Vyvian (XueQing) Jiang, BSc Pharm Student
Had to struggle with acne before? If so, then it’s very likely that you have acne scars, whether it be pockmarks that won’t go away or redness remaining from a pimple that disappeared a week ago. Over the past decade, laser therapy has been emerging as a new supposed technology to help with acne scars. Today, we’ll be dig into the details of laser therapy, the cost, and other considerations and expectations regarding the therapy.
What Is Laser Therapy?
Also known as laser resurfacing, laser therapy works by removing the top layer of skin to soften scars and other imperfections.
There are two types of laser therapy:1
- Ablative: type that causes wounds in the skin which helps remove the superficial layer of the skin.
- Non-ablative: type that doesn’t create wounds, but works stimulating the fibre growth of the skin tissue which causes skin tightening.
While there are two types of therapy, ablative laser therapy is the type of treatment used for acne scars. Fractional CO2 lasers are an example of ablative laser therapy. In addition to its effect on acne scars, it can also be used to treat other skin problems such as wrinkles, sun damaged skin, or any type of scars in general.1
How Many Treatments do You Need?
With fractional CO2 lasers, results can be seen with just one treatment. However, multiple treatments does provide better results, especially when it comes to reducing the depth of pockmarks.2
But How Much Does it Cost?
Unfortunately, the cost of the amazing results is a bit out of budget for some people. Each treatment can cost anywhere from $1700 to as high as several thousands.3 A lot of you are probably wondering: what about my insurance? Unfortunately, a lot of insurance companies won’t pay for cosmetic surgery (anything that’s not medically necessary), but don’t be afraid to give them a call.
Is it Safe?
Just like any other treatment options, there is always a potential for safety concerns. The following are some of the potential risks associated with laser therapy.
- Skin irritation: You may experience redness, swelling, or itchiness which can last for several months while your skin is healing after the treatment.
- Acne: You may notice acne eruption. This is not due to the treatment itself, but from applying creams and bandages during recovery.
- Infection: While it may be bacterial, fungal or viral, herpes virus in the form of shingles is the most common infection one may experience.
- Changes to pigmentation: The laser treatment can either cause you to have less pigment (have lighter skin color) or have more pigment (have darker skin color).
- Scarring: Since the treatment is technically causing damage to your skin, you may experience some scarring as well.
Is Everyone Eligible For Laser Therapy?
Unfortunately, although it’s a very effective treatment, there are exceptions where treatment isn’t recommended in some individuals including:
- Those currently struggling with acne (especially because it can cause acne as a side effect)
- Those on oral isotretinoin in the past year (because the medication makes the skin weaker and therefore can cause more side effects)
- Individuals with a weakened immune system or an autoimmune disease
- People with high tendency to form scars
- People with darker skin (due to potential changes in pigmentation after treatment)
In addition to what was mentioned above, there are few other considerations to keep in mind. Try to avoid excessive sun exposure two months prior to surgery, because it increases the risk of changes in skin colour or uneven skin tone. Post treatment, sunscreen is essential for the first year to avoid skin discolouration. This may be devastating for some, but it’s important to avoid make up and take time to relax at home for recovery for about 1-2 weeks or as recommended by your dermatologist. This is because new skin takes about one to two weeks to grow. Lastly, if you’re worried about pain, don’t you worry – Advil ® or Tylenol ® can help manage this.
The Bottom Line
Fractional CO2 laser is an effective treatment option for acne scars; however, it may cost several thousand dollars out of your own pocket, and comes with the risk of discomfort for several weeks to months after surgery. Some other potential risks are more permanent, such as skin discolouration and scarring. Therefore, laser treatment is not recommended in certain people. Talk to your dermatologist if this sounds like something you might be interested in.
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- Laser resurfacing – Mayo Clinic. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/laser-resurfacing/about/pac-20385114
- Magnani, L., & Schweiger, E. (2013). Fractional CO2 lasers for the treatment of atrophic acne scars: A review of the literature. Journal Of Cosmetic And Laser Therapy, 16(2), 48-56. doi: 10.3109/14764172.2013.854639
- Laser Resurfacing – Edmonton Dermatology. (2018). Retrieved from http://edmontonderm.ca/cosmetic-dermatology/laser-resurfacing-co2/