Can You Laser Away Your Acne Scars?

Acne can take a toll on your skin whether you've been subject to mild or severe breakouts. Now, too, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that acne is on the rise. In fact more than one in 10 women experience acne, and the condition may last into their 30s and 40s. Current and former acne sufferers know how difficult blemishes are to treat on their own and that scarring can be even trickier to address. Once acne has reached the healing stage, you might still be left with scars that are difficult to conceal with makeup. Everyone's skin rebounds differently from bouts of acne; while some people develop hyperpigmentation and redness, others notice textured skin or scarring. And, of course, there are those of us lucky enough to experience more than one type of scarring simultaneously.

As annoying as acne scars can be, there are proven methods to mitigate their appearance. Mild darkening, like hyperpigmentation, can be treated to some extent with topical skincare products, according to research published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. But for moderate to severe acne scarring — the kind that affects your skin's texture — you may need to explore advanced options, like laser treatments. Laser therapy is routinely suggested as a solution for persistent acne scars, but is the popular procedure right for you? Let's review the risks and rewards of laser treatments for acne scarring and see what skincare professionals say.

What to know about laser treatments for acne

Acne scars come in a few categories. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation refers to the dark spots left behind by former blemishes. These aren't technically scars and don't require laser treatment, although it can help minimize their appearance. Deeper acne scars are referred to by the shape of their impression on your skin, including icepick, rolling, and boxcar scars. "Studies have shown that boxcar scars respond better to treatment as compared to rolling scars, while ice pick scars are poor responders to treatment," explained Dr. Madhuri Agarwal to Vogue India.

Laser therapy works by emitting light pulses on your acne scars, resulting in renewed, healthy skin. According to research in the medical journal Seminars in Plastic Surgery, pulsed-dye lasers, also known as PDL, are some of the most advantageous in treating acne scars due to their ability to diminish active acne and smooth the skin's texture. Another commonly used laser, CO2, isn't generally advised for patients with darker skin. "Many professionals will agree that [CO2] isn't friendly for brown skin tones because it's an ablative laser which completely resurfaces the skin," Dr. Corey L. Hartman told Refinery29.

Laser treatment is the best defense against deep, pitted acne scars. However, many dermatologists prefer to combine multiple therapies to achieve satisfactory results. Some doctors integrate laser sessions alongside other treatments that help reduce uneven texture, like micro-needling or chemical peels. "There are very few patients I do one thing for," dermatologist Dr. Neelam Vashi said of treating acne scars to Self.

Should you try laser therapy for your scars?

Most people are good candidates for laser treatment of acne scars. Exceptions include people with active acne breakouts or pronounced wrinkles, as laser therapy is contraindicated for those skin types. While laser intervention isn't particularly effective for deep-set wrinkles, it has a smoothing effect on fine lines. Laser treatments on acne can sometimes purge the skin, triggering temporary acne breakouts after sessions. "For active acne, it would be best [to develop] a good treatment plan with a dermatologist or skincare aesthetician to help balance and settle the skin before undergoing any laser treatment," aesthetician Safae Yemlahi told Glamour U.K.

A skincare professional can assess how many sessions you might need, but most cases require more than one session to obtain noticeable results. The cost of laser treatments can vary, but RealSelf lists the average price per session as $1,975. Unfortunately, because laser treatment is a cosmetic procedure, most health insurance plans won't cover its cost, but many clinics offer financing options. Furthermore, there are limitations to laser therapy, as with any cosmetic procedure. Be realistic about your expectations, and discuss any concerns about your skin with your provider before beginning treatment.

What to expect following laser treatment for acne scarring

Even if you can't commit to more than one visit, a single session of laser treatment may provide a reduction in acne scars. "I probably saw [a] 50% improvement. I'm glad I did it, but [the scars are] definitely still there," explained Redditor MarasmiusOreades of their experience following one session of laser therapy. Meanwhile, a survey published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology reported that three out of four patients who obtained one or more laser treatment sessions for acne scarring were satisfied with its effects.

If you opt to use laser treatment for your acne scarring, you can expect some mild irritation or redness in the weeks or months after the procedure. It's perfectly normal and will subside as your skin heals. Other side effects include skin irritations like bleeding or scarring; however, an experienced practitioner will take every precaution to minimize your chance of developing such complications.

The medical center Cleveland Clinic suggests avoiding exfoliating methods, such as microdermabrasion, for around a month before any laser treatment. Sun protection is always a must for healthy skin, but applying SPF on the areas to be treated by laser at least four weeks before your procedure is crucial. For more detail on what you can expect from laser therapy, you can schedule a consultation with a cosmetic dermatologist or laser surgeon in your area. Above all, research your potential provider's accreditations and patient satisfaction to ensure you'll experience the highest quality of care.