Can doctors treat acne with lasers?

By: Tom Scheve

Acne Lasers and the War on Breakouts

Not all lasers are created equally. Different types of lasers are used for acne treatment, and they work in different ways. We'll discuss the basics of each.

Diode lasers prevent future acne breakouts by reducing the skin's ability to produce sebum. This is accomplished by destroying some of the millions and millions of sebaceous glands that exist in the dermis (the layer that exists beneath the outermost layer, the epidermis). Although these tiny glands are destroyed within the hair follicles in which they reside, the surface of the skin itself isn't harmed.


This type of laser can also help even or smooth out skin discoloration. And, for those who have suffered extreme scarring from large acne lesions and cysts, diode lasers can also reduce the visible amount of scarring on the skin. They do so by stimulating collagen growth and production of elastin fiber, which firms up the skin from beneath and gives it a smoother, more youthful appearance.

High-intensity lasers (such as CO2 lasers) help to reduce or resurface acne scarring by removing the outermost layer of skin. This leaves a newer, younger layer of skin exposed, and as the outermost layer heals, it becomes noticeably less uneven and discolored than the previous outermost layer.

Some caveats: Treating acne with lasers isn't pain-free. For this reason, topical painkillers are used during treatments. But even then, it may still be uncomfortable. Additionally, laser treatment can cause redness that can stick around for months, though normally it subsides within a week. There's also the possibility of permanent scarring.

Lasers aren't for everyone. For one thing, other less intensive (and less expensive) treatments will be effective for many people. Even if other treatments don't work, laser treatment may not be appropriate for people with certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, cystic acne or extremely dry skin. Also, most insurance companies won't cover laser treatment for acne, and treatments (often more than one) can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the exact procedure. For scar removal, the price will depend upon the size of the area being treated. Treatment of light scarring may cost as much as $1,500, while laser treatment for extensive scarring can reach costs upwards of $6,000 [source: San Joyz].

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