AcneNet Spotlight Article
Laser treatment for acne: What you should know

With all the hype, it may seem that lasers and other light therapies are light-years ahead of other acne treatments. That’s not necessarily true. At least, it’s not true today. The following tells you what you can expect from this type of acne treatment.

  1. Laser treatment or light therapy might be a part of an acne treatment plan. Rarely can a laser or light treatment alone clear acne. This type of treatment works best when used along with other acne treatment such as medicine applied to the skin.

  2. Laser or light therapy may help when other acne treatment has not worked. Some patients who did not see clearer skin with strong acne medicine have seen results when a laser or light therapy was added to their treatment plan.

  3. Results are unpredictable. Lasers and other light treatments do not work for everyone. Right now, there is no way to know who will see clearer skin and how much the skin will clear with a laser or light therapy.

  4. Most people see some clearing, but not 100% clearing. For example, people who receive blue light average 30% to 60% clearing after a series of treatments.

  5. To get the best results, you need a series of treatments. For example, if blue light is an option, you may need 1 or 2 treatments per week for a month. Each treatment usually lasts about 15 minutes.

  6. Results tend to be temporary. To maintain your results, you may need to use acne medicine that you apply to your skin.

  7. Treatment can be expensive, and insurance may not cover the costs. Prices range greatly. You should discuss the costs with your dermatologist and find out whether insurance will cover the treatment. If insurance does not cover the cost, you may be able to use money you have set aside in a Flexible Spending Account or Medical Savings Account.

  8. Good skin care helps deliver best results. To get the best results from acne medicine, you need to practice good skin care. This is true after laser or light treatment, too.

  9. Side effects are possible from lasers and other light therapies. After treatment, some people have redness. Swelling also can occur. These can last for a few hours or a few days. Side effects that are more serious sometimes occur.

  10. If you wish to get laser or light therapy for your acne, consult a board-certified dermatologist. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you discuss your options and expectations with a board-certified dermatologist before undergoing any laser or other light treatment. Experience is the best defense against serious side effects. You can find a dermatologist who specializes in laser procedures at:

Find a Dermatologist
From the specialty drop-down menu, select Laser Procedures.

Lasers and light therapies offer promise
With more research, lasers and light therapies may become a great treatment option for all types of acne. Lasers and light therapies could simplify confusing treatment plans. They could eliminate acne treatments that irritate the skin. They may even free us from the possible side effects associated with today’s strongest acne medicines.

Research continues, and the future looks bright.

More Information
Skin Care for Acne-prone Skin

Bowers, Jan. “Lasers improving as treatment modality for acne, rosacea.” Dermatology World, supplement to the February 2010 issue. 8,14.

Bowers, Jan. “Photodynamic therapy for acne: A work in progress,” Dermatology World. March 2011. 19-24.

Sakamoto FH, Torezan L, Anderson RR. “Photodynamic therapy for acne vulgaris: a critical review from basics to clinical practice: part II. Understanding parameters for acne treatment with photodynamic therapy.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology; 63: 195-211; quiz -2.

Sakamoto FH, Lopes JD, Anderson RR. “Photodynamic therapy for acne vulgaris: a critical review from basics to clinical practice: part I. Acne vulgaris: when and why consider photodynamic therapy?” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology; 63: 183-93; quiz 93-4.

Thiboutot D, Gollnick H, Bettoli V et al. New insights into the management of acne: an update from the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne group. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology; 60: S1-50.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Medical Devices: Device Approval and Clearances. Last accessed March 29, 2011. Available at

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Types of lasers and lights used to treat acne

Different lasers and light therapies are used to treat acne. The following explains the types.

Blue light (and other devices that emit visible light): Blue light was the first light treatment to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for acne treatment. Visible light can treat mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne such as pimples. Visible light is not effective for blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, or nodules.

Infrared light: This type of light has been approved to treat mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne, including pimples on the back. Infrared light cannot treat blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, or nodules.

Photopneumatic therapy: This treatment combines an intense pulsed light (IPL) laser with a gentle vacuum. It works by removing excess oil and dead skin cells from clogged pores. It is approved to treat blackheads, whiteheads, and some other types of acne. It cannot treat acne nodules or cysts.

Other laser and light treatments are being studied. One is photodynamic therapy (PDT). After PDT, some patients have had clear skin for years.





© American Academy of Dermatology, 2011  All rights reserved.
Page last updated 5/9/11

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