Laser acne treatments are used for two main purposes in health care: first for the treatment of acne itself and second to improve the appearance of acne scars. They are very popular but can be expensive and are not right for all conditions. So what are laser acne treatments and what can you expect if you choose them in consultation with your doctor or dermatologist?
What Is An Acne Laser?
Lasers were developed in the 20th century after Albert Einstein outlined the theoretical basis for them. The word ‘laser’ was formed from the initial letters of its description: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. This is not radiation in the sense of radioactivity. All light radiates, as does heat (that is why we call some heaters ‘radiators’.) So a laser is just a highly focused beam of light.
Lasers have many applications including munitions and defence, recording CDs, laser printing, bloodless medical surgery, and skin treatments including acne. They cut by burning within a very closely defined area. That is why we talk about ‘burning a CD’.
Laser Acne Treatments
Lasers have three main applications in the treatment of acne itself.
First, they can be used to burn away the hair follicle. Most pimples form when sebum clogs up a hair follicle, so destroying the follicle will prevent any more acne on that site. This is good for any area on the face where we do not want hair, but there are a huge number of hair follicles in the skin so it can take a while.
Second, they can be used to burn away the sebaceous gland, where the sebum is formed. Many people produce excess sebum, especially during adolescence and young adulthood, so the removal of some of the sebaceous glands can help to prevent acne in many people. There might be a possibility of this causing dry skin later in life, however.
Third, they can be used to oxidize the bacteria in an infected pimple. This kills the bacteria, but does not prevent other pimples forming later.
Laser Acne Scar Treatments
Lasers are also used in the treatment of acne scars, in two different ways. First, there is laser resurfacing. This removes the top (scarred) layer of skin and at the same time, tightens the middle layer so that new healthy skin forms. This is usually done in the doctor’s or dermatologist’s office with just a local anesthetic. The procedure can take anything up to an hour depending on the size of the area to be treated. Skin will take from 3 to 10 days to heal.
Second, there is a new form of acne scar treatment called fractional laser therapy. This works at a deeper level and does not damage the top layer of skin. It is an expensive procedure and is not usually covered on health insurance, unlike some other laser acne treatments.