Laser Therapy for Acne
Acne is a common skin condition that involves over activation of the sebaceous glands of the skin. These glands secrete sebum, an oily substance that normally acts to lubricate the hair and skin by moving up a follicle and out through a skin pore. Conventional therapies have focused on pharmaceutical treatments, including antibiotics. Alternative therapies include nutritional changes, herbal medicines, and Chinese and Ayurvedic approaches. Recently, laser and light therapies have been introduced and have shown promise and advantages over conventional treatments.
How Do New Laser and Light Therapies Work in Treating Acne?
Laser and light therapies focus on the deeper layers of the skin, and do so without damaging the skin’s surface. Although it is not clear exactly how these therapies work, research indicates that they may target and shrink the sebaceous glands, therefore reducing the amount of sebum produced. This results in the formation of fewer plugs that clog pores leading to acne. Laser and light therapies may also be effective at killing Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), a bacterium that can cause additional inflammation during an outbreak.
Many conventional crèmes and solutions (such as Benzoyl Peroxide and topical antibiotics) that are applied to the face for acne can damage the skin’s surface; laser and light therapies avoid this treatment side effect. Another benefit of laser and light therapies is that they improve skin texture and minimize the appearance of acne scarring.
What Laser and Light Treatments are Available for Acne Treatment?
Several different laser and light approaches are currently being explored for use in acne treatments. Three approaches are now approved for acne treatment, but are not available in all areas:
Blue Light Therapy
In Blue Light Therapy, the skin is exposed to a low-intensity blue light source. The procedure is painless, and is usually performed over a series of sessions. Research indicates that Blue Light Therapy is effective at killing P. acnes, the bacterium that causes inflammation during outbreaks. Because P. acnes multiples rapidly, experts recommend ongoing treatment. Side effects of this therapy include a temporary reddening and dryness in the treated areas. New research is examining a combination of blue and red light at low intensity, which may be more effective than just blue light.
Pulsed Light and Heat Energy Therapy
In this therapy, pulsed light is combined with heat energy. It is believed that this therapy can destroy P. acnes, and can also shrink sebaceous glands. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a particular light and heat therapy for mild and moderate acne in which green-yellow light is pulsed with heat. This therapy can result in temporary redness in treated areas.
Diode Laser Treatment
Diode lasers destroy sebaceous glands in the dermis, or thick middle layer of skin, without causing harm to the skin’s surface. Treatment with diode lasers is painful, but this can be remedied by applying topical pain killers to the skin before treatment. Treatment can result in temporary redness and swelling of affected areas.
Considerations When Using Laser Therapy for Acne
Some considerations regarding laser and light therapies include:
- It is not yet known which patients will benefit most or least from these therapies
- The long-term risks and benefits of these therapies have not been established
- Some insurance plans do not yet cover these therapies, and they are expensive
What is Acne?
Acne is the scientific term for a variety of skin problems, including pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, and nodules. Acne is the most common skin disease. It is estimated that 80% of people between ages 11 and 30 experience outbreaks of acne. Most acne outbreaks occur on the face, neck, back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks. Although acne is not viewed as a serious health threat, it can result in permanent scarring.
The immediate cause of acne is the creation of plugs in skin pores. These plugs contain sebum from the sebaceous glands, as well as dead skin cells, and possibly bacteria in some cases. Plugs with a dark center are called blackheads. Pimples are whiteheads that rupture. Nodules and cysts are larger boil-like lumps that form deeper under the skin. When bacteria infect the plugs, additional redness and inflammation can result.
The longer-term causes of acne are unknown. Some research points to changes in certain hormone levels. There is also research indicating that acne may be partly hereditary. Certain medicines can also cause acne. Pollution and exposure to high humidity can cause acne to worsen. Stress can also make acne worse.