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Do Laser Treatment for Acne Scars Work?

Laser treatment for acne and acne scars are effective and safe skin treatments. 

You might be wondering “Who is laser treatment suitable for?” and “Is it more cost-effective than other forms of treatments for pimples and facial acne scars?”

If you have tried skin care creams and oral medications but you are not seeing your desired results, you might want to try medical-grade treatments that are performed by skilled doctors.

Let’s review all the treatments available for pimples, blemishes and indentations.

Laser treatment for acne

Laser treatments for pimples are the next line of treatment if you have already tried topical creams, chemical peels and oral medications for your pimples.

This improves your pimples by reducing inflammation and suppressing sebum production. 

  1. Gold Toning laser

    The Gold Toning laser selectively targets hemoglobin which reduces inflammation related to pimples. This is proven to reduce the number of pimples (inflammatory pimples lesions) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25645645). 

    This laser is an acne treatment that is very well tolerated by most patients as there is minimal discomfort or pain. In fact, this treatment can be done without any numbing cream. 

    Recovery time is also very quick. Commonly, mild redness is expected immediately after the treatment and resolves within minutes. 

    Compared to other forms of lasers, Gold Toning treatment is relatively affordably priced from $300/ session.

    Used in combination with topical creams and oral medications for pimples, Gold Toning treatment is another effective and safe option to combat stubborn pimples. 

    This treatment is typically needed to treat stubborn cases of pimples such as adult acne and hormonal acne.

    Pain: Minimal – treatment is well tolerated by most patients. No numbing cream needed.

    Common side-effects: temporary redness at treatment areas.

    Price: from $300/ session.

    Review: Safe treatment with minimal recovery time. Good for busy individuals who cannot afford to have downtime.

  2. Fractional Radiofrequency (INFINI)

    Fractional radiofrequency is an established and proven acne treatment. This technology works by reducing sebum production in your skin (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24249246). 

    A Korean study published in 2020 showed that fractional radiofrequency is effective for moderate to severe acne vulgaris (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31957952).

    The INFINI treatment is our fractional radiofrequency treatment of choice. This versatile treatment “kills 2 birds with 1 stone” because it improves acne as well as acne scars (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26472097). 

    We also recommend INFINI treatment for adult patients with acne because of its anti-aging benefits of collagen stimulation and skin tightening. 

    With benefits that go beyond treating zits and acne scars to improving sagging skin, INFINI is a cost-effective treatment for patients who have these multiple concerns. 

    Pain: Medium – treatment is well tolerated by most patients after numbing cream.

    Common side-effects: temporary redness at treatment areas.

    Price: from $850.

    Review: Cost-effective treatment for patients who have both active acne and acne scars.

    Now that we have explored treatment for pimples, let’s explore scar removal for acne.

Laser treatment for Acne Scars

Laser treatment is one of the most effective treatments for acne scar removal. There are many types of lasers for acne scars.

Let’s understand these technologies systematically. 

These are 5 of the most common types of laser for treating scars. Some lasers are used for stimulating collagen growth to make indented scars shallower, while other lasers are used to treat colored scars.

  1. Fractional CO2/ Erbium laser

    Fractional ablative lasers like fractional CO2 and fractional erbium lasers are one of the most commonly used lasers for acne scars removal. It is one of the most well-researched and well-understood technology for treating skin texture issues like pimple scars, pores and fine lines.

    The term “ablative” laser means that the laser resurfaces or “removes” the most superficial layer of your skin. Naturally, it comes with a few days of recovery time needed. 

    The term “fractional” is a reference made for the laser’s ability to selectively remove a “fraction” or small percentage of your total skin surface area. The benefit of removing a “fraction” of the superficial aspect of your skin as compared to full resurfacing is shorter recovery time and less risk of side effects and complications.

    There are many brands of fractional CO2/ Erbium technology in the market. We use EDGE Fractional CO2 because of its ability to create “micro” laser beams as compared to traditional fractional lasers. This translates to faster recovery and a safer procedure for our patients.

    The benefit of fractional ablative technology is the ability to resurface the top layer of your skin, up to 1.0mm. This is good for superficial indentations, fine lines and pores. However, fractional ablative lasers alone might not be enough to treat deeper indentations or treat scars in patients with significant amounts of loose skin due to collagen loss. These patients will require energy devices that can deliver energy deeper into your skin – beyond 1mm.

     

    Ablative Laser
  2. Fractional Radiofrequency 

    Fractional radiofrequency is a technology that complements fractional ablative lasers. Fractional radiofrequency is able to deliver energy up to 3.5mm deep, which is deeper than what fractional ablative lasers can do (up to 1mm deep).

    Fractional radiofrequency is non-ablative in nature. This means that it does not and cannot resurface the top layer of your skin. This is beneficial for patients who are looking for deep collagen stimulation, remodelling of deeper scars and treatment of dermal skin laxity.

    Using fractional ablative lasers, like fractional CO2, as a reference, fractional radiofrequency treatments have less recovery time and less social downtime because the radiofrequency energy is delivered deeper into the underlying layers of your skin. 

    To achieve comprehensive collagen stimulation and scar remodelling, fractional radiofrequency treatments can be combined with fractional CO2 lasers. This allows doctors to target multiple depths and layers of your skin thoroughly. 

    The latest studies have shown that a combination program of these 2 technologies gives better results than just fractional ablative lasers alone. 

    We offer the INFINI fractional radio-frequency treatment amongst other brands. This is because INFINI is one of the most well-researched and widely performed fractional radiofrequency treatments around the world. INFINI’s efficacy and safety are of high importance to us and our patients. 

     

    Non-ablative
  3. Fractional Pico Laser

    Fractional Pico Laser is a special wavelength of the widely used pico laser that stimulates collagen production in the dermal layer of your skin. 

    It is the middle ground between fractional CO2 lasers (targets superficial layer) and INFINI fractional radiofrequency devices (targets deep skin layers) in terms of the depth of energy delivery and rate of recovery. 

    Compared to fractional CO2, fractional pico has less downtime. It also penetrates slightly deeper into the dermis while sparing the epidermis. 

    Compared to INFINI, fractional pico laser does not penetrate as deeply. 

    The fractional pico laser is ideal for patients with mild or shallower scars, mature patients who are looking for skin rejuvenation and anti-aging benefits with less downtime than ablative lasers. 

    Pico fractional laser is also ideal for patients with pre-existing pigmentation like melasma which is a relative contra-indication for fractional ablative procedures. 

     

    Non-ablative Laser
  4. Pico Laser

    A traditional Pico Laser is a pigmentation removal laser. This helps to remove acne scar of an entirely different type known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This type of scars are brown colored scars. Sun exposure can worsen the post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation on your face.

    The pico laser can lighten any type of pigmentation including natural pigmentation like freckles and sunspots, as well as man-made pigments like tattoo ink. This is because a pico laser works by breaking down pigmentation into tiny pieces to be absorbed by your body’s immune system.

    If you have brown colored scars and indented scars, you will need pico laser treatments to improve your brown facial scars as well as fractional ablative, fractional pico and/ or fractional radiofrequency to treat your indented scars. 

    For better results, pico procedure can be combined with medical-grade chemical peels to exfoliate your skin cells for faster skin renewal.

    Unfortunately, the pigmentation treatment mode of the pico laser cannot resurface your skin to improve skin texture. 

    The benefit of pico laser is the minimal downtime nature of this treatment. If you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as your predominant form of pimple scars, your treatment recovery will have less than 1 day of mild redness with no scabbing or textural downtime.

     

    Pigmentation Removal Laser
  5. Gold Toning Laser

    The Gold toning laser combats another form of colored pimple scar known as post-inflammatory erythema. Post-inflammatory erythema are red colored pimple marks that persist after a pimple. 

    This treatment works by reducing redness and shrinking micro-blood vessels. Over multiple sessions, your red pimple scars will look less obvious. 

    Gold toning laser has benefits for both inflammatory pimples and post-acne erythema. This is a versatile treatment for patients who have both conditions.

    This therapy has minimal downtime. The recovery time is similar – less than 1 day of mild redness. 

    For patients with both red and brown colored scars, you might need both gold toning laser and pico laser to tackle the respective types of pimple scars.

     

    Vascular Laser

Which laser treatment should you choose?

The best treatment begins with the most important variable in the whole equation – You – the patient! 

In terms of reviewing an ablative versus non-ablative, fractional CO2 or fractional Pico? The key to successful treatment of your acne scars goes beyond the technicalities of each technology.

Having treated thousands of patients, our considerations for successful treatment include: 

  1. Type and severity of scars
  2. Skin type and sensitivity
  3. Ability to take downtime
  4. Ability to return for treatments 
  5. Financial budget

From our observation, most patients have a few types of scars. This means that you might need:

  1. Several types of Lasers (to tackle each type of acne scar) – usually at least 2
  2. Multiple treatment sessions (to stimulate adequate skin remodelling) – usually at least 5
  3. Combination of lasers in each treatment session (for laser-focused treatment for each type of scar – pun intended) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24698570)
  4. Non-laser treatments – subcision (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6715122/), dermal fillers (for deep atrophic scars)

The latest scientific evidence in 2020 also shows that a combination of treatments works better than using 1 type of treatment (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353774/).

Please consult an expert for analysis of your scars, skin type and suitable treatment plan.

Author

Medical Director

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Boey’s journey in aesthetics brought him to esteemed institutions such as Harvard Medical School, American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and Queen Mary University of London in diverse cities like Seoul, London, Boston and New York.