Laser treatment for acne scars aims to minimize the appearance of scars from old acne outbreaks.
Laser treatment for acne scars focuses light on the top layers of your skin to break up scar tissue. At the same time, the treatment encourages new, healthy skin cells to grow and replace the scar tissue.
While this treatment doesn’t completely remove acne scars, it can reduce their appearance and also minimize pain caused by them.
If you have active acne, a darker skin tone, or very wrinkled skin, you might not be a good candidate for this treatment. Only a dermatologist can tell you if laser treatment for acne scars is a good course of action for you.
Laser treatment for acne scars isn’t typically covered by insurance.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average out-of-pocket cost for laser skin resurfacing is around $2,000 for ablative and $1,100 for non-ablative laser treatments. The cost of your treatment will depend on several factors, including:
- the number of scars you’re treating
- the size of the area being targeted for treatment
- the number of treatments you’ll need
- the experience level of your provider
This treatment doesn’t require recovery downtime. You can plan to be back to work after a day or two.
You might want to consult with a few different providers before you decide on one to perform your laser treatment. Some doctors will charge a consultation fee to take a look at your skin and recommend a treatment plan.
Laser treatment for acne scarring works in two ways.
First, heat from the laser works to remove the top layer of your skin where a scar has formed. As this top layer of your scar peels off, your skin appears smoother, and the appearance of the scar is less noticeable.
As the scar tissue breaks apart, heat and light from the laser also encourage new, healthy skin cells to grow. Blood flow is drawn to the area by the heat of the laser, and inflammation is reduced as blood vessels in the scar are targeted.
All of this combines to make scars look less raised and red, giving them a smaller appearance. It also promotes the healing of your skin.
Some common kinds of lasers used for acne scarring are erbium YAG lasers, carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers, and pulsed-dye lasers. Each of these devices work in a specific way to target the type of scarring that you have.
Ablative laser resurfacing
Ablative resurfacing uses an erbium YAG or carbon dioxide CO2 laser. This kind of laser treatment aims to remove the entire top layer of your skin in the area where you have scarring. It can take 3 to 10 days before the redness from ablative lasers begins to subside.
Non-ablative laser resurfacing
This type of laser treatment for acne scars uses infrared lasers. The heat from these types of lasers is meant to stimulate collagen production and encourage new cell growth to replace damaged, scarred tissue.
Fractionated laser treatment
Fractional lasers (Fraxel) aim to stimulate the tissue underneath your scar to remove cells that are darkly pigmented underneath the top layer of skin. Boxcar and icepick scars sometimes respond well to this kind of laser.
Lasers for acne scarring tend to target your face. But the treatment can also be applied to other areas where acne scars tend to appear. Typical targeted treatment areas include:
- upper torso
There are some risks and side effects when you use lasers to treat your acne scars. These side effects will vary according to what kind of laser is used, your skin type, and how many treatments you need.
Typical side effects may include:
- pain at the site of treatment
Pain from laser treatment for acne scars is usually gone after an hour or two. Redness may take up to 10 days to subside.
Risks of using laser treatment to lessen the appearance of acne scarring include hyperpigmentation and infection. While these conditions are rare and often preventable, it’s important to speak to your doctor about your risk factors before you decide to go ahead with treatment.
If you notice pus, extensive swelling, or fever after laser treatment for acne scarring, you’ll need to speak to your provider right away.
Here are some real-life examples of using lasers for treating acne scars.
It’s important to have realistic expectations going into any cosmetic procedure. Remember that laser treatment won’t take away your acne scars completely. In the best-case scenario, your scars will be far less noticeable, but there’s really no way to know how well it’ll work for you.
After laser treatment, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about your skin care in the weeks and months to come. Your skin will be more vulnerable to damage from the sun, so applying sunscreen before you leave the house is a must.
You’ll also need to avoid tanning or other activities that lead to extensive sun exposure for 6 to 8 weeks.
Your doctor may also give you special skin care instructions, such as a using a special toner or moisturizer, to help maximize the effects of your treatment.
You’ll need to keep the treated area clean to prevent infection, and your skin might have residual redness for days or even weeks. You may also need to avoid wearing makeup for a week or more, until the risk of complications has passed.
The results of your treatment won’t be visible right away. Within 7 to 10 days, you’ll start to see how well the treatment worked to reduce the appearance of acne scars. Results of this treatment are permanent.
You may need to make some lifestyle changes to be eligible for laser treatment for acne scars. Preparation for this treatment often includes:
- no aspirin or blood-thinning supplements for 2 weeks prior to the procedure
- no smoking for at least 2 weeks prior to treatment
- no skin care products that contain retinol for 2 weeks before your treatment
On a case-by-case basis, you may need to temporarily stop your acne treatment medications ahead of laser treatment. You may be prescribed a preventive antibiotic medication if you’re prone to cold sores.
Laser treatment is a simple and effective way to reduce the appearance of acne scars.
Speaking with a board-certified dermatologist is the first step to finding out if this treatment is right for you. You may want to shop around and speak to different providers to figure out which treatment option is right for you and your budget.
Here are some links for finding a certified provider in your area: