How Light Therapy Helps Heal Burns, Wounds, and Scars

What Is Light Therapy?

Light therapy (also called phototherapy, photobiomodulation, and red light therapy) is a quick, easy, and noninvasive way to treat the body with specific wavelengths of light.

Light therapy has been shown in clinical research to help improve healing outcomes for people with wounds, cuts, burns, and surgical incisions. You can learn more about light therapy in general on this page, and read about light therapy for skin and skin conditions on this page.

Below, we’ll get into more details about the science and research behind light therapy for healing wounds, scars, cuts, incisions, and burns.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work for Wounds and Burns?

Light therapy products deliver wavelengths of light directly to a person’s skin and cells with LEDs. For burn and wound healing, specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light have proven to be the most effective. These wavelengths have been shown to improve cellular efficiency by reducing oxidative stress and stimulating energy production.

Red and NIR light therapy have also shown great results for inflammation reduction, which is crucial for healing wounds and burns. After an injury to the skin, inflammation and swelling build up, create pain, and limit function. Light therapy can help manage and reduce excess inflammation and improve the healing process for injuries and skin conditions.

Clinical studies on light therapy and wound healing have shown that cells exposed to specific wavelengths of red and NIR light produce new blood vessels and tissues at higher rates, leading to better healing outcomes and less pain. [1,2]

Light Therapy for Wound Healing

Wavelengths of red light have been shown to assist in the healing of wounds, cuts, and other skin injuries. A 2018 review assessed numerous controlled trials on red light and wound healing. Researchers determined that light therapy with red wavelengths significantly increased tensile strength and wound contraction, leading to faster, more effective wound healing results across the body. [3]

This comprehensive review also concluded that light therapy with red wavelengths is a safe, effective way to treat both open and sutured incisions from surgeries and operations. [3] These results are very promising for patients and physicians hoping to improve the surgical recovery process and limit pain and inflammation.

Recovering from Surgery Wounds and Incisions with Light Therapy

Light therapy with red wavelengths can improve the post-surgical recovery process. Numerous trials have shown that patients can heal faster after surgery and experience less pain when using light treatments.

A double-blind study followed 90 patients after sternum surgery and analyzed their individual recoveries and pain levels with and without light treatments. After following patients and recording their pain levels and healing progress, the researchers published data showing major post-surgery improvements with light treatments:

  • Significantly less pain: Patients who received light treatments recorded far lower post-surgery pain levels than those who did not receive light therapy. [4]
  • Less bleeding and fewer ruptures: Patients receiving red light therapy saw significantly fewer complications from surgery, such as excess bleeding and ruptures. [4]

Light therapy with red wavelengths can also improve healing after plastic surgery. In 2015, researchers performed a systematic review of 40 studies (28 animal studies and 12 human trials) on healing from plastic surgery. The data shows that red light treatments significantly improved the healing of acute plastic surgery wounds and incisions across the trials, with few side effects. [5]

Healing Scars and Reducing Scarring with Light Therapy

When wounds and cuts heal, they often leave scars that can change a person’s appearance. A number of clinical studies have shown that light treatments with red wavelengths can help heal scar tissue and even diminish the appearance of scars over time.

One peer-reviewed study of burn scars found that patients treated with wavelengths of red light showed twice as much decrease in visible scarring as people who didn’t receive light therapy. None of the patients reported negative effects from the light treatments. [6]

Another peer-reviewed study looked at hypertrophic (raised) scars on children. The researchers treated one half of each scar with light therapy (in addition to the usual topical treatment) for three months. They then compared this to the other half of the scar, which was treated solely with the topical treatment. They found that the areas treated with light showed significant improvement over the areas treated topically and concluded that light treatments are safe and effective for raised scars. [7]

Treating and Healing Burns with Light Therapy

Light treatments with red wavelengths are also showing early positive results in trials and studies on burns and burn healing. In 2016, researchers conducted the first human trial on red light treatments and third-degree burns. In the study, light therapy was combined with split-thickness skin grafting (the standard for third-degree burn treatment). [8]

Participants in the trial had diabetes, which makes burn recovery slower and more challenging due to problems with blood flow. For patients with third-degree burns and diabetes, skin grafting usually has a lower success rate, and amputations are more likely. [8]

Doctors used red and NIR light treatments before and after skin grafts, which helped every patient in the study recover from their serious burns. The researchers concluded, “The results of this study showed complete healing in the last 8 weeks for all patients who were candidates for amputation.” [8]

Many laboratory and animal studies have also indicated that light treatments with red wavelengths may help improve the healing process after burns and burn scarring. Peer-reviewed studies in 2016 found that red light accelerated the repair of burn wounds by reducing inflammation and increasing tissue formation. [1] A 2018 study also showed that red light aided the development of new blood vessels and stimulated the increase of fibroblasts (cells that aid in tissue repair). [2]

Light treatments help improve burn healing in part because they help reduce the inflammation associated with burn wounds. Almost every lab study on red light therapy and burn healing has shown a significant decrease in inflammation levels versus placebo and control groups. [1,2,9,10,11]

Conclusion: Red Light Therapy Can Improve Wound Healing and Burn Healing

Light therapy with red wavelengths can significantly improve the healing of wounds, cuts, and burns. In numerous clinical studies, red light therapy has proven to be a safe and effective treatment for wound healing and burn healing. Patients using LED light therapy for wound and burn healing have experienced significantly less pain and improved recovery outcomes.

Sources and References:

[1] Silveira PC, Ferreira KB, et al. Effect of Low-Power Laser (LPL) and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) on Inflammatory Response in Burn Wound Healing. Inflammation. 2016 Aug.

[2] da Silva Melo, Alves LP, et al. LED phototherapy in full-thickness burns induced by CO2 laser in rats skin. Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Sep.

[3] Gál P, Stausholm MB, et al. Should open excisions and sutured incisions be treated differently? A review and meta-analysis of animal wound models following low-level laser therapy. Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Aug.

[4] de Oliveira RA, Fernandes GA, et al. The effects of LED emissions on sternotomy incision repair after myocardial revascularization: a randomized double-blind study with follow-up. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 May.

[5] Güngörmüş M, Akyol U. The effect of gallium-aluminum-arsenide 808-nm low-level laser therapy on healing of skin incisions made using a diode laser. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2009 Dec.

[6] Gaida K, Koller R, et al. Low Level Laser Therapy–a conservative approach to the burn scar? Burns : journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries. 2004 June.

[7] Alsharnoubi J, Shoukry K, et al. Evaluation of scars in children after treatment with low-level laser. Lasers in Medical Science.

[8] Dahmardehei M, Kazemikhoo N, et al. Effects of low level laser therapy on the prognosis of split-thickness skin graft in type 3 burn of diabetic patients: a case series. Lasers in Medical Science. 2016 Apr.

[9] Fiório FB, Albertini R, et al. Effect of low-level laser therapy on types I and III collagen and inflammatory cells in rats with induced third-degree burns. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 Jan.

[10] Fiório FB, Silveira L Jr. Effect of incoherent LED radiation on third-degree burning wounds in rats. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. 2011 Dec.

[11] Rezaei Kanavi M, Tabeie F, et al. Short-term effects of extremely low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic field and pulsed low-level laser therapy on rabbit model of corneal alkali burn. Experimental Eye Research. 2016 Apr.

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