Light and Laser Treatments for Acne Scars

Light and Laser (L&L) treatments for acne scars use high-intensity light sources to treat skin damage caused by acne. Light and Laser treatments can be an excellent option for every type of acne scarring. Powerful ablative lasers can be used to break up scar tissue and repair damage from significant acne scars. Less invasive Light and Laser treatments are also available for mild acne scars and skin pigmentation problems. Below is our complete guide to Light and Laser Treatments for Acne Scars.

Alexandrite Lasers

Alexandrite Laser Hair Removal

Alexandrite Lasers are commonly used for laser hair removal and to treat areas of hyper-pigmentation on the skin (eg. melasma). Except for the treatment of hyper-pigmentation problems associated with acne scarring, Alexandrite Lasers are rarely used for the treatment of acne scars.

There is very little clinical research on the effectiveness of Alexandrite lasers in the treatment of active acne or acne scars. At the current time, Alexandrite Lasers are not considered to be an effective treatment for most types of acne scarring. Our discussion of Alexandrite Lasers and acne scars can be found here.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Lasers

C02 Laser Ablative Skin ResurfacingCarbon Dioxide (C02) Laser systems are ablative laser systems that are commonly used for laser resurfacing procedures on the face. CO2 Lasers are popular treatments for moderate to severe acne scars. The ability to penetrate into the supportive tissue underneath the skin surface makes CO2 Lasers a preferred choice for ablative laser resurfacing treatments, such as the repair of skin damage associated with moderate to severe acne scars.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) lasers can be an effective treatment for many types of facial acne scars. In general, both physician and patient satisfaction with the results of CO2 Laser resurfacing are good. CO2 Lasers can be used for either complete resurfacing or fractional resurfacing procedures (eg. Fraxel). Complete resurfacing treats all of the tissue in a given area, while fractional resurfacing pixelates the laser beam and leaves small regions of untreated skin between the regions of treated skin. Fractional CO2 Laser treatments  are very popular because they tend to have fewer side effects and require shorter healing times than complete resurfacing. Our discussion of CO2 Lasers and acne scars can be found here.

Er:YAG Lasers

ErYAG Fractional Ablative Resurfacing of Acne ScarsAlong with CO2 Lasers, Er:YAG Lasers are the systems of choice for ablative laser skin resurfacing. Er:YAG Lasers are commonly used for treatments to repair skin damage, such as acne scars.

Er:YAG lasers are excellent options for repairing minor to moderate scarring and other superficial skin damage, but are considered to be less effective for the treatment of severe acne scars than CO2 Lasers. Because Er:YAG lasers primarily affect the surface of the skin, the recovery times are faster and the side effects are generally milder than more invasive laser resurfacing techniques, such as CO2 Laser resurfacing. Er:YAG Lasers are generally considered to be more effective for the treatment of acne scars than many other light and laser treatment modalities, including as Nd:YAG, Pulsed Dye Lasers (PDL) and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). Our discussion of CO2 Lasers and acne scars can be found here.

Nd:YAG Lasers

Nd:YAG Laser Resurfacing of Acne ScarsNd:YAG Lasers are fairly common treatment of acne scars. Nd:YAG Lasers generally produce an infra-red laser beam (~1064 nm), but many dermatology clinics use tunable or Q-switched Nd: YAG laser platforms that allow the production of laser wavelengths down to 530 nm. Many dermatological Nd:YAG Laser systems combine an automated coolant spray that is administered simultaneously with the laser treatment. The coolant spray prevents the surface of the skin, the epidermis, from overheating and being damaged.

There are numerous clinical research studies on the utility of Nd:YAG Lasers for the treatment of acne scars. Overall, the scientific research indicates that Nd:YAG Lasers can help improve the appearance of acne scars. However, Nd:YAG Lasers tend to be less effective than CO2 lasers and Er:YAG lasers for the treatment of moderate to severe acne scars because Nd:YAG Lasers are less able to penetrate deeply into the skin. Our discussion of Nd:YAG Lasers and acne scars can be found here.

Pulsed Dye Lasers (PDL)

Pulsed Dye Laser Treatment of ErythemaPulsed Dye Lasers (PDL) are occasionally used for the treatment of both acne scars and active acne. Although they can be used for multiple applications, Pulsed Dye Lasers are not usually not first-choice for the treatment of active acne or acne scars. Dye Lasers get their name from the fact that they use a specialized liquid dye suspension, instead of a crystal, as the source of the laser beam.

Pulsed Dye Lasers are generally only used for the treatment of mild acne scars. PDLs are a viable treatment for spider veins, erythematous acne scars and other skin discolorations caused by damaged or dilated blood vessels. Improvements in acne scars following PDL treatment are usually modest and superficial.  On average, Pulsed Dye Laser treatment of acne and acne scars is reviewed as poor to moderate by patients after treatment. It is likely that PDLs are popular because they are a relatively inexpensive, versatile and common platform and not because they are highly efficacious for acne treatment. Our discussion of Pulsed Dye Lasers (PDLs) and acne scars can be found here.

Radio Frequency (RF) Therapy

RF Therapy for Acne Scars 1Radio Frequency (RF) therapy uses beams of radio waves to heat sub-cutaneous tissue. RF Therapy is most effective for the treatment of mild to moderate to acne scars. RF Therapy can help improve the smoothness of the surface of the skin by inducing the growth and remodeling of the underlying tissue that supports the skin (eg. the Extra-Cellular Matrix “ECM”). Because effective treatment of moderate-to-severe acne scars often requires more aggressive skin resurfacing treatments (eg. ablative treatments), RF Therapy tends to be ineffective for the treatment of severe acne scars.

RF Therapy is most widely used in treatments designed to improve skin laxity and diminish the appearance of cellulite.  RF Therapy systems produce intense beams of high frequency radio waves (generally around 5 MHz). RF Therapy has many dermatological and cosmetic applications. The intensity of the radio beams and their specific frequency are optimized for specific types of treatments. Our discussion of Radio Frequency (RF) Therapy and acne scars can be found here.

Red Light Phototherapy

Red Light PhototherapyRed Light Phototherapy is a treatment that involves exposing the skin to high intensity red light in the red spectrum. The purpose of the treatment is to reduce skin inflammation and accelerate healing. It is primarily used as a treatment for minor acne-scarring and to facilitate healing after an acne outbreak. Red Light Phototherapy is also occasionally used for the treatment of active acne symptoms.

Several research studies have reported that red light (600-900 nm) stimulates the growth of new skin tissue and the production of collagen. Although Red Light Phototherapy is not an effective scar treatment by itself, it can be combined with other types of scar treatments (eg. Laser Resurfacing, Microdermabrasion) to accelerate the healing process. Our discussion of Red Light Phototherapy and acne scars can be found here.

Ruby Lasers

Ruby Laser TreatmentOnce quite common in medical and industrial applications, Ruby Lasers have declined in popularity with the development of modern laser systems. Ruby Lasers are rarely used in the treatment of acne scars, but there have been a handful of studies investigating their use in this context.

Ruby Lasers produce a laser beam that has a deep red color and a wavelength of ~694 nm.  Light in this wavelength is readily absorbed by the pigment melanin and many of the dyes used in tattoos. Ruby Lasers are occasionally used to some types of skin discoloration associated with acne scars. However, other types of laser treatments are more frequently used for this purpose (eg. IPL, PDL). Ruby Lasers are not considered to be an effective treatment for the damaged skin tissue associated with moderate to severe acne scarring. Our discussion of Ruby Lasers and acne scars can be found here.