Can Laser Treatments Lighten Acne Scars? We Asked an Expert

Updated 01/18/19

"Laser treatments for acne scars" is one of the most-searched terms on the internet in regard to beauty—and it makes sense, as acne scars are common. Just as an aside, if you have acne scars, you don't need to feel pressure to treat them at all. Your face is your own, and it's unique and beautiful regardless of your past issues with breakouts. Some can be helped through topical skincare, like exfoliation and scar-fading spot treatments. But atrophic scarring, the indented scars that form below the upper layer of skin tissue as a result of severe acne, is harder to treat since it prevents the skin from being able to regenerate tissue correctly, leaving behind uneven texture. That's where lasers come in. While we've had laser facials for brightening, tightening, and boosting collagen, we weren't sure of the specifics when it came to lasers to treat acne scars. So we asked one of our most trusted sources, Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a top dermatologist in NYC.

She talked us through the details, which lasers work for various types of acne and skin, as well as any drawbacks and pricing options. Below, find her sage advice and everything you need to know if you're considering trying a laser treatment for your acne scars. Keep scrolling for her thoughts.

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Can laser treatments lighten acne scars?

"Acne scars usually consist of both a textural change in the skin as well as a discoloration (usually brown from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or erythematous, which is redness from inflammation)," explains Nussbaum. "Therefore," she continues, "multiple modalities can be combined to improve both texture and color to decrease the appearance of acne scars. I usually recommend a combination of different lasers, topicals, and radio-frequency micro-needling."

Which are the most effective?

"Regarding textural change," Nussbaum notes, "the Fractionated Laser Resurfacing using the 1550 wavelength is by far the most effective at evening out skin concavities. It creates micro-columns of destruction while surrounding intact areas of skin in order to induce neocollagenesis (form new skin) and heal epidermal and dermal injury." She continues, "The Fractionated Laser Resurfacing using the 1927 wavelength is great to reduce brown pigmentation," Nussbaum says.

For redness, Nussbaum suggests using the VBeam laser, as it targets any redness from increased vascularity. IPL laser can also help reduce both pink and brown pigmentation. Lastly, radio-frequency micro-needling with blue-light technology is one of her favorite treatments. "It has been great at creating microperforations in the skin, which allow for easy penetration of peptides or growth factors to induce healing. It also emits radio frequency while penetrating your skin to tighten your pores and the surrounding skin," Nussbaum says. "The added blue-light technology can reduce the acne-inducing bacteria in the skin."

What about for different skin types?

"Different settings must always be used with different skin types," explains Nussbaum. "Patients with skin types four and five (on the Fitzpatrick scale, which means you have an olive complexion) may react quite differently depending on what the laser is targeting." She adds, "The epidermis should be properly protected to avoid scarring from the laser. For example, the radio-frequency micro-needling has a different insulated tip which bypasses the epidermal layer in order to avoid causing epidermal discoloration."

What are the benefits and drawbacks?

"The benefits are smoothing out textural deformities and evening out skin tone to create a more unified canvas and clear complexion," says Nussbaum. "Acne scarring can severely affect self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, if there is room for improvement, it is usually worth the investment," she notes. "However, acne scarring can be difficult to completely cure, takes multiple treatments, and is costly. It is extremely important to go to a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in acne scarring and has the many different modalities in order to get the best results."

How much does it cost?

"Price varies depending on lasers and how many treatments are needed," says Nussbaum. "Fractionated lasers can range from $1200 to $1600. Radio-frequency micro-needling can range from $500 to $1300, depending if PRP is used. Vascular lasers and IPL can range from $500 to $1000, depending upon area," she shares.

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