and price points, and are designed with user experience, convenience, and results in mind. Choose the one that’s right for you, and shine a light on better skin today!
Disclaimer: The information published by Rouge Red Light Therapy is intended to be educational, and is not to be taken as medical advice. We take great care in ensuring the information provided is accurate and sourced from trusted scientific journals and peer-reviewed clinical studies.
Our red light therapy devices are registered with the FDA as class-II medical devices indicated for the relief of muscle spasms, minor muscle and joint aches, as well as pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. However, the use of our devices or the application of any information obtained on this site is at your own risk, and we encourage you to consult your physician or medical professional before beginning red light therapy treatment.