Removing scars with laser

10 things to know before having laser treatment for your scar

After two pulsed-dye laser treatments from a board-certified dermatologist (B), this woman’s raised scar (A) is much less noticeable. A laser can seem like a magic wand that can make any scar disappear. Medical lasers, however, are nothing to play with. To get impressive results and avoid serious side effects, it’s important to know these basic facts before you have laser treatment for a scar.

1. Laser treatment cannot get rid of a scar. Thanks to recent advancements in medicine, lasers are becoming a dermatologist’s go-to treatment for many scars. Laser treatment can:

  • Prevent a raised scar from forming after surgery

  • Reduce scar pain and itch

  • Increase your range of motion if a scar limits movement

Laser treatment can also make a scar less noticeable, but it cannot get rid of a scar. When you have laser scar treatment, you’re replacing one scar with another less-noticeable scar.

2. Your results depend largely on the skills of the person performing the laser treatment. Dermatologists are at the forefront of researching and treating scars with lasers.

In the hands of a board-certified dermatologist, laser treatment can safely treat many types of scars.

When the person performing your laser treatment lacks medical expertise and specialized knowledge of the skin, laser treatment may not give you the results you seek. It can even be dangerous.

3. A medical consultation is crucial before any laser treatment. If someone promises to treat your scar before providing a medical consultation, walk away.

Give your dermatologist a list of the medications and supplements you take. To heal well and prevent the laser from scarring your skin, you may need to stop taking something for a while.

It’s essential for the person performing your laser treatment to know about you. Everyone is unique. To treat a scar effectively, the person performing your laser treatment must consider your skin type, characteristics of your scar, and your overall health.

During the medical consultation, tell your dermatologist if you:

  • Get cold sores

  • Have any medical condition, including diabetes

  • Smoke

  • Take any medications or supplements

It’s also important for your dermatologist to know what results you expect from treatment. Be honest.

4. Sun protection is crucial before and after laser treatment. If you show up for laser treatment with a tan or sunburn, your dermatologist cannot treat you. Using a laser could cause a serious burn or discolor your skin.

After having laser treatment, you’ll need to protect your skin from the sun until your skin heals. If the sun’s harmful rays hit your treated skin, you can develop another scar.

5. You may need to make a few lifestyle changes before treatment. To heal well and get the best results from laser treatment, dermatologists recommend that patients:

  • Quit smoking for at least 2 weeks before laser treatment.

  • Stop taking vitamin E, aspirin, and other medications and supplements that can delay healing.

  • Stop using skin care products that contain a retinoid or glycolic acid for 2 to 4 weeks.

  • Take medication to prevent getting cold sores if you’re prone to developing cold sores.

  • Avoid the sun, tanning bed, or sunlamp. You cannot be treated if you have a tan or sunburn.

6. Your treatment plan may include more than laser treatment. To give patients the best results, dermatologists often use more than one treatment for scars. For example, if a patient has deep acne scars, a dermatologist may treat the scars with a laser. The patient may also get a filler.

7. You may need more than one laser treatment. To give a patient long-lasting results and the most improvement, a dermatologist may schedule a series of laser treatments. This is often necessary when using a type of laser called a non-ablative laser. You won’t have downtime with this laser, but to see the desired results, you may need a few laser treatments.

8. After laser treatment, you’ll need to care for the treated area at home. Following your dermatologist’s instructions for at-home care after laser treatment will help you see the best results and prevent possible side effects.

9. Results take time to appear. It can take months to see the results from laser scar treatment, and you may notice little improvement at first.

10. Insurance may not cover the cost. Laser scar treatment can ease the pain and itch that scars sometimes cause. If a scar limits movement, laser treatment can help you move more freely. Still, insurance providers consider laser treatments cosmetic treatments. Health insurance generally does not cover the cost of cosmetic treatments.

If you’re considering laser scar treatment, the best way to find out if it’s right for you is to meet with a board-certified dermatologist. You can find one who specializes in laser procedures at, Find a dermatologist – Select the Specialty “laser procedures”.

Image 1: Used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol.2003;49:1-34.

Image 2: Getty Images

American Academy of Dermatology, news releases:

  • “Scar treatments can improve patients’ quality of life.” News release issued Jul 28, 2016. Last accessed Nov 22, 2017.

  • “Popular anti-aging treatment emerges as effective treatment for difficult scars.” News release issued Feb 2, 2015. Last accessed Nov 22, 2017.

  • “Military dermatologists making strides in applying treatments for wounded warriors to injured civilians.” News release issued Mar 21, 2014. Last accessed Nov 22, 2017.

Prsic A. (2017, Apr 6) “Scar revision.” Medscape. Last accessed Nov 22, 2017.

Scar Removal: Are Lasers the Answer?

A scar is an unpleasant reminder of a healthy body process, created when your skin repairs a wound caused by an accident, infection, inflammation, or surgery. Scars vary in shape and size. They may start out red and thick and fade over time, or turn flat, sunken, or lumpy — leading you to wonder about cosmetic procedures to eliminate them.

These days, skin laser technology has advanced to the point where much can be done to treat scars. Laser scar removal or reduction is a common procedure performed in a dermatologist’s office or at a skin laser clinic. With a laser, scars can be lessened significantly and possibly erased, depending on their severity. There are three main types of skin laser treatments available:

  • Laser resurfacing, sometimes referred to as “ablative” laser resurfacing
  • Fractionated laser resurfacing
  • Non-ablative laser resurfacing

Laser Resurfacing

In this treatment, dermatologists use a high-powered laser to remove the top layer of skin that has been scarred. The laser also penetrates to the skin’s middle layers, tightening and smoothing the skin.

Laser resurfacing is performed on an outpatient basis in a doctor’s office or skin laser clinic, and usually takes one to two hours. Goggles protect your eyes from the laser’s bright light during the procedure, and you’ll be given a local anesthetic for the pain and twilight sedation — you’re not “out,” but you are sedated. The dermatologist will run the laser, which resembles a handheld wand, over the scar to remove the damaged skin cells. Each pass of the wand will remove more cells.

There are two types of lasers used for skin resurfacing, each with their own pros and cons:

  • CO2 laser is a powerful laser that penetrates deeply into the skin and is better at removing thicker and deeper scars. As a consequence, recovery time is long, usually about two weeks. The procedure also can be painful.
  • Erbium: YAG laser is less powerful than the CO2 laser and is most often used to treat shallow scars. You’ll need less anesthetic and sedation when you undergo laser scar removal with this laser, and your recovery time is faster, about a week.

Skin laser resurfacing can be expensive, starting at around $2,700 to treat just one portion of the face.

Fractionated Laser Resurfacing

This precise laser therapy uses tiny beams of light that penetrate deeply into the skin. The result is dozens or even hundreds of microscopic holes where skin cells have been removed, surrounded by healthy skin. The holes help break down old skin cells while stimulating collagen production within the deeper skin layers. The surrounding healthy skin helps to quickly heal the damage done by the laser therapy, resulting in fresh, new skin cells.

Topical anesthetic will prevent pain. This therapy is much less invasive and requires little to no recovery time — it also doesn’t produce the same amount of skin improvement as full-fledged laser resurfacing. Patients usually experience redness or minor swelling that fades within a few days. You’re likely to need three to five treatments, spaced out at least a week apart. While some improvement will be seen immediately, you will have to wait a few months to get the real results of the treatment. A full-face treatment runs about $1,500, so if you are having a specific area of skin treated you can expect to pay less than that.

Non-Ablative Laser Resurfacing

Dermatologists use infrared skin lasers to heat the inner layers of the skin while leaving the surface untouched. This promotes collagen production and creation of fresh new skin cells that will replace the scars’ damaged cells. The pro for this procedure is the time involved. It does not require the recovery time needed following laser skin resurfacing and also takes less time in the doctor’s office, 15 to 30 minutes for each treatment.

As for the cons, the procedure can be somewhat painful, but while the laser is operating, it releases a cooling spray to prevent damage to your surface skin. Also, because the healing is taking place deep inside your skin, it can be months before you see results. Four to six treatments may be required to receive the full benefit of the therapy, with each one costing $400 to $600.

The type of skin laser treatment that will be most effective for you depends on the type of scar you have. A consultation with a doctor experienced in laser scar removal will determine the best strategy.

“The Healthy Geezer” answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Question: I have a nasty-looking scar that shows only when I wear a bathing suit. I’d like to get rid of it, if possible. What’s available?

Answer: There is no procedure yet that will make a scar disappear completely. However, there are treatments to make a scar less noticeable. These include:

Surgical Scar Revision: This is a method of removing a scar and rejoining the normal skin. Wide scars can often be made thinner. Long scars can be made shorter. Using broken-line incisions can make scars harder to notice. Sometimes, a surgeon can hide a scar by redirecting it into a wrinkle or a hairline.

Dermabrasion: A surgeon uses an electrical dermabrasion machine to remove the top layers of skin. This process gives the skin a smoother surface. Dermabrasion is used for treating acne scars, pockmarks, some surgical scars, or minor irregularities.

Laser Scar Revision: Another method of improving scars is laser scar revision. High-energy light is used to treat damaged skin. Different lasers are available for treating a variety of scars. For example, a pulsed dye laser uses yellow light to remove scar redness and to flatten raised scars (hypertrophic scars or keloids).

Soft Tissue Fillers: There are injectable substances such as fat, collagen and hyaluronic acid, that are used to treat indented soft scars.

Punch Grafts: Punch grafts are small pieces of normal skin used to replace scarred skin. A tiny circular cutter is used to cut a hole in the skin and remove the scar. The area is then filled in with a matching piece of unscarred skin.

Chemical Peels: This procedure uses a chemical to remove the top layer of the skin and smooth depressed scars. It is most helpful for superficial scars.

Pressure bandages and massages: These can both flatten some scars if used on a regularly for several months.

Silicone gels: Silicone-impregnated gels can be used at home to remodel elevated scars. They must also be used regularly.

Cryosurgery: This technique freezes upper skin layers and causes blistering of the skin to remove the excess tissue at the scar.

Cortisone injections: These are effective in shrinking and flattening very firm scars. This treatment is popular for hypertrophic scars and keloids.

Interferon: This is a chemical that is injected into the scar. It may improve the appearance of a scar.

Cosmetics: Make-up applied correctly can be very good at covering up scars.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of “How to be a Healthy Geezer” at

6 Ways to Say Goodbye to Scars

There are many different types of scars based on the cause of the scar and the healing that took place after the skin injury occurred. Scars can cause symptoms such as pain, itching, tightness, and restriction of motion, but they can also just be plain unsightly or an unwanted reminder of a past injury.

If you have recently developed a scar, either from a surgery or injury to the skin, it is important to keep it protected from the sun while it is healing. Sun-avoidance and keeping the scar covered with a bandage is essential during the initial phase to improve the healing and reduce scarring and discoloration.

If the wound is healed and you desire further improvement in the appearance of the scar, consider treatment sooner rather than later. Scars can be treated as early as three to four weeks after the injuring or surgery, although older scars will respond to treatments as well.

Fortunately, there are many options to choose from to effectively treat scars. You doctor will select treatment based on the type of scar, such as raised, flat, or indented; the appearance of the scar, whether it is red, white, or dark; location of the scar; and the cause of the scar. If the scar is from a surgical procedure, lasers can be used as soon as a few weeks after the stitches have been removed or after the scar has fully healed over. Acne scars can be treated once the acne is under control. Here are some of the most popular scar treatments you can consider for yourself.


Injections of triamcinolone (cortisone) or 5-fluorouracil can be used for raised or bulky scars. Both triamcinolone and 5-fluorouracil help to reduce the collagen production in the bulky scars, causing them to flatten out over time. Often a series of injections is needed to get to the desired improvement and they can be combined on the same day as laser treatments to improve results.

Pulsed Dye Laser

Scars are often red after they have healed. The redness generally lessens with time, however pulsed-dye lasers (PDL) are very effective at removing the redness from and around a scar. These lasers are also effective at flattening raised scars with the combination of injections, and can help to blend in the appearance of the scar with the surrounding skin. Multiple treatments are required for the best results.

Non-ablative Laser Treatment

These lasers induce microscopic areas of injury in the skin, which allow for new collagen formation, which means that the scars will get softer and flatter over time if they are raised, and help indented scars and acne scars to fill in. These lasers are safe to use in all skin types, and multiple treatments, usually spaced about a month apart, are needed to treat scars. After non-ablative laser treatment, the skin will be red and puffy, like a sunburn, and lightly exfoliate over a few days. It generally takes three to five days or longer on certain areas of the body, for the skin to return to pretreatment state.


This treatment involves a small handheld device that delivers many fine needles into the skin. The depth that the needles penetrate into the skin is determined by the flatness or thickness of the scar. The needles create micro-wounds in the skin that stimulate collagen formation. After microneedling, there will be pinpoint bleeding on the skin along with redness and swelling. The skin generally heals quickly within two to three days. Microneedling is also repeated on a monthly basis and works well on acne and atrophic scars. It can also work on raised scars in conjunction with topical treatments or injections.

Radiofrequency Microneedling

The newest technology for the treatment of acne scars is Radiofrequency Microneedling. These devices use microneedles to penetrate the skin and deliver pulses of heat in various depths within the skin. The creation of small zones of coagulated collagen is gradually replaced with new collagen to fill in the scars and minimize their appearance. Multiple treatments are recommended at one month intervals depending on the severity of the scars. Depending on the strength and depth of treatment, recovery time can range from two to five days with redness, swelling, and mild bruising.

Ablative Laser Treatment

These lasers are best used for thick scars and often require fewer treatments than other devices in order to see results. The healing time is longer, since there are small zones of treatment in which the top layer of the skin is removed. The healing time is generally around one to two weeks and good wound care is important during this time. Although an effective treatment, ablative fractional resurfacing can have more risks and downtime compared to the other lasers and devices. This type of laser treatment can also be combined with topical or injected triamcinolone or 5-Fluorouracil.

If you have acne scars, surgical scars, or any other type of scar, talk to your doctor about the option that will be optimal. With all of the currently available technologies, there will be a modality that will work best for you.

Dr. Geeta Shah is a board certified dermatologist at Capital Laser & Skin Care.

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Best for: Fillers are best at temporarily disguising a few depressed but shallow scars, like boxcar and rolling scars.

Cost: $650-900 per syringe. Between one and two treatments is usually enough to see results, but know that fillers aren’t permanent and you’ll need to repeat the process after anywhere between six months and two years after your last procedure.


Dr. Vashi says she’ll usually treat raised scars (which, depending on their age, can be very difficult to address) with several rounds of steroids that are injected directly into the scar or lesion in order to reduce its height.

Although some studies have found this treatment to be effective the scar could still come back months or even years after undergoing the procedure. And there is a risk for atrophy in the surrounding tissues associated with steroid injections. So—we can’t say this enough—be sure you’re seeking treatment in a medical setting with a doctor you trust.

In some cases, your dermatologist may instead use injections of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), a chemotherapy drug, Mary L. Stevenson, assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. Steroid injections can also be used in combination with 5-FU injections if needed, she says.

Best for: Raised acne scars.

Cost: The cost and amount of treatments needed varies widely depending on the scar.


Surgical options for acne scars may seem a little counterintuitive, since surgeries in and of themselves leave scars behind. According to the AAD, these post-operation scars will gradually fade. The AAD also notes that acne scar surgery may involve lifting the scar so that it leaves less of a depression in the skin, or a procedure called subcision, in which the scar tissue that’s pulling the skin down is broken up.

Subcision works particularly well as a precursor to laser treatments as it frees up the skin, so to speak, and allows the laser to work more efficiently over the area, Dr. Vashi says. As with any surgery, there’s always a risk of bleeding or infection, Dr. Johnson says, so, again, be sure that your provider is an experienced, board-certified dermatologist.

Best for: Those who have just a few depressed scars. Some types of surgery can also address raised scars that haven’t responded to other treatments, like injections.

Cost: $200-400 per scar/lesion

Topical silicone treatments

With new or only slightly raised scars, Dr. Vashi says silicone gel sheets, which work to reduce the scar’s size and stiffness have been found, anecdotally, to be effective treatment options. Silicone gels and sheets are also an attractive option because they can be purchased over-the-counter at drugstores or online.

But they take a fair amount of dedication to get results: You’ll need to wear the sheet (basically all day) in the same spot every single day for a while, possibly months, the AAD says. That can cause side effects, including rashes. And, if you’re treating acne scars on your face, you may not want to put up with that. Even if you do, know that silicone treatments aren’t likely to completely treat the scar.

Also, know that topical silicone treatments are most effective if used “while the scar is healing and before it thickens,” Dr. Stevenson says. So if you’ve had a raised scar for a few years and are just now thinking about trying to minimize it, you may not see great results with topical silicone.

Best for: New or only slightly-raised scars.

Cost: $20-40 for a package of eight sheets.

There is no one “right” way to address acne scars.

Just as a reminder, scars are not inherently dangerous or bad for you. They’re usually a normal part of the healing process. And the treatments out there to make them less noticeable are costly and definitely not perfect. So, if they don’t bother you, it’s perfectly fine to keep them around!

But if you do want to try to get rid of them, there are plenty of options out there. And your best course of action will be to talk to your dermatologist about which procedures are best for you.

And, instead of viewing lasers as something to avoid when planning your scar regimen, think of them as the Tony Stark of the Avengers-esque assembly of treatments your dermatologist will prescribe—undoubtedly intense, but they’re going to anchor the rest of the team. (We know you didn’t ask, but dermabrasion is obviously the Hulk.)

When carried out by an experienced derm and taken as just one part of your overall treatment plan, laser treatments don’t have to be scary. But the most important thing is to work with a dermatologist you trust to find a plan that works for you—with or without lasers.


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  • The 5 Best New Makeup Products for Scars and Discoloration

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I’m talking to my fellow beauty editors about the skin-care treatments they love (a conversation we have often), it’s not the retinol creams or Korean-inspired facials we’re raving about. It’s laser treatments. The ladies in the know go to the dermatologist’s office to get scars zapped and age spots singed away. Although I’m constantly researching new skin treatments, I’m a relative newbie when it comes to lasers. To be honest, when I hear the word laser, my mind jumps to light sabers before skin care. But as I approach 30, I’m noticing the way my skin is already changing—and it’s giving me a new appreciation for the many ways that lasers can help restore skin to its full glory. No Jedi mind tricks here, just effective, science-backed treatments that dermatologists stand by for visible results.

“Nothing really takes the place of what lasers can do for the skin. For somebody who is younger, you can get away with just using a good skin-care regimen—sunscreen, maybe getting a chemical peel here and there,” Kally Papantoniou, M.D., a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, tells SELF. “But you reach a point where you wish you could get back that perk that you used to have.” That, she says, is where lasers come in. And they can do a world of difference. But you need to know what you’re getting into if you want to get the most out of it.

Lasers can do a million things for your skin.

“Laser” stands for light amplified by stimulated emission of radiation. Yep, it’s complicated. But Heidi Waldorf, M.D., director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital, simplifies it: “It’s a wavelength of light, and different things in our skin will absorb different wavelengths.” That means derms use one wavelength to target brown spots, another for red bumps, etc. In fact, every pro we talked to has multiple machines in her office to handle the most common complaints, from fading stretch marks to treating rosacea.

Brown spots and discoloration, redness, wrinkles, acne scarring, surgery scars, stretch marks, and even tattoo removal are all things a dermatologist might recommend a laser for. “They’re not like magic erasers, but they’re quite helpful,” says Amy Wechsler, M.D.

One reason why dermatologists love skin laser treatments: They get the job done and require very little follow-up once a series of treatments is done. Some treatments take a few sessions spaced out over time to work. But after that, you’re pretty much done.

“People have this idea that laser is so expensive, ‘Oh, it takes so many treatments. Oh, I’m going to have such a bad recovery,’” says Dr. Papantoniou. “But really, it’s not that expensive and it works really well.”

Let’s be real for a second: Lasers are not cheap. But when you compare a lump sum for a handful of laser treatments to a lifetime supply of , you can see why so many people—derms included—think it’s worth the cost.

Here’s what lasers can do for you—plus which lasers will get the job done, and how much it’ll cost you. If you want an allover rejuvenating treatment:

Turn to a resurfacing lasers. In this category, Fraxel Dual is by far the favorite among dermatologists. “Fraxel stimulates the fibroblasts in the middle layer of skin called the dermis, telling them to make more collagen and elastin,” says Dr. Wechsler. More collagen and elastin means smoother, younger-looking skin. To do its work, Fraxel causes microperforations across the treated area; it takes about five days to heal from one Fraxel treatment.

About Scar Revision

Scars result from a chaotic wound healing response leaving behind fibrotic tissue due to irregular collagen formation. There are different types of scar including atrophic, hypertrophic, contracture and keloid scars. Available scar revision therapies depend on the type of scar, and range from topical creams for mild scarring, to grafting in the case of large, traumatic scars. Laser scar revision is an effective method for treating a wide range of scars that improves skin texture and pigment as well as functional aspects.

For acne and some surgical scars (see also Acne Scars Treatment), fractional skin resurfacing can effectively treat textural and pigment concerns. IPL can also be used to decrease pigmentation and vascular effects. Scars caused by burns and other traumatic injuries are more complicated in nature and can negatively affect the quality of life due to disfigurement, pain, bleeding, pruritis (itching) and restricted range of motion. Fractional ablative laser resurfacing has been proven to effectively treat such scars and provide consistent and significant functional improvement as well as measurable cosmetic benefits.

Acne Scar Removal in Austin, Texas

We’ve seen a recent surge in laser treatment for acne scar removal at our Austin MedSpa. And it makes sense. Just one laser resurfacing seems to do a bit of everything for age-reduction: tighten skin, reduce wrinkles, even-out skin tone, remove sun spots, reduce eye-bags, the list goes on and on…

… but the benefits of fractional laser treatment are especially effective for acne scar removal. Here’s why:

Uneven surfaces and acne scars can be caused from damage that occurs to skin cells and extends below the surface of the skin. Unlike sun-spot removal or rosacea treatment, acne scar removal requires a more aggressive treatment—one that treats both surface and deep skin damage. The ideal treatment affects both surface level and deep level skin damage at the same time. Addressing the full extent of damage in a single laser resurfacing treatment has a pronounced, synergistic effect on skin remodeling. The Halo Pro is one of the only technologies that can accomplish this in one combination treatment. That makes the Halo Pro laser one of the absolute best treatments for acne scar remodeling.

Acne Scar treatment requires full-spectrum tissue resurfacing

The Halo Pro is a hybrid fractional laser treatment that uses two different lasers at the same time to target the scar tissue. This instigates cellular remodeling of the damaged tissue and remodeling of collagen that has already formed. One laser targets the surface of the skin. the reproduction .

The other laser operates simultaneously on a deeper level, where most the damage occurs. At this level, the laser is able to break up the scar tissue itself, which instigates natural remodeling and regeneration of damaged scar tissue. Deep level resurfacing is one of the only ways to smooth out unevenness and restore damaged facial tissue.

This combination of lasers working simultaneously results in a complete remodeling of the tissue. The Halo Pro is one of the only available treatments that does this.

As an added bonus, the Halo Pro treatment does wonders for pore size reduction. This has an indirect benefit for treating acne scars. Small pores provide less of an area for dirt and oil and germs to hide.

For maximum results, we discovered that administering a Micro-needling treatment between two Halo Laser Facials amplifies maximizes effects. The micro needling treatment uses small needles to cause micro injuries to the tissue to encourage more collagen growth and collagen remodeling.

The most effective treatments for acne scar removal

To aid in the acne scar treatment process, we created a comprehensive laser and micro-needling combo treatment. The combination treatment includes two hybrid Halo laser treatments and one skinpen micro needling treatment. Almost all of our facial laser resurfacing patients see results instantly. No more covering up acne marks with layers of makeup. Add confidence and revitalize your self-image with the most comprehensive acne scar treatment available. In addition to treating acne scars, benefits of the Halo Pro include skin tightening, wrinkle reduction, sun spot removal, and pore shrinkage.

At-home lasers for wrinkles and acne: Everything you need to know

Neutrogena’s light therapy acne mask uses a combination of blue and infrared light to reduce redness and inflammation (this product has been recalled since the time of writing this article).


Over-the-counter cosmetic laser and light devices have become as readily available as OTC pain relievers. A quick Google search for “at-home laser therapy for skin” returns devices that promise to zap zits, eliminate unwanted body hair, reduce wrinkles and fix discoloration.

Dr. Tyler Hollmig, director of Laser and Aesthetic Dermatology at Stanford Health Care, told CNET it’s obvious why the market for at-home laser treatments has grown so much: “Going to an actual clinic can be less than convenient as well as expensive,” he said. “At-home devices are relatively inexpensive and promise similar results as those used by dermatologists.”

While it’s tempting to place an order for one of these skin-smoothing lightsabers, dermatologists warn that you might not get the results you want. Before you spend the money, learn about the safety of these devices, how they work and what kinds of changes to your skin you can expect.

Read more: Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Supergoop: The best sunscreens for 2019 | 6 razor subscription services to try in 2019

How does laser therapy for skin work?

To clear up any confusion, it’s important to mention that most devices marketed or referred to as “at-home lasers” don’t actually use laser technology like the kind you’d get at a clinic or medispa.

“True laser technology is not available for home use,” Dr. Kathleen Cook Suozzi, a dermatological surgeon and the aesthetic director of Yale Medicine Dermatology, told CNET. “The at-home ‘lasers’ on the market are typically light-based devices that do not have the power of laser devices available for in-office procedures.”

Home use devices do use some of the technology you’d find in a dermatologist’s office, such as intense pulsed light (IPL) and light-emitting diodes (LED), but not with the same pinpointed accuracy.

Many home “laser” hair removal devices also use light therapy, but there are some devices that actually use a laser to remove hair.

Now playing: Watch this: Procter & Gamble’s freckle-erasing makeup wand is pure… 1:14

What kind of conditions can at-home skin devices treat?

You can find at-home light and laser devices for treatment of acne, scars, hair removal and wrinkles using various methods, including IPL, LED, heat, infrared and more.

For example, the Skin Clinical Reverse Anti-Aging handheld uses LED to reduce fine lines and smooth your complexion and Nuface devices use microcurrents to stimulate skin and remove wrinkles. Neutrogena once offered a full-face mask that used red and blue light to reduce acne, but the device was recalled after reports of eye issues. You can still purchase the handheld, localized version of that product if you want.

Most at-home treatments fall into one of four main categories:

  • Anti-aging to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and tighten and rejuvenate the skin
  • Discoloration or pigmentation to get rid of sun spots, age spots or other pigmentation issues
  • Hair removal or hair growth to, well, grow or remove hair
  • Acne treatment to reduce redness, inflammation and scarring

Are these devices safe?

Consumers should be cautious before purchasing and using at-home devices, Dr. Hollmig said, and should first be informed about potential issues surrounding safety and efficacy.

“Unlike drugs, devices are less strictly regulated,” Dr. Hollmig told CNET. “Many laser devices are dangerous to the eyes can even cause blindness, as well as the skin, potentially causing burns and scars.”

Dr. David Lortscher, a dermatologist and CEO of skincare startup Curology, explained that unlike some clinical devices, many home-use devices are designed not to fire unless there is direct contact with the skin. If the user attempts to disable safety features, however, or ignores instructions for use and safety warnings, skin or eye damage can occur.

Some side effects of at-home light and laser skin devices include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Irritation or discomfort
  • Itching
  • Unwanted pigment changes

Side effects are rare, Dr. Lortscher told CNET, because the devices use such low-level energy. But because most devices target the pigment in your skin, Dr. Lortscher urges people with darker skin to be cautious, as they are at a higher risk for adverse effects.

The Reverse Anti-Aging Light Therapy device from Skin Clinical uses LED to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Skin Clinical

Do at-home laser treatments work?

Typically, at-home devices have significantly lower power than those used in a medical setting in order to reduce risks, Dr. Hollmig explained, but there may be a tradeoff between safety and device effectiveness. That is, at-home devices with lower levels of light may be safer, but may not give you the results you want, and vice versa.

“Low energy means safe but extremely subtle results, even after numerous treatments,” said Dr. Daniel Friedmann, a dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, and he cautions against excessive use of at-home lasers when you don’t see the results you want.

Even with professional-grade lasers, patients typically need several treatments to achieve the final results they want. And even after that, professionals usually recommend maintenance treatments. That said, you should keep your expectations realistic for at-home treatments.

NuFace devices use microcurrents to stimulate the skin, increase blood flow and reduce wrinkles.


Should you use an at-home skin treatment?

You should ask yourself a few questions when pondering at-home laser treatments of any sort:

  • Is the device safe?
  • Is the device effective?
  • Do I have a sensitive skin condition (such as melasma, which may worsen with certain laser therapies)
  • Are the results worth the money?

Look for whether the device has been FDA-approved or FDA-cleared (there’s a difference) and check out sites such as the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which all post helpful information on such devices and their uses.

You can also check RealSelf, which diligently monitors and researches all sorts of cosmetic procedures, lasers included. The site also includes reviews and photos from real people who have undertaken cosmetic procedures.

Regardless of a product’s FDA classification and the research behind it, you should always exercise caution when using therapeutic devices.

While low-level laser, light and heat therapies may be safe and effective for many people, those who have sensitive skin or a preexisting skin condition — especially inflammatory conditions like psoriasis and eczema — should be wary of at-home skin devices.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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