There's no overnight cure for acne. Thankfully, we have more options than ever to keep stubborn blemishes under control.
For people with persistent acne, light and laser treatments are promising tools for stopping the breakout cycle, especially if combined with traditional treatments such as prescription creams, antibiotics and birth control pills.
Acne occurs when sebum, the oily substance that lubricates skin, and dead skin cells plug hair follicles. Lasers and light sources send heat deep into the skin to shrink oil glands and suppress sebum production.
Dermatologist Paul M. Friedman, MD, director of the DermSurgery Laser Center in Houston, Texas, answers Healthy Aging's questions about what to consider before getting laser acne treatments.
HEALTHY AGING: What are the most effective laser and light treatments for acne?
DR. FRIEDMAN: A range of lasers and light sources with and without the addition of photosensitizing drugs have been reported to improve acne including pulsed-dye lasers, intense pulsed light devices, 1320-nm diode lasers, 1450-nm diode lasers, Erbium:Glass lasers, and light emitting diodes.
The 1450-nm diode laser delivers heat around the sebaceous gland to decrease secretion into the follicle, stopping acne formation in its tracks. In a study from our center using the 1450-nm diode laser, the average patient experienced a 40 percent reduction in number of acne lesions after one treatment and greater than 70 percent reduction in number of lesions after three treatments. These results were maintained 12 months after the third treatment. The long wavelength also heats collagen in the dermis, stimulating new collagen to form and improving depressed scars.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) involves the application of a light absorbing topical cream (5-aminolevulinic acid). The chemical targets sebaceous glands and acne bacteria. Next, the physician shines a high-intensity light or laser onto the skin and a chemical reaction occurs. Free radicals are created to shrink oil-producing sebaceous glands and eliminate bacteria on the skin.
HEALTHY AGING: What precautions should patients and physicians discuss before laser procedures?
DR. FRIEDMAN: Lasers are commonly used with topical and oral acne medications for cases resistant to conventional treatment. Lasers should not be used on patients taking isotretinoin (brand names: Sotret, Claravis, Amnesteem) or for 6 months following completion of isotretinoin because of the increased risk of scarring.
It is also best to inform your physician if you have a history of cold sores. Laser treatments can cause cold sore outbreaks, so antiviral medication can be administered before and after treatment to minimize this risk.
Patients with darker skin types carry a higher risk of getting dark patches of skin, known as hyperpigmentation, after laser treatments. Therefore a bleaching cream may be prescribed before and after treatment to decrease this risk. Physicians can minimize this side effect by adjusting the laser settings when treating darker skin types.
HEALTHY AGING: What can patients expect during and after laser acne treatments?
DR. FRIEDMAN: Seek a dermatologist with a lot of experience treating acne with lasers, especially if you have darker skin. Most patients require 30 minutes to 60 minutes of topical anesthesia before treatment. Minimal redness or swelling may last several hours after treatment, but not to the extent that it would prohibit returning to work the same day. Avoid direct exposure to sunlight following your procedure.
HEALTHY AGING: How much do laser acne treatments cost?
DR. FRIEDMAN: The cost is about $400 to $600 per session, depending on the area treated. Plan on at least 3 to 4 monthly sessions based on the device used.
To learn more about laser acne treatments, check out Dr. Friedman's new book Beautiful Skin Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin (Sandow Media). To read an excerpt, click here.
Interested in more natural ways to treat your acne? Read this article in our archives by Carl Thornfeldt, MD.