Physical Procedures for Treating Acne

Dermatologists occasionally use procedures to help clear acne. These methods, which are described below, should be performed by a dermatologist or other health care practitioner. Trying these at home can lead to infection, worsening of the acne and scarring.

Chemical Peels
Light chemical peels of glycolic acid and other chemical agents are used by dermatologists to loosen blackheads and decrease acne papules.

Comedo Extraction
Sometimes removing comedones proves beneficial. To extract whiteheads and blackheads, dermatologists use a sterile pen-sized device. This procedure should only be performed by a dermatologist or other medical professional. Patients’ attempts to extract comedones and drain cysts by squeezing or picking, can lead to worsening of the acne, scarring and infection. Tissue injured by squeezing or picking can become infected by staphylococci, streptococci and other bacteria.

Drainage and Surgical Extraction
Some large cysts do not respond to medication and may require drainage and extraction. Drainage and extraction, which is also called “acne surgery,” reduces the pain associated with these cysts and decreases the likelihood of scarring. It should not be performed by patients. Patients’ attempts to drain cysts or extract comedones by squeezing or picking, can lead to infection, worsening of the acne and scarring. Dermatologists are trained in the proper technique and perform “acne surgery” under sterile conditions.

Phototherapy (Laser and Light Treatments)
Several laser and light treatments are available to treat acne. Some of these laser and light treatments target only one factor that causes acne—P. acnes. For many patients, this is not a comprehensive treatment for resolving their acne. A dermatologist can determine if laser or light treatment is appropriate for a patient.

Advantages to laser and light treatments include not having to remember to apply or take any medication and the ability to treat hard-to-reach areas, such as the back. However, laser and light treatments can be quite expensive, and long-term effectiveness has not been proven.

Over the last several years, laser technology has also assumed an increasingly important role in the treatment of acne scars.

Anyone considering laser or light therapy should consult a dermatologist experienced in providing the therapy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the physician’s experience and qualifications.


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

These should NOT be used to treat acne because none have proven effective in treating acne and all expose the skin to harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. Exposure to UV light increases the risk of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer.

 

Acne Severity
•  Treating Mild Acne

•  Treating Moderate to
    Moderately Severe Acne

•  Treating Severe Acne


Acne Treatments
•  Available without a
    Prescription

•  Prescription Medications
    for Treating Acne

 

© American Academy of Dermatology, 2011  All rights reserved.
 

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