Skin Laser and Pulsed-Light Acne Treatments
A variety of skin laser and light therapies are being tried as acne treatment. Learn about pulsed light therapy, diode laser treatments, and more.
Millions of people are affected by acne, and there's no shortage of acne treatments on the market, from pore-opening cleansers and gels to prescription-strength topicals and oral medications. However, many drugstores choices aren't effective enough, and some of the stronger acne drugs have potentially serious side effects. Frustration with recurring symptoms and concern over those side effects have led to a growing interest in new forms of acne treatment that use a skin laser or light therapy. While not yet the standard of care, these emerging acne treatments, including the diode laser and pulsed light therapy, may provide acne relief for some patients.
Types of Pulsed Light and Laser Acne Treatment
Blue Light Therapy. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved blue light therapy as a form of acne treatment. It's mainly used for cases of acne vulgaris ? the medical term for inflammatory acne, the most common kind. Blue light therapy works by killing P. acnes, the acne-causing bacteria, and is typically administered in eight 15-minute sessions over the course of a month. Some patients have experienced mild side effects such as temporary pigment changes and swelling and dryness in the treated area, though current blue light treatments are much safer than older light therapies that used ultraviolet (UV) light.
Blue light therapy is considered to be reasonably effective, but more extensive research is needed. This is because small-scale studies showing noticeable improvement with blue light therapy, especially in patients with inflammatory acne, had 30 or fewer participants.
Pulsed Light and Heat Energy Therapy. Pulsed light and heat energy, or LHE, therapy is a combination acne treatment that targets P. acnes and may also shrink the sebaceous glands and thereby decrease the oil production that can contribute to acne. FDA has approved a system of LHE for mild-to-moderate acne using a pulsed green light. Participants in a recent small study saw results after four weeks of treatments, with improvements that continued for two months after treatments stopped. As with blue light therapy, more study is needed.
Diode Laser. Several studies have confirmed the benefits of using a 1450-nanometer (nm) diode laser to treat inflammatory acne, although how it specifically works is still not known. One study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, succeeded only in ruling out any effect of this treatment on the sebaceous glands. Temporary swelling and redness at the treatment site is the most common side effect of diode laser treatment.
Pulsed Dye Laser. Another laser that has been tried as an acne treatment is the pulsed dye laser. A small study done in the United Kingdom showed improvement in about half the acne lesions, but a similar sized one in the United States did not produce noticeable results. U.S. researchers concluded more study is needed before this particular type of laser can be recommended to treat acne.
Pros and Cons of Laser and Pulsed Light Treatments
Skin laser and light therapies have shown some success in treating mild to moderate breakouts and are worth considering, especially if you aren't happy with the results of your current acne treatment. But because of the limited number of studies done, light and laser therapies might be hit or miss in terms of individual results. A review of 25 different trials pointed out that long-term benefits haven't been studied, nor have the effects of these therapies on severe acne.
Because the FDA classifies laser and light therapies as procedures (as opposed to drugs), acne treatments like these are not held to the same strict research standards that new pharmaceuticals must go through and can be offered to the public without the extensive testing a drug would need. As a consumer, you need to do your research about the procedure and the practitioner before you sign on for any of these acne treatments.
The biggest drawback might be the cost. Eight sessions are usually needed, and insurance companies don't typically cover these treatments. At $100 to $200 per session, trying a skin laser or pulsed light could run well over $1,000 out of your pocket.
As more research becomes available, the results of laser or light therapy might be more predictable, making it easier to know who might get the most benefit from these emerging treatments.
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