If you’ve reached your wits end with oral and topical acne treatments, the next step may be laser therapy. Lasers are a potential option for acne that is resistant to other treatments. For many, it can be confusing to know when to use them or know what they really do. Here, top laser experts share how these powerhouse treatments work and when to add them to your acne arsenal.
How Do Acne Lasers Work?
These laser treatments works by targeting the sebaceous glands, which produce oil contributes to acne. “The laser heats up the oil glands, partially destroying them and reducing their size,” says New York dermatologist Jeremy Brauer, MD.
Who Is a Good Candidate?
New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD says anyone struggling with acne is a good candidate and many of the devices available today are safe on all skin types. “These treatments are ‘colorblind,’ which means that they will treat all skin types without the possibility of any negative effects on darker skin tones.”
Dr. Markowitz says everyone is a good candidate for laser treatment. “However, not everyone is trained to properly assess which device should be used for each specific type of acne,” she says. It’s important to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare provider to determine if laser therapy is suitable.
Who Should Avoid Them?
“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 it’s also important that individuals seeking laser treatment have a stable skin-care maintenance routine.
What Are the Different Types of Acne Lasers?
There are different types of lasers used for acne treatment, including pulsed dye, diode and fractional lasers. The specific laser used depends on the severity of the acne, skin type, and other individual factors.
“For isolated, red acne lesions, a vascular-specific laser like a pulsed dye laser works best,” says Dr. Alster. This laser emits a wavelength of light that is absorbed by the hemoglobin in blood vessels. The heat causes blood vessels to shrink, which reduces the blood flow to the sebaceous glands and decreases oil production. “This process can also help to reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria that cause acne,” she adds.
Diode lasers can also be used to treat acne by destroying the sebaceous glands. Dr. Alster adds that fractionated lasers, like the Fraxel DUAL, can be used to improve texture changes like acne scars and discoloration. These lasers create tiny holes in the skin, which stimulate the body’s natural healing process. This can help to reduce acne scarring and improve the overall appearance of the skin.
New FDA-Approved Options
The FDA has recently approved two lasers for the treatment of mild to severe acne: AviClear and Accure. “AviClear, a brand-new device on the market, offers patients with cystic acne who do not want to use Accutane or hormonal cystic patients who do not want to use spironolactone, an alternative to medication,” says Dr. Markowitz.
“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.”
Phoenix, AZ dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal shares that Accure was also FDA-approved for mild to severe acne. “It gives patients yet another option.”
Downtime + What to Expect From Acne Lasers
“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.