New Study Finds that Laser Tattoo Removal Can Help Reduce Acne Scars

Beautiful young woman face.

Laser tattoo removal is often associated with youthful mistakes, unskilled body art, and memories perhaps better forgotten. But as tattoos become increasingly accepted in many cultures, the future of this technology may extend into new areas. For example, a new study has found that one popular form of laser acne treatment is also effective as a treatment for acne scarring.


Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting 40 million to 50 million Americans around the country. However, even after the disorder clears, many patients see evidence of their skin problems linger in the form of scars, which are often caused by repeated breakouts on one stretch of skin. Currently, acne scars are treated with fractional ablative lasers, but the procedure has its drawbacks: while patients will typically require only one treatment, the skin will take as long as a month to heal after the procedure, and even one treatment can be quite costly.

However, new research could offer some patients a preferable alternative: researchers at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York found that a tool commonly used in laser tattoo removal, called a picosecond pulse duration laser, also had a significant impact on acne scars. After the study’s authors noticed that a patient undergoing a tattoo removal experienced a noticeable change in her stretch marks and scars, they tested the procedure on 17 patients with facial acne scars. The patients received six procedures that lasted between 10 and 15 minutes, with each session scheduled four to eight weeks apart. The study found that the patients’ scars had improved by 25 to 50% after their last treatment, with the results maintained three months after three months had passed. Moreover, the study reported that even the patients with extremely deep scars were satisfied or very satisfied with the effects of the treatment.

Despite the promise of the study, however, there is some question about the impartiality of its intentions. Cynosure, the company that makes the laser, was involved with the design of the study and also made payments to the two doctors, Jeremy A. Bauer and Roy G. Geronemus. Additionally, Geronemus sits on Cynosure’s medical advisory board. However, the company reportedly did not participate in the process of the research or collect, manage or interpret the data. Therefore, there is at least some reason to believe that the evidence has not been compromised.

While the dermatologists have cautioned that the picosecond pulse duration laser will not be the right option for all patients, they have suggested that it could be a helpful alternative for patients interested in a shorter healing time and a more gradual revitalization process. The picosecond pulse duration laser has also been shown to improve the texture and pigmentation of a patient’s skin, unlike fractional ablative laser treatment, which requires careful attention to ensure that the condition of the skin does not worsen. But ultimately, a doctor’s choice of treatment will depend on the patient, their skin type, their scars, and finally, their preferences. Fortunately, cost will likely not be a deciding factor between the two options: while individual treatments of picosecond pulse duration lasers cost less than fractional ablative laser treatments, the former will require several more treatments, which the researchers speculate will even out the different prices.

Picosecond pulse duration lasers do have some side effects: patients in the study reported some redness and swelling, which lasted from a few hours to two days after each application. However, the participants reported that the pain of the treatment only reached a 3 on a scale of 0-10, a promising detail given the famed discomfort of tattoo removal. Because of these benefits, Cynosure has reportedly submitted their treatment to the FDA to be approved as a treatment for acne scars. If you have this common skin ailment, picosecond pulse duration therapy could be a treatment option in your future.

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