How Laser Treatments Can Effectively Reduce Acne Scars
From home remedies to clinical options, there’s no shortage of purported acne cures out there, yet far less information about how to repair your skin once your acne blemishes have healed. Even though your initial acne problem may be gone, you could still find yourself left with scars that don’t conveniently fade away on their own when left untreated. Fortunately, there are available options to reduce and eliminate the appearance of these scars, such as laser acne treatment.
What Causes Acne and Acne Scars?
Acne and the scars it creates are the results of minor imperfections in the way our bodies work. Hair follicles and the glands which surround them are the main culprits when it comes to acne. These sebaceous glands secrete sebum, an oily substance that keeps hair lubricated.
Excess keratin (a key protein in hair) and sebum can block the ducts which lead to the sebaceous glands. The duct blockage creates an environment for a bacterium called C acne to thrive, causing characteristic acne lesions to appear in the affected area. When skin is damaged in this way, the body's natural healing process kicks into gear by producing new collagen connective tissue. Acne scarring is caused by your body's flawed attempt at repairing damaged tissue.
The Different Types of Acne Scars
There are two basic categories of acne scarring: elevated and depressed scars. Each type of scar requires a specialized treatment for optimal results.
Elevated scars are caused by the body producing too much new collagen during the healing process. These scars appear as raised bumps or lines, known respectively as keloid and hypertrophic scars.
Depressed scars result from the loss of collagen. This leads to both small and large indents in the skin. There are four main types of depressed scars: rolling scars, boxcar scars, ice pick scars, and atrophic scars.
The main goal of laser treatment is to address the discoloration of scars and reshape scar tissue into a form that blends more naturally into the treated area. This is achieved by heating the impacted tissue.
Lasers can cause either cell growth or death depending on a complex combination of wavelengths and energy determined by the medical professional operating the device. There are several types of laser treatments, so each patient must be assured they’re undergoing the procedure that best suits their individual needs and desires. Fractional, ablative, and non-ablative lasers treatments all offer different forms of scar removal.
1. Ablative Lasers
Ablative laser treatment works by removing thin slices of the scarred skin or by vaporizing it to reduce the amount of scar tissue in the treated area. CO2 ablative lasers are the most commonly employed method to address the severe raised scars caused by excess collagen. With this treatment, it’s possible to address both the superficial and deeper layers of skin to provide effective scar removal.
2. Non-Ablative Lasers
As opposed to ablative laser treatments, non-ablative lasers can only target deep layers of skin, making them ineffective against superficial scarring. Instead of vaporizing scar tissue, non-ablative laser treatments focus on encouraging the production of connective collagen tissue. By causing a small controlled injury to collagen, the body responds by creating additional collagen. This is similar to the process behind other popular procedures like micro-needling, which is the insertion of tiny needles under the skin, to treat acne scars and rejuvenate the skin.
3. Fractional Lasers
This treatment works by using thousands of tiny laser beams directed at the scarred area. As with ablative laser treatment, this method treats both deep and superficial skin and can remodel a small scarred area with extreme precision. By inducing a remodeling effect without damaging the surrounding tissue, fractional laser treatment minimizes the appearance of acne scarring.
Treatment requires undergoing one to six laser procedures of one to four hours each, as directed by your practitioner of choice. Following the final treatment, it can take up to a year for the full results to materialize.
Because lasers leave the skin particularly vulnerable to sun damage, for the first few weeks following your procedure, it’s crucially important to wear sunscreen whenever venturing outdoors. Better yet, try and avoid exposure to the sun as much as possible. Applying antibiotic creams may also be a temporary requirement.
Depending on several factors, such as the number of treatments undergone, the practitioner's skill level, and the severity of scaring, the final results will vary. However, it’s often possible to nearly remove the entire scarring.
Possible Side Effects
All procedures carry a certain level of risk, and patients should always be aware of the possible complications. That said, there are relatively few side effects to consider when undergoing laser acne treatment. When performed correctly, the risk of noticeable side effects occurring is negligible.
While these procedures are relatively safe, it’s important to always work with a qualified professional in order to assure the best possible results, ideally a doctor who has been certified by the ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) or a similarly legitimate professional body. Choosing a non-board-certified practitioner leads to a greatly increased risk of complications for patients, including burns, coloration changes, and scarring.
Other Acne Treatments
Although laser acne removal is one of the most effective treatment options available, several alternative procedures also exist, each with their own set of advantages and drawbacks. Dermabrasion, injectable fillers, and micro-needling are all other treatments worthy of consideration for those seeking to reduce the appearance of acne scars. Talk to your primary care doctor, dermatologist, or plastic surgeon about laser acne scar removal if you are interested in this type of procedure.
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About the Author
Gary D. Breslow, MD, FACS is the medical director of the Breslow Center for Plastic Surgery in Paramus, NJ. He is Chairman and Co-Founder of Zwivel, an online resource for men and women seeking information on cosmetic treatments. Dr. Breslow combines a passion for surgery with his experience and cutting-edge techniques he has acquired over time. He is originally from Long Island, New York, graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Science degree and received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine.
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