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- What is laser therapy for active acne?
- Major health considerations when using prescriptions for acne
- Minor but persistent side effects and nuisances when using prescriptions for acne
- Compliance issues when treating acne with prescriptions
- Differences when treating current versus future acne breakouts with prescriptions
- Limitations when treating mild acne with prescriptions
- Budgets for treating acne with prescriptions vs. laser therapy
- Acne laser therapy wins over prescriptions in most comparison categories
If you’ve suffered from long-term acne, you’ll know how hard it is to get rid of it. You may have seen a doctor after trying several over-the-counter products to clear and prevent blemishes. Doctors do their best with the tools they have. But until recently, there haven’t been solutions that are long-term, effective and free of potential, serious side effects. Now, we have laser acne therapy as an option to meet these requirements.
While antibiotics, isotretinoin, birth control or topical prescriptions can be great at regulating acne, they are less than ideal for several reasons. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between treating acne with prescriptions versus laser therapy.
What is laser therapy for active acne?
You may have heard of lasers being good at treating acne scars. But did you know lasers can be used to treat active acne? This can be done with traditional ND:Yag lasers (1064 nm). But, there are newer lasers designed solely for this purpose.
For example, the AviClear™ laser is FDA and Health Canada cleared to treat acne. It uses a special, 1726 nm wavelength of light to reach the sebaceous glands in the skin. Sebaceous glands are what produce oil in our skin.
By heating up the sebaceous glands with laser energy, medical aesthetic clinics can down-regulate the overproduction of sebum (i.e. oil) in the skin. This addresses one of the root causes of acne.
Acne is often caused by a trifecta of excess oil, dead skin cells and bacteria (particularly the propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes bacteria). By controlling the production of oil by sebaceous glands, treatments can thus control the potential formation of acne blemishes in the first place.
A whopping 90% of AviClear™ study subjects responded to its treatment. Not only that, the treatment worked long-term, without harmful side effects, and without downtime requirements.
It truly is a modern breakthrough in the world of acne solutions.
Major health considerations when using prescriptions for acne
Of course, controlling sebum production in severely acne-prone skin is not a new idea. Nor is addressing the trifecta of acne precursors noted above.
However, in the past, we’ve only had chemicals, prescriptions or lengthy procedures to do it. But, these solutions can come with the potential for serious side effects. So they are used with caution, if at all.
For example, antibiotics should only be used short term. This is because the body creates resistance to them. We need antibiotics to work for other illnesses. So it’s no use if our body no longer responds to them. Antibiotics also kill good bacteria along with bad bacteria, which can disrupt the body’s natural immune system.
Isotretinoin (brand name Accutane), is known to come with dangerous side effects including birth defects, depression, headaches, liver abnormalities plus dryness in the skin, nose and mouth, to name a few. It is a last-resort option for treating acne. It’s also usually only prescribed for extreme cases.
Birth control pills and hormone therapy don’t behave the same way in everyone. In some people, they can create emotional disturbances, bloating, nausea, headaches and more. For men, hormone therapy can cause unwanted breast growth.
Laser acne therapy does not cause harmful nor systemic side effects.
Minor but persistent side effects and nuisances when using prescriptions for acne
Topical products like benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid, whether or not they come in prescription strength, can result in dryness, chemical burns or other nuisances. Benzoyl peroxide, for example, can bleach bedding and clothing. It needs to be handled carefully.
Laser acne therapy, while it can result in temporary dryness or flare ups, does not have long-term side effects. Treating these minor side effects is transient, rather than a day-in-day-out problem that one has to deal with indefinitely.
Compliance issues when treating acne with prescriptions
A very common issue that acne prescribers often face is that of compliance. It’s one thing to give a patient a prescription they need; it’s a whole other thing to get them to follow instructions to take their medication properly.
Patients are notorious for not following stringent routines that are required for prescriptions to work as they should.
Laser acne therapy is a much easier regimen to follow. It only requires three to five sessions (depending on the technology used). After that, the patient simply needs to continue their daily cleansing and sunscreen routine.
Differences when treating current versus future acne breakouts with prescriptions
Some prescription products, such as Accutane (i.e. isotretinoin), are designed to treat acne in the long-term. This is only after months, and possibly multiple rounds of medication.
However, most acne prescriptions don’t work this way. They largely target current outbreaks, rather than future outbreaks. Even if they are meant to be preventative, they must be used on an indefinite, daily basis for that prevention mechanism to work.
Laser acne therapy works on both current and future outbreaks. It has been shown to lessen the severity and frequency of acne breakouts for up to a year, if not longer, after a handful of sessions, for most people.
Limitations when treating mild acne with prescriptions
Sometimes, the most effective prescriptions are reserved for those with stage 3 or 4 acne. In other words, acne needs to be in its extreme form in order for a doctor to prescribe strong medications like Accutane, which work in the long-term.
However, several people live with milder, stage 1 and 2 acne. While there are prescriptions and solutions for these milder forms, they still come with the issues noted above. They also may not solve the problem in the long term.
Laser acne therapy is safe to use on all stages of acne – whether mild, moderate or severe. And, in most people, it works long-term.
Budgets for treating acne with prescriptions vs. laser therapy
A major consideration for cash-pay acne patients is the cost of treatment.
In Canada, not everyone has government subsidies nor extended health insurance to cover the cost of prescriptions. These fees can add up quickly. For example, in 2016, this study calculated a 3-month course of isotretinoin to cost between $393.96 to $478.80 CAD. Fees for a 3-month supply of other prescriptions ranged greatly, from about $15 to over $100 CAD.
However, many acne prescriptions need to be taken for more than 3 months. Some require indefinite usage in order to be effective.
Plus, these fees would not include aesthetician visits for facials, or over-the-counter products used to manage or hide acne at home.
By comparison, a course of laser acne therapy can come to roughly $3,000 CAD, give or take. The treatment is usually sold in a cluster of sessions. Sessions are spread over a few months. Financing is often available to help pay for treatments.
The results of acne laser therapy are expected to last long-term for those who respond to treatment (which is currently at more than 90%). Since the technology is so new, the length of time results are known to last is yet to be determined. As of early 2023, studies have shown they can last at least 12 months. Studies also show acne gets better with time, for most people, after laser sessions are complete.
Acne laser therapy wins over prescriptions in most comparison categories
As we’ve seen above, prescription medications for acne can come with health risks. They are also known to create minor side effects and nuisances. People often have a hard time following the strict regimens they require in order to work properly. But even if they do, many of these medications need to be used for as long as the acne outbreaks are occurring.
The more severe the case of acne, the more likely a long-term solution, such as oral isotretinoin, can be prescribed. But this is only after all other efforts have been exhausted, since the health risks are so high.
This leaves mild or moderate acne sufferers out of the picture. They are relegated to ‘use it or lose it’ solutions.
The cost of acne prescriptions and products is also something that becomes a fixture for those with acne-prone skin.
On the other hand, laser acne therapy has no harmful side effects, is easy to undergo, and – for most people – works on both current and future outbreaks. While it has a higher up-front price tag, it can be well worth it considering the ongoing cost and time commitment of using prescriptions.
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