Laser acne treatment or laser skin resurfacing as it is called is a cosmetic procedure, which is gaining in popularity. It is meant to treat skin irregularities such as acne scars, wrinkles and blemishes. The procedure involves using short, pulses of light beams, which are concentrated on irregular skin. The damaged surface of the skin is removed layer by layer very precisely. Other names for laser treatment are laser peel, laser vaporization or lasabrasion.
Benefits of laser acne treatment
Laser resurfacing first destroys hair follicles, and then it damages the sebaceous glands that produce excess sebum – the cause of acne. Finally, laser procedures also kill bacteria that cause pustules, cysts etc. Laser acne treatment is minimally invasive, quick and leaves no tell-tale signs of the procedure having been done. Resurfacing helps to remove scars but cannot cure fresh acne.
Types of Laser Treatment
To treat acne scars, the following types of laser treatment procedures are used.
Ablative laser resurfacing where a small area of skin around the acne scar is removed using lasers to reveal smooth skin. High-energy light is used to burn scar tissue, stimulate dermal collagen, reduce scarring and tighten skin. This procedure is used to treat deeper scar tissue. Permanent scarring is a risk if very good post-operative care of the wound is not taken.
Non-ablative laser resurfacing where growth of new collagen is stimulated using laser beams. Collagen is a skin protein and stimulating this helps to repair the damage caused by acne scars and improve the appearance of the skin. This procedure is popular because it controls surface injury since it targets the dermis and spares the epidermis. Dermal collagen is heated, dermis is tightened and less visible scarring is the result. Shallow boxcar acne scars are treated effectively with this technique. It also helps to tighten and smooth existing acne scars. This procedure does not help deep seated scars.
Some of the non-ablative lasers used are infrared lasers, N-lite lasers and sprinkling laser beams.
Erbium laser treatment is a technique that is gaining in popularity. The main benefit is that it causes minimal skin burning around the acne. It also causes less bruising, redness and swelling. Hence, recovery time is quick. Erbium laser resurfacing is recommended for those with darker skin.
Before acne laser treatment
The doctor will apply a topical anesthetic so the patient does not feel the pain. The surface of the skin is cooled so that it does not get damaged during the treatment. Some amount of heat and stinging sensations will be felt during laser resurfacing procedures. The doctor will also advise patients about certain medications they cannot take before the surgery. Those who smoke must stop two weeks prior to resurfacing for wound healing will take longer due to smoking. Antibiotic or anti-viral medications could be prescribed to prevent bacterial infections or cold and fever.
After acne laser treatment
A dressing will be applied to treated areas and this will be changed every few days by the doctor. The affected area can be cleaned with dilute vinegar solution or cold saline water few times a day. Soothing ointments like Vaseline could be applied. Healing can take up to 3 weeks.
Is laser acne treatment better than dermabrasion?
Acne scars can range in severity from skin discoloration to pitting of skin resembling pockmarks. The choice of acne treatment depends on the severity of the scarring. Dermabrasion involves using a small rotating brush on the skin, which helps to re-contour the skin’s surface. For mild acne scars, one session of dermabrasion is sufficient. Deeper scars require more sittings.
We have seen the uses of laser acne treatment. Unlike with dermabrasion where more sittings are required for deeper scars, laser resurfacing requires just one sitting even for pitted scars. However, it is not possible to state that laser resurfacing is better than dermabrasion or vice versa. Acne scars and skin type are unique to each individual. Hence, what is effective for one individual may not be as effective for another. Usually, it a combination of treatments may be more effective than any one type of treatment. For example, one person will respond well to laser resurfacing combined with soft tissue filler procedures etc. another person may not respond to this combination and may require dermabrasion or chemical peels with medicated topical creams. Your dermatologist will be able to determine the right treatment option for you after studying your personal medical history, skin type, extent of scarring etc.
Problems with laser acne treatment
As with any kind of treatment, both types of laser acne treatments have their own risks.
Ablative laser resurfacing causes problems such as:
- After ablative laser acne treatment, you can experience itching, redness or swelling of the affected areas. The intensity of these symptoms depends on the degree of resurfacing. The redness can continue for many months.
- In some cases, acne symptoms can worsen after laser treatment since thick bandages and creams may be applied on the face. Sometimes, milia (white bumps) can also form.
- Viral, bacterial or fungal infections are other side effects of ablative laser resurfacing. Many patients get infected by the herpes virus after this procedure.
- Sometimes, after ablative laser treatment, the skin color can darken or lighten. Hyperpigmentation disappears without treatment or by using topical glycolic or retinoic creams. Hypopigmentation is more difficult to treat.
- Permanent scarring could occur after this procedure
- If ablative resurfacing is done near the eyes, it can result in ectropion in rare cases. This happens when the eyelid turns inside out and requires corrective surgery.
Probable Problems of non-ablative laser resurfacing:
- Infections such as herpes virus attack
- Changes in skin color when those with darker skin can temporarily get hyperpigmentation
- Mild redness and swelling that can last from a few hours to a few days
- In rare cases, non-ablative resurfacing can cause more scarring and blistering
Since there are problems associated with laser acne treatment, your doctor will require your entire medical history before deciding if you are a candidate or not. Those who are at risk of suffering from side effects of this treatment include those who have taken strong acne medications like isotretinoin, diabetic patients, those with autoimmune disease, connective tissue disease or poor immune system, those who have required radiation therapy in the past, pregnant and breastfeeding women and those who have keloids that are ridged areas caused by overgrown scar tissues.
Follow all recommendations from your dermatologist to help quick and safe wound healing.