Laser therapy

The word laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, a process that uses electromagnetic radiation in the form of a narrow beam of light, while other lasers emit a broader beam of light.

Lasers are completely safe and used in every major industry from computers to entertainment. There are many forms of handheld devices which emit a low powered light for the treatment of inflammatory acne. These handheld devices do not give off any heat and are not called lasers.

Lasers are used to treat infected areas of skin, e.g. warts or reduce the signs of ageing, e.g. lines and wrinkles. A beam of light is aimed at the skin which destroys the infected area and leaves minimal scarring. A laser will cauterise (a minor procedure that seals a blood vessel by burning it), incise (cut) or vaporise a spot or remove large, unsightly varicose veins. It is also performed to remove unwanted hair, birthmarks or treat acne scarring.

Laser therapy can be used in the treatment of acne and must be carried out by a trained practitionerLaser treatments are the fastest way to deal with scars and hyperpigmentation (where patches of skin become darker in colour than the normal surrounding area) left behind when acne heals, but can also be beneficial for inflammatory acne. However, it’s not known to be particularly helpful for non-inflammatory comedonal acne.

There are several advantages to laser therapy, including:

  • Little or no bleeding
  • Minimal risk of infection
  • Quicker recovery
  • Precise form of surgery which reduces the risk of trauma
  • Effective surgery which can be performed in a single day

The primary benefit of laser therapy, as well as the primary drawback of laser therapy, is that is has very precise effects.

Lasers are used to treat various skin conditions:

  • Age spots and birthmarks
  • Lesions (abnormal damage or change to the tissue)
  • Moles and warts

They are also used for cosmetic purposes, such as tattoo removal.

Laser therapy is carried out by a dermatologist or a surgeon with many years of experience in this field. The therapy can be performed under a local anaesthetic, depending on the person’s skin condition and overall health. Laser resurfacing of facial skin to reduce post-acne scarring is an established technique requiring the skills of an experienced laser surgeon.

Your specialist will discuss the various forms of laser treatment available and the risks and benefits with each.

There are two types of laser treatment:

  • Ablative laser treatment - where lasers are used to remove a small patch of skin around the scar to produce a new, smooth-looking area of skin

    Lasers of varying wavelengths and intensities have now been developed to re-contour scar tissue, reduce the redness around a healed acne lesion, and promote the growth of collagen in the skin. Several treatments may be required but the treatment does not take long to undergo.

    Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing is a technique performed by a surgeon or dermatologist. The skin is first numbed to reduce any pain involved during the procedure. The practitioner removes surface skin layers in a controlled precise manner. The laser acts in a similar way to sandblasting where the molecular bonds of the cells are dissolved. Peeling away the skin with short pulses of light.

    The heat produced causes the oil glands to shrink thus helping to prevent breakouts of acne. Redness and swelling of the skin may be experienced afterwards. This will fade with time although the skin may take several weeks to recover. When the skin grows back scars are greatly reduced.

    This procedure is good after an outbreak of acne and ice pick scarring. Topical creams are usually prescribed in conjunction with this treatment. The patient is usually requested to avoid the sun for several weeks afterwards.

  • Non-ablative laser treatment – where lasers are used to stimulate the growth of new collagen (a type of protein found in skin), which helps to repair some of the damage caused by scarring, and improves the appearance

The newer non-ablative lasers are gentler than ablative lasers in the method of delivery to the treatment areas.

One example is the erbium energy laser used in treating areas of discolouration close to the surface of the skin and effectively healing acne scars.

The laser focuses highly concentrated beams of light under an area of the skin surrounded by healthy tissue to preserve the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) thus eliminating damaged cells, killing bacteria and stimulating collagen growth. This ensures a faster healing time.

The new collagen regeneration is stimulated for around 6 months and effectively lifts and supports the skins surface. Some temporary side effects from the treatment may be expected such as redness, swelling and tingling which fades.

The latest pulsed dye lasers are still being developed but are proving useful for scars from active acne and keloid scars (where the scar invades healthy skin, becoming bigger than the original wound).

There are many products which can help in the healing process after treatment and your Dermatologist or surgeon will give advice on this.

NOTE: laser treatment should not be done for at least one year after completing a course of isotretinoin (a prescription medicine to treat severe acne).

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 18 March 2018

Next review: 18 March 2021