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Understanding Laser Treatment for Acne and Acne Sc...

Understanding Laser Treatment for Acne and Acne Scars

Discover which laser treatments control acne and reduce acne scars with this comprehensive guide.

Getting clear skin can be difficult, especially when you have acne-prone skin.

You might be considering laser treatments as your best bet in fighting active acne. But, the abundance of acne laser treatments in the market can make things quite confusing. After all, there seem to be different laser treatments for treating acne and for improving acne scars!

How exactly do you know which one to choose?

Luckily, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll talk about laser treatments for acne and acne scars, and how you can identify which treatment is perfect for you.

Laser Treatment for Acne

A laser device is used on a woman's face. (Photo from: Pexels)

A laser device is used on a woman’s face. (Photo from: Pexels)

To start, let’s discuss what lasers are, and how they can be utilized to get rid of acne.

A laser is a device that emits intense, monochromatic light. The light particles (photons) emitted are same in wavelength and direction. Because of this, lasers can be used to accurately target specific substances.

[bq] Lasers can be used to treat acne–from mild acne to severe cysts and nodules.[/bq]

This is because lasers can kill acne bacteria. Bacteria produce a compound called porphyrins, which laser light can excite. Excited porphyrins end up damaging the bacterial wall, effectively killing the bacteria. We know that Propionibacterium acnes is a major factor in the formation of acne. So, ridding the skin of this type of bacteria can help control breakouts.

Additionally, lasers can target the sebaceous glands to produce less sebum, eliminating another major factor in acne formation. Lasers also help with inflammation, thus reducing the appearance and severity of acne.

[note]Laser treatments for acne are tailor-fit to address a specific concern at a time. As such, different kinds of laser treatments exist for different skin concerns, like acne and acne scarring. Laser treatments also vary in the severity of acne you’re treating.[/note]

Although laser treatments seem promising, note that they should be a last resort for stubborn acne problems. It might be better to try topical treatments first, before deciding to go for a laser procedure.

After all, laser treatments are costly and require time. Most laser treatments need multiple sessions to yield results, and the price may be hefty for each session.

This may not be necessary, especially if your acne problem isn’t too severe. Proven treatment against acne, like tretinoin, may already address this problem. This saves you time and money demanded by laser treatments.

Aside from this, lasers also pose risks and side effects. For instance, people of color have a higher risk for complications with keloids and hyperpigmentation. Sticking with topical treatments minimizes the risk of getting such problems.

 

If you’ve decided to get laser treatment for acne, make sure to consult with a board-certified dermatologist first. Ask what laser treatment best suits you, the intensity required, and the risks and benefits of the procedure.

For an idea of what laser treatments are best for your acne concerns, here’s a short table to help you out:

If you have problems with: You can consider:
Whiteheads & blackheads Photopneumatic Therapy
Papules or Pustules Blue/Red Light Devices; Photopneumatic Therapy; Isolaz Treatment
Nodules or Cysts Photodynamic Therapy
Discolouration due to Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or Post-Inflammatory Erythema Non-Ablative Laser Resurfacing; Ablative Laser Resurfacing; Fractionated Laser Treatment
Acne scars Non-Ablative Laser Resurfacing; Ablative Laser Resurfacing; Fractionated Laser Treatment

Let’s discuss these procedures one by one:

Blue / red light devices

Blue and red light therapies are a form of LED Light Therapy, which differs from Laser Therapy. LEDs emit incoherent light, or light scattered in a broad range of wavelengths. Although light therapy is effective against acne, it cannot penetrate as deeply into the skin as lasers can.

Because of this, light therapy is best for mild to moderate acne. Blue light kills acne-causing bacteria, and reduces inflammation and redness. Red light addresses inflammation, heals damaged skin, and reduces the appearance of acne scars.

 

These therapies are best used together, as they work on different acne causes and symptoms.

Isolaz acne treatment

Isolaz is another treatment for mild to moderate acne. It uses vacuum, broadband light, and topical skincare products to suction dead skin cells, dirt, and oil from the pores. At the same time, it also kills acne-causing bacteria through broadband pulsed light. Once the pores are clear, topical skincare products are applied for maximum product penetration.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a photosensitizing agent that makes the skin more receptive to light. This is followed by light therapy for best results.

PDT works best for moderate to severe acne which doesn’t respond well to topical treatments. The treatment works by temporarily impairing the skin’s sebaceous glands. As a result, oil production is significantly reduced. Sebum thus becomes less likely to clog the pores, which controls breakouts.

 

PDT’s mechanism revolves around impairing the oil glands. In the long run, this may cause these glands to shrink permanently. This may lead to long-term effects such as premature aging. It’s best to discuss these possible side effects with your doctor before proceeding with the treatment.

Photopneumatic therapy

Photopneumatic therapy combines the use of intense pulse light (IPL) with a gentle vacuum. This treatment removes dead skin cells and excess oil that plug the pores, making it perfect for getting rid of blackheads and white heads.

Laser Treatment for Acne Scars

Acne causes inflammation and lesions on the skin, which the body tries to repair through its natural wound healing process. Acne scars result from the lack or excess of collagen production during this process. Excessive collagen production causes hypertrophic or raised scars, as well as keloids. Meanwhile, collagen scarcity causes atrophic scars, or dermal depressions on the skin.

Hypertrophic and keloidal scars are characterized by bumps and ridge-like areas on the site of injury to the skin. Hypertrophic scars appear as thick and wide ridges that cover the site of injury or acne. Keloidal scars, on the other hand, show as red-purple papules that can grow in size and spread beyond the site of injury.

 

These types of scars are more common on people ages 10 to 30. It also has higher prevalence in people of color.

 

Atrophic scars, meanwhile, are depressions on the skin that can be classified into three kinds: icepick, boxcar, and rolling scars.

  • Ice pick scars are characterized by thin, deep scars that seem like the skin was punctured by an ice pick.
  • Boxcar scars can either be shallow or deep. They have a flat, box-like bottom, and sharply defined edges. They are also wider in diameter compared to icepick scars.
  • Rolling scars have the widest diameter, and don’t have the same defined edges that boxcar scars have. They give the skin a rolling or uneven appearance, hence their name “rolling scars.”

Acne scarring isn’t the only lasting damage you get from acne breakouts, though. Usually, acne also causes discoloration on the skin. This can normally be classified as either post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or post-inflammatory erythema (PIE).

PIH is characterized by brown marks caused by the overproduction of melanin as a response to inflammation caused by acne and sun exposure. Meanwhile, PIE refers to the red spots left behind after your pimples heal. This is caused by trauma from inflamed acne and picking at pimples, which damages the skin’s capillaries.

People of color are more susceptible to getting PIH. Meanwhile, PIE occurs more often for people with lighter skin tones.

 

Unsure if you have PIH or PIE? You can test for this using the skin blanching method. PIE temporarily disappears if you apply pressure to the area, while PIH does not. If you press down on an area with suspected PIE, and the marks disappear, you can assume that you have PIE and not PIH.

 

It may seem like acne scarring and discoloration are there to stay forever, but that’s not the case! Thankfully, there are laser treatments for acne scars to help reduce their appearance.

Laser treatment for acne scars works by removing the damaged, top layer of the skin, and breaking the scar tissue in the process. Then, it stimulates the deeper layers of the skin to produce collagen to heal the wound. This reduces the appearance of scarring, making the scars look more even. Laser treatments also target blood vessels in the affected area, thereby reducing inflammation and redness.

 

Laser treatments are a gradual process, and usually require an average of three sessions to show significant results.

A woman of color getting a facial laser treatment for acne scars. (Photo from: Pexels)

A woman of color getting a facial laser treatment for acne scars. (Photo from: Pexels)

Ablative laser resurfacing

Ablative laser resurfacing removes the top layer of the skin where there is scarring, smoothing out the texture of the skin surface. At the same time, it stimulates collagen production underneath the surface of the skin.

Ablative laser resurfacing has been proven to be effective for atrophic scars, particularly for shallow boxcar scars.

Non-ablative laser resurfacing

Non-ablative laser resurfacing utilizes infrared lasers to heat up the skin. This boosts collagen production and causes new cell growth to replace damaged tissues.

Non-ablative lasers have been proven to create marked improvements for atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars, and hyperpigmentation. However, ablative lasers still produce better results when it comes to smoothing out atrophic scars.

Fractionated laser treatment

Fractionated laser treatments are different from traditional laser treatments. Instead of using a single, concentrated laser beam, this treatment uses multiple microscopic beams to penetrate the skin. This treats only a fraction of the skin each time, allowing uninjured skin to serve as a buffer during treatment and promote faster recovery. This healing response also causes the formation of new collagen in the treated area.

Fractional laser treatments are effective in dealing with atrophic scars. They also help reduce skin discoloration.

Word of caution

Laser treatments are generally safe, but still pose side effects after each procedure. Treated areas may usually experience redness during the recovery time. Most laser treatments may also cause blistering and bruising post-treatment. However, these usually resolve after a few days.

People with darker skin types are also more susceptible to hyperpigmentation and scarring after laser treatments. However, PIH is usually transient, and resolves in a matter of weeks or months after the treatment.

 

Laser treatments don’t completely get rid of scarring—they only improve its appearance and make it less noticeable. Laser treatments for acne scars may not be as effective for deeper scars, like icepick scars. Treating these scars might require secondary resurfacing for better results.

Aftercare

A bottle of sunblock with adequate protection. (Photo from: Unsplash)

A bottle of sunblock with adequate protection. (Photo from: Unsplash)

Laser treatments can make the skin more sensitive post-treatment, so sufficient aftercare is a must. Knowing what to do after the treatment may also decrease your risks of getting side effects or complications. Additionally, they also help you maximize the results of your treatment.

Here’s what you need to do:

Sun protection

Religiously applying sunscreen is a must after having a laser treatment. The treatment will make you more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to give your face adequate protection.

Sun exposure is also known to cause hyperpigmentation. Exposing your skin to the sun while it’s vulnerable may cause your pigmentation issues to worsen, rather than improve.

No intense workout or sauna

It’s also best to avoid activities like workouts, which cause excessive sweating. Sweat can irritate the skin, especially after laser treatments that remove the skin’s top layer.

Laser also involves the application of heat to the skin; so, using a sauna immediately after may be too much for the skin to handle. The heat may irritate the skin and cause redness, or aggravate swelling.

Avoid exfoliation

It’s best to stick with gentle products after a laser treatment. Exfoliants are particularly harsh to the skin, and may delay the healing process post-laser. It may also irritate the skin, which can make your skin worse instead of better!

Minimize non-essential skincare products

After a laser treatment, less is more when it comes to using skincare products. Focus on protecting and rebuilding your skin, using a minimal routine of a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Your dermatologist may prescribe products for you to use—stick with those and don’t add anything else that may irritate the skin.

Conclusion

Laser treatments certainly benefit the skin in a lot of ways. You can count on laser treatments not only to control acne, but even to address acne scarring. In this article, we’ve shown you that different laser treatments exist for varying skin issues. We hope you’ve learned which treatments to choose to address your specific skin concerns. Just remember that laser treatments require commitment. Don’t expect a single session to fix everything!

What do you think of laser treatment? Are you curious to try them? Is there more you would like to find out about them? Make sure to drop us a comment below!

 


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