There are many different acne laser treatments and acne scars laser treatments. Results can occur from 1 day to 1 month after starting treatment, depending on the system used and the severity of acne at the onset of treatment.
Laser treatments are most suited for shallow scars, and are either ablative or non-ablative. The most commonly used laser acne treatments include
- carbon dioxide laser (CO2)
- erbium YAG (ErYAG) laser
- long-pulsed erbium (YAG) laser – pulsed, yellow light
The CO2 and erbium lasers are ablative lasers. They are more commonly used to treat signs of sun damage and wrinkles, as well as certain types of acne scars which are not very deep. Ablative treatment or laser resurfacing is more precise than mechanical abrasion.
Ablative lasers heat up larger areas of skin, removing the top layer of the skin. The skin darkens after treatment and needs significant downtime to heal. You will also need to avoid exposing your skin to the sun for a considerable time after ablative laser treatment.
Non-ablative laser or subsurfacing treatment works on skin underneath the top layer, stimulating new collagen production without injury to the skin. It is much slower than ablative laser, but there is no downtime following treatment.
The various acne and acne scar laser treatments use laser energy from different sources. These energy sources allow for specific wavelengths of light to be intensified and directed through a column. The longer the wavelength, the deeper the light penetrates.
In acne laser treatments, the laser targets only the sebaceous glands or melanin high up in the skin or deeper within the skin. The lasers target water in the skin or various components of blood vessels within the skin.
This way, the lasers can be used to heat and damage the skin in very specific ways without damaging surrounding skin tissue so that in the process of healing, the skin will look clear and healthy – without acne or broken blood vessels or brown spots or even wrinkles.
In the past, CO2 laser acne treatments were used to heat water within the skin, causing destruction of the upper layers of the skin and sometimes even deeper. Healing takes two to three months. There will be redness for months, and the treated skin area may appear darker.
This type of laser treatment for acne scars is still used today for certain types of acne scarring, but it is not recommended for treating active acne, or within 6 months of taking oral isotretinoin.
The newer laser devices target the source of the acne such as P.acnes bacterium, the sebaceous gland or the blood vessels that supply the welling and redness, without damaging the surrounding skin. These newer devices are also less painful than the earlier devices.
The best laser treatment for acne scars is one that can be done over time without limiting the activities of the patient. There is little or no downtime, and very little pain.
The FDA has approved several laser treatments for acne, targeting only inflammatory acne with active growth of P.acnes.
The Smoothbeam system is a diode laser that has FDA clearance to treat both acne and depressed scars caused by acne. This laser emits energy at 1450 nm. Studies have shown that acne lesion counts were significantly lower after only one treatment, and that patients had a reduction in lesions of more than 98% after four 20-minute laser sessions. Patients also noted a 6-month remission of acne lesions after treatment. Each session may cost about $300.
The CoolTouch is a 1320-nm laser system that is approved for back acne and acne scars. This laser targets the sebaceous glands without damaging the skin’s surface.
Another laser that is FDA-approved to treat moderate inflammatory acne on the face is the Nlite-V laser system. This 585-nm pulsed dye laser emits a wavelength of yellow light that heats small blood vessels, encouraging healing and stimulating collagen production. Patients noted a 50% improvement in acne lesion counts after one 5-minute acne laser treatment session. Results typically lasted for up to 3 months.
The OmniLux Blue uses light-emitting diodes in the visible spectrum at 415 nm. It is FDA approved to treat mild to moderate inflammatory acne. Patients usually receive eight, 20-minute light treatments over a period of 4 weeks. In the studies done for FDA approval, 28% of patients in the study achieved an average clearance of 76% at 4 weeks after treatment.
The LuxV is an intense pulsed light-based system that is also approved for inflammatory acne.
The number of acne and acne scars laser treatment sessions required to achieve results depends on the system used and the severity of acne and acne scarring at the start of treatment.
You will also require maintenance treatments to minimize acne flare-ups. A 15-20 minute laser acne or acne scars treatment session costs around $500. Most insurance companies do not cover the cost of laser treatments, or cover only a specific number of treatment sessions.