Acne Treatment Goes High-Tech

Oct. 24, 2001 -- Got zits that just won't quit? Chemical peels and lasers may be just what you need. Not only can these revolutionary treatments get rid of those stubborn pimples, they can even help smooth out scars old breakouts have left behind.

"Acne can have a devastating effect on self-esteem because it is so noticeable," says Allison T. Vidimos, MD, in a news release. She is with the department of dermatology at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Teenagers and young adults who have acne often feel isolated and self-conscious. But now acne can be treated with combination therapies, such as chemical peels and lasers, that are having successful results," says Vidimos"

Acne is usually treated with skin creams, ointments, or oral antibiotics. But when that doesn't get the job done, according to experts at a recent American Academy of Dermatology meeting, new technology can step in.

"If antibiotics and retinoids [such as Accutane] are not successfully managing acne, dermatologists can utilize chemical peels to 'unroof' pustules and exfoliate the skin," says Vidimos.

This exfoliation allows antibiotics and topical treatments to penetrate the skin more easily to control acne and prevent further outbreaks, she says.

There are different types of peels for treating acne:

  • Glycolic acid peels -- When used in combination with pills or creams, glycolic acids can speed up acne's response to treatment by reducing the amount of the oily substance, sebum, that collects and becomes trapped in the follicles. The peels typically require no downtime and are performed every 2 to 4 weeks in a series of 4 to 8 applications. Glycolic acids can also be used at home, everyday, in special preparations.
  • Salicylic acid peels -- These peels can penetrate plugged pores and are repeated every 2 to 4 weeks. Many cosmetic preparations contain similar acids that can be used everyday.

If you've attacked acne too late, or treatment hasn't produced the results you'd hoped for, lasers can help smooth out leftover scars.

A couple of lasers have become the latest options for reducing acne scars:

  • The pulsed carbon dioxide (CO2) laser vaporizes thin layers of skin and tightens collagen fibers, making it particularly effective for indented scars.
  • The Erbium:YAG laser vaporizes thinner layers of skin and allows for sculpting of smaller, irregular scars.

As good as lasers are, they don't handle crater-like scars very well. For these you may need soft tissue augmentation. In this treatment, either your own fat or another filler substance is injected into the scar to plump it up and make it level with the rest of the skin. Soft tissue augmentation only lasts 6 to 18 months, because injected fat gets reabsorbed into the body.

While less than perfect, the latest treatments do offer some very welcome options for current, and former, acne sufferers.