Acne is a common but distressing skin condition that's ultimately caused by blockages within the pores of the skin that lead to whiteheads, blackheads, pustules and papules. The reasons behind these pore blockages range from hormonal and genetic reasons, to an overgrowth of skin bacteria or an overproduction of the natural oil produced by the skin to protect it, called sebum.
For those of us with acne (including ourselves), we'll try anything to calm down our skin in the hope that it leads to fewer spots and breakouts. If you’ve tried a plethora of medications and topical creams and gels for your acne with little or no success, then you may be considering laser therapy for acne.
Laser treatment for acne isn’t usually used as a first treatment. Instead, it’s usually used for severe cases of acne or if other treatments haven’t proved effective. Some laser treatments help to reduce oiliness, spots and outbreaks, whilst others are an effective acne scar treatment.
Treating face acne with lasers is only ever performed by a medical professional or fully trained therapist in an appropriate medical setting.
Here’s our round up of how laser treatments for acne and to treat acne scars work and how well they might work for you.
How Does Laser Acne Treatment Work?
Laser therapy for acne works in a similar way to light therapy for acne. Lasers target the surface of the skin with concentrated beams of light. When this light hits a certain layer of the skin, the theory is that it activates a group of substances called porphyrins.
Porphyrins are harmless to us, but are toxic to the bacteria that cause acne, therefore reducing acne breakouts caused by bacteria.
Lasers also penetrate deep into the skin reaching the sebaceous glands - the glands that produce sebum. The laser can then help to shrink these glands, meaning that they produce less sebum which is a major contributing cause of acne. Finally, laser acne therapies can help to reduce inflammation and scarring.
Is Laser Therapy the Best Treatment for All Types of Acne?
Laser therapy for acne spots is generally only used in cases of moderate or severe acne, and how well it works will depend on the individual skin type.
It doesn't tend to be effective in severe cases of active, cystic or inflammatory acne. Your skin specialist or dermatologist will be able to work out a treatment plan if they think that you may benefit from lasers to diminish the appearance of acne.
This kind of treatment aims to reduce the scarring caused by acne breakouts, too. Depending on the form of laser used, the severity of the acne and the type of acne scarring you have, it may not remove all acne scars completely. But you should see improvements in acne scars over time.
What Are the Different Types of Lasers for Acne?
There are a few different lasers used for acne spots. Each type of laser treatment session tends to work on a different wavelength of light within the laser beam to penetrate the skin in different ways and at different levels. Your suitability for treatment will be discussed with you during your management of acne consultation.
Here's more on each of the most common treatment options using light and lasers to get rid of acne and the issue of acne scarring.
Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL) Treatment of Acne
Pulsed dye lasers are used to treat acne prone skin that's become red and inflamed. This treatment often helps to target the bacteria that causes acne breakouts.
Ablative Laser Treatment to Reduce Acne
Ablative lasers target a specific treatment area of skin that surrounds acne spots and scars to remove, or ablate it, leaving behind smoother skin.
Non-Ablative Laser Acne Treatment
Non-ablative acne lasers are used to promote the production of collagen that helps to plump out the skin. This helps to repair scar tissue damage and improve skin texture.
Laser Treatment for Acne Scars
Laser therapies for acne scarring vary and tend to be used in cases of mild to moderate scarring. Lasers cannot severe scarring or fix pits or craters on the skin left behind by acne, they can only reduce the redness and scarring associated with mild or moderate acne.
Laser treatment for acne scars uses a range of different light treatment frequencies. Here's more on the main types.
Fraxel Laser Treatment for Acne
Fraxel lasers help to stimulate the production of collagen to help improve the appearance of mild to moderate acne scarring. Fraxel lasers can be ablative or non-ablative and the best results will depend on the right type for your skin.
Erbium Yttrium-Aluminium-Garnet Acne Laser Treatment
The Erbium:YAG acne treatment is a type of laser resurfacing to reduce the appearance of acne scarring. It fires crystals at the skin using lasers and creates heat as it does so. This heat targets skin cells that have become scarred through acne and helps to eliminate them. It’s a high precision technique for skin resurfacing and is less invasive than other methods such as chemical peels and dermabrasion.
PDL technology is often also combined with Yttrium-Aluminium-Garnet technologies to target acne spots and reduce the amount of sebum the sebaceous glands produce.
CO2 Laser Treatment for Acne Scar Removal
Carbon dioxide lasers remove the top few layers of skin and produce similar results (smoother, less wrinkled skin with a more even tone) to chemical peels. They are used to help treat mild acne scarring and redness but can only be used on skin without active acne spots.
Alexandrite Laser Treatment of Acne Scarring
These lasers use a gemstone called Alexandrite to assist the laser.
They’re usually used to help treat areas of skin that have become darkened or ‘hyper pigmented’. Their use is sometimes touted as an effective remedy for acne scarring but there is no evidence yet that they work on acne scars.
What Parts of the Body Can Laser Treatment for Acne Be Used On?
Most acne laser therapies for facial acne are also suitable as a back acne treatment and for acne on other parts of the body as well as the face.
Your therapist or skin specialist may take progress photographs as a physical record to see how well the treatment is working for you.
What Are the Side Effects of Laser Treatment to Remove Acne Scars?
Side effects from laser treatments are rare. In occasional cases, the laser can cause a change in the pigment, or colouring, of the skin.
Patches of skin can become lighter or darker. The risk is greater if you have darker skin, but hyperpigmentation will reduce over time.
Having a suntan before having laser treatment can also cause pigmentation changes to the skin. Avoid the sun and sunbeds if you’re planning to have any kind of laser session.
Other than that, lasers can cause the treated areas of skin to feel a little bruised or look slightly red for a few days.
Laser treatment can be uncomfortable during a session but the levels of pain should be very minimal.
How Much Does Acne Laser Treatment Cost?
As with any skin procedure, the cost of acne laser treatment varies. Estimates range from £500 to in excess of £10,000. So it’s important that you do your research and only use a clinic that is registered and licensed to treat acne using lasers.
Which Laser Clinic Should I Choose?
Always choose a clinic that makes you feel welcome and safe. Look for clinics and therapists registered with the British Association of Dermatologists.
If you’re in doubt, speak to your GP about having this kind of therapy for acne, as they may be able to recommend a local clinic. Laser sessions for acne are only offered on the NHS in extreme cases.
How Many Laser Sessions Will I Need to Reduce Acne Scars?
You will almost definitely require more than one session of laser therapy as the treatment won't be effective otherwise. The treatment of acne scars is usually over a number of sessions, and your skin specialist will advise you how many and how often is best for you.
Being Realistic About Laser Acne Scar Removal
We understand that if you have acne prone skin and acne scarring, then you’re probably looking for the Holy Grail of treatment.
In our opinion, laser treatments may work but they’re not a permanent solution. Not for acne spots or for acne scarring. To date, studies show that lasers for acne “produce mixed results and have unclear benefits”.
Studies are usually carried out on very small cohorts, or groups of people, too.
Whilst medications, topical ointments and the right skincare can help keep your acne breakouts at bay, acne scarring requires a completely different approach. The NHS says that many people who try laser therapy for acne scarring notice a 50-75% improvement in the appearance of their skin. But this is subjective and isn’t generally permanent. New acne breakouts may well cause new scarring.
You will normally require a course of laser treatments, depending on the severity of your acne. Not all laser therapies for acne or acne scarring will be permanent. How effective laser treatment is for your acne and acne scars will depend on your skin and the extent of your scarring.
Having realistic expectations about what extent laser treatment can help your skin will help you mentally prepare for the outcome. It’s likely that your skin will improve, but it may not be the ‘perfect’ complexion you’re looking for.
Giving Your Acne Prone Skin the Best Care
To support your skin before, during and after sessions of laser treatment, make sure you’re using a skincare regime that’s been developed specifically for acne prone skin. The Sönd products are formulated for sensitive skin so are suitable to be used on acne prone skin.
Find out more about our skincare for acne here.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.