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Red Light Therapy for Stretch Marks: How It Works

Posted March 27, 2024

Medically Reviewed by | Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, PCCN

Whether you earned them through pregnancy, weight loss, weight gain, or the simple process of growing into adolescence, your stretch marks serve as a permanent tattoo you neither asked for nor enjoy seeing. Over the years, they’ve faded some, but they’re still visible, and you’d like for them to be less visible.

Although laser skin therapies and cosmetic surgery can address stretch marks and scarring-related issues, there are alternatives to invasive procedures unless you simply want to. Red light therapy is safe, effective, research-backed, and a completely non-invasive way to address stretch marks and see visible results. 

We’ll talk about how the skin works, what causes stretch marks to form, and how red light therapy can help reduce their appearance and improve the look of the skin. Needles and scalpels need not apply.

How Does the Skin Work?

The skin’s main function is to protect the body from external threats, including viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Our skin is made up of several layers, and over time those layers begin to show signs of aging in a real way. 

There are several factors that contribute to how skin changes over time and with age. 

Collagen and Elastin

The extracellular matrix makes up the skin’s dermis, which lies directly beneath the epidermis (or the skin barrier) and just above the subcutaneous tissue in our bodies. This matrix is made up of fibroblasts macrophages, mast cells, proteins, enzymes, and connective tissues. 

Two proteins that give the extracellular matrix (and, therefore, the skin) its structure are collagen and elastin. These two proteins are plentiful in the body, and they’re also what makes our skin strong and resilient. 

With time, both proteins are produced in smaller quantities. Collagen production, for example, begins to drop off at a rate of 1% per year by the time we reach age 20, leaving our skin thinner and allowing for the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Just like collagen, elastin also begins to decline. The combination of both means our skin loses tightness, firmness, and youthfulness.

Skin Cell Turnover

While our collagen and elastin stores are declining, our skin is also renewing itself more slowly. Skin renews rapidly when we are young, which is why a child who has a scar may quite literally see it fade “before they get married,” as the old saying goes. However, as we age, the ability of the skin to rejuvenate itself slows. Instead of new skin being made rapidly, it takes weeks. 

This means dead skin cells can remain on the surface of the skin longer, clogging pores or causing a dull skin tone. It also means that scars, stretch marks, and dark spots aren’t replaced with new, undamaged skin as quickly.

Environmental Stress

The internal changes take a toll on the way the skin behaves, but external factors also cause the skin to lose some of its functionality and experience damage. The phenomenon of oxidative stress causes damage to skin cells that can then be replicated to new cells when they proliferate. 

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals are produced in response to an external stressor. Examples of these stressors include:

  • Ultraviolet rays
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Smog and dust
  • Pollution
  • Household and commercial cleaning products

Some oxidative stress happens naturally inside skin cells as a byproduct of cellular respiration or the process the cells use to create energy. Combined with external aggressors, oxidative stress can wreak havoc on your skin cells and rob them of proper function, which can mean that it takes even longer for scars to fade and wounds to heal. 

Understanding Stretch Marks

Stretch marks, also called striae or striae distensae, are a type of skin scarring. They usually look like vertical lines or streaks on the skin. They can appear anywhere on the body but are especially common on the stomach, glutes, upper arms, chest, and hips. 

Most people get stretch marks due to rapid weight gain. This can come as the result of:

  • Pregnancy 
  • Weight gain that happens rapidly 
  • Normal growth and development during adolescence and puberty
  • A rapid increase in muscle mass

You may not notice stretch marks right away, but they do tend to develop quickly. Underneath the scar is the science of how these form from a scientific standpoint. 


So what’s really going on inside the skin that is causing the stretch mark to appear? Let’s go back to the extracellular matrix. Inside, there are fibroblasts, macrophages, and mast cells. Both macrophages and mast cells are immune cells that play a role in keeping our bodies safe from pathogens. 

Fibroblasts, however, are the cells that are responsible for the creation of collagen. When rapid weight gain occurs, tears occur in the extracellular matrix. No matter what the underlying cause of the weight gain may be, the fibroblasts simply cannot create enough collagen to immediately repair the skin damage. As such, the skin repairs itself with scar tissue, which can be produced faster and keeps the body from experiencing infection from an open wound. The result? 

A bright, silverish-purple stretch mark. 

What Do Stretch Marks Look Like?

Most stretch marks will appear as lines with jagged edges (like a lightning bolt) on the skin. Usually, these lines are vertical and appear on areas of skin where it has stretched the most. If you get stretch marks during pregnancy, you might see them surrounding your belly button. 

Over time, stretch marks may change. They may turn different colors or develop different patterns. 

Can Stretch Marks be Faded?

Most stretch marks will fade with time, but the later in your life they appear, the longer they will take to fade, simply because your skin function has already begun to decline. Additionally, when the fibroblasts in the skin do create new collagen, the collagen in the scar itself may not be arranged in the same way it’s arranged in healthy skin. Collagen bundles are usually tightly packed in the skin, but in scars and stretch marks, they appear to be somewhat separated into individual fibrils. 

Getting rid of them might sound like a stretch (pun intended), but there’s hope. A therapy developed by NASA can help restore and rejuvenate the skin, addressing a myriad of skin conditions, including stretch marks. 

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Photobiomodulation, or “light therapy,” has been used for thousands of years. In the 1980s, NASA scientists began studying the use of red light and near-infrared (NIR) light for the purposes of helping heal astronauts’ wounds while they were in space. The research produced phenomenal results and was eventually used by the military to help speed up skin and musculoskeletal wound healing in combat. 

Red light has a wavelength of 620 nm to 700 nm and can directly impact layers of the skin, while NIR light has a wavelength of 800 nm to 900 nm and can penetrate more deeply, reaching soft and hard tissue like muscle and bone. These wavelengths interact with the skin and body to produce wound healing that is 40-50% faster.

These therapies have been used in the medical field for decades, and now we have even more access to them as research has continued, and we know that this complete safe therapy has even more benefits, including helping with skin scarring and stretch marks.

How It Works

Red light directly impacts our cells’ function. Over time, our cells lose some of their function because their mitochondria produce less adenosine triphosphate, or “ATP.” ATP is the energy molecule cells need to carry out cellular processes. The process of creating cellular energy is complicated, but red light helps support the process. 

Specifically, red light wavelengths are absorbed by a molecule that helps mitochondria produce more ATP more efficiently. By stimulating and supporting mitochondria, red light helps cells improve function and work properly. 

How Does This Help for Stretch Marks?

Improved cellular energy helps skin recover from stretch marks in a few ways. By increasing the amount of cellular energy your skin cells have, you actively improve the fibroblasts’ ability to produce enough collagen to keep up with the repair and restoration needs of the skin. 

Second, red light therapy directly impacts fibroblasts and helps support collagen production, which helps support healthy, renewed skin. While it’s increasing collagen production, it’s also revving up skin cell turnover, so old, damaged skin cells are replaced with new, healthy cells faster. This can dramatically change the time it takes for stretch marks to fade. 

Lastly, red light helps reduce irritation associated with fresh injuries or new stretch marks. The moment you notice a new stretch mark, using red light therapy is a good solution for helping calm the skin in this area and can kick-start the recovery process. 

How To Use Red Light Therapy for Stretch Marks

Red light therapy is completely safe and doesn’t have any known side effects. If you are sensitive to light, you may want to be careful with some wearable devices simply because the fabric (not the lights themselves) may cause irritation. 

If your eyes are sensitive to light, pop on some protective glasses before you use red light therapy. 

You can schedule a red light therapy session at a medspa or even at a gym, but keep in mind that results take time. You’ll likely need 20+ sessions to deal with stretch marks, and you’ll get continued skin benefits with continued use. As such, investing in an at-home red light therapy device may be the best option. 

In addition to being able to treat your stretch marks, you’ll also be able to use your device to address other concerns and areas of your body. 

How Long Should I Use Red Light Therapy?

You can use red light therapy for 20 minutes daily, and it’s helpful to keep in mind that there’s no evidence that additional exposure will net you any more benefits. While going for longer than 20 minutes hasn’t been shown to be harmful, it also won’t benefit you any further.

When it’s time to invest in your at-home device, Mito Red Light is your go-to resource. 

Why Mito Red Light

Sure, you could pay for countless visits to a medspa, but you could also get the results you want in the comfort and convenience of your own home. Mito Red Light devices are professional, FDA-cleared, and research-backed to deliver the benefits you want so you can reach your personal health and wellness goals. 

Our Lights

From panels to wearable, flexible devices and even full-body commercial panels, our red light devices contain more diodes per square inch than competitors, so you’ll never experience dead space or a polka-dot effect. 

Our Testing

We third-party test our devices to ensure they are producing the wavelengths of red and NIR light we say they are producing and are within the therapeutic window of treatment. 

Advanced Technology

Our devices are specially formatted with Enhanced Spectral Energy Output™, a technology that delivers energy across all spectrums of red and NIR light. Our MitoPRO series offers multi-wavelengths that give you access to even more spectrums of red and NIR light and contains an even split of the four peak action spectra LEDs for even coverage. That’s a high-tech way of saying our lights are high-impact and created to deliver the largest amount of results possible. 

Stretch Your Results

Those stretch marks are bothering you, so go ahead and do something about them. Red light therapy gives you the option to help reduce their appearance easily and non-invasively at home. Mito Red Light gives you access to the panels and products you need to get real results.

DISCLAIMERMito Red Light devices are not clinically proven to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. Mito Red Light devices are Class II general wellness devices aimed at affecting the body through topical heating and supporting cellular function. The scientific studies referenced in this article are for informational purposes only. To see a list of precautionary warnings and contraindications, click here.


Why does skin wrinkle with age? What is the best way to slow or prevent this process? | Scientific American

SEER Training: Layers of the Skin|

Stretch Marks - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

A Mission to Solve the Mystery of Stretch Marks|Michigan Medicine

Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring

A dose-ranging, parallel group, split-face, single-blind phase II study of light emitting diode-red light (LED-RL) for skin scarring prevention: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial - PMC

Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation - PMC

NASA Research Illuminates Medical Uses of Light|

Transcranial near-infrared light in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases|

A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase|NCBI



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