A Dermatologist-Approved Guide to Acne-Clearing Laser Treatments

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Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages, causing whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and cysts. While over-the-counter products can help manage mild to moderate acne, those with more severe cases often turn to laser treatments for clearer skin. Here’s everything you need to know about when and how to use laser therapy to get rid of your acne once and for all.

Featured Experts

  • Orit Markowitz, MD is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York
  • Tina Alster, MD is a board-certified dermatologist located in Washington D.C.
  • Jeremy Brauer, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York
  • Karan Lal, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in Phoenix
  • Joel Cohen, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in Denver

How Do Acne Lasers Work?

These laser treatments work by targeting the sebaceous glands, which produce oil contributing to acne. Acne lasers reduce oil production, kill acne bacteria and improve the overall texture of the skin. According to New York dermatologist Jeremy Brauer, MD, “The laser heats up the oil glands, partially destroying them and reducing their size.”

Who Is a Good Candidate for Acne Laser Treatments?

According to New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD, anyone struggling with acne is a suitable candidate for acne laser treatments, as many devices available today are safe for all skin types. “These treatments are ‘colorblind,’ meaning they can effectively treat all skin tones without any risk of adverse effects on darker skin tones.”

Dr. Markowitz emphasizes the importance of consulting an acne specialist to determine the most appropriate laser treatment. “Not everyone is qualified to assess which device is best suited for each specific type of acne,” she explains. Therefore, it is crucial to seek advice from a dermatologist or healthcare provider to assess whether laser therapy is appropriate for you.

Who Should Avoid Acne Laser Treatments?

“Regardless of an individual’s natural skin tone, whether light or dark, it is imperative that laser treatment is avoided if you’ve had recent sun exposure,” cautions Washington D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD. “When pigment-producing melanocytes are activated, it increases the risk of side effects like blistering and dyspigmentation.” Dr. Alster adds that it’s also important for individuals seeking laser treatment to have a stable skincare maintenance routine.

What Are the Different Types of Acne Laser Treatments?

Acne laser treatments encompass various types, each targeting specific aspects of acne and skin rejuvenation:

Pulsed Dye Lasers: “Pulsed dye lasers effectively target red acne lesions and reduce inflammation by shrinking blood vessels. “They curb oil production by focusing on blood vessels feeding sebaceous glands,” explains Denver, CO dermatologist Joel Cohen, MD. 

Diode Lasers: Diode lasers work by destroying sebaceous glands to decrease oil production

Fractional Lasers: Fractional lasers like the Fraxel DUAL and Profractional laser improve skin texture and reduce scars through micro-injuries that stimulate healing. “They induce controlled skin injury to spur collagen synthesis and rejuvenation,” Dr. Cohen adds.

Nd:YAG Lasers: These types of lasers target deeper layers of skin to reduce inflammation and acne lesions.

CO2 Lasers: “CO2 lasers are used for deeper acne scars and skin resurfacing, promoting collagen production,” Dr. Cohen highlights.

New FDA-Approved Options

Recently, the FDA approved two acne lasers that offer promising alternatives for acne treatment:

AviClear: This provides a non-systemic option, particularly for cystic acne patients. “AviClear decreases the visible signs of overactive oil glands such as blackheads, whiteheads, and inflammation,” adds Dr. Brauer. “Patients begin to see results after three sessions. Each monthly session lasts around 30 minutes.”

Accure: Also FDA-approved, this provides another option for mild to severe acne. “Devices like the Accure laser directly target sebaceous glands, significantly reducing oil production,” notes Dr. Cohen, citing an FDA study showing an impressive 80 percent reduction in inflammatory acne after four treatments.

What is the Downtime for Acne Laser Treatments?

“Patients should limit unprotected sun exposure, heat and sweating about 24 hours post treatment,” says Dr. Brauer. “They should avoid irritating products such as salicylic acid and retinoids 2-3 days post treatment.” 

It’s important to note that laser therapy for acne may require multiple sessions to achieve optimal results. Additionally, it may not be suitable for everyone and can have potential side effects, such as redness, swelling and changes in skin pigmentation, although Dr. Lal adds that AviClear laser has been cleared for all Fitzpatrick types.

Understanding the potential of these treatments can help acne sufferers make informed decisions about their skin care. Consulting with a qualified dermatologist to explore whether laser therapy is suitable is step one to getting clearer skin.

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