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Fighting Acne with Tattoo-Removal Lasers

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

If you ever made the mistake of getting an unfortunate tattoo such as of, say, your ex-boyfriend’s name, then you must already be singing praises for tattoo-removal lasers. We now present you with a second reason to worship the device – its potential ability to reduce scarification caused by past breakouts. The device is called a picosecond pulse duration laser and it has been found to significantly reduce zit scars1.

A laser that is normally used in tattoo removal can also treat facial scarring from acne, according to a new study.


The picosecond laser was initially not actually approved by the FDA for acne scar removal, but only for tattoo removal. The permit for treating acne scars came several years later, as this remedial treatment was uncovered by accident some time after its initial introduction. The picosecond device was on trial for its potential for effacing tattoos2 when researchers observed that other bodily marks were also disappearing. These were not acne scars, but still represented blemishes of a similar kind. Lucky for us, this observation led researchers to try the device out on acne scars, as well.

The Picosecond Laser VS. The Fractional Ablative Laser

A previously existing instrument, named the fractional ablative laser, had already been used against acne scars for some time. However, patients had reportedly experienced irritated skin for a month or so after its application. Luckily, the new picosecond laser appears to be more gentle on your complexion. Still, there has been some debate on which device causes inflammation more. It has been posited that this largely depends on the skin type of the patient, as well as on the severity of the scars. It is also generally important to be gentle and caring with your skin before and after the procedure, so as to ensure its proper preparation and its recovery3.

Naturally, it is to be expected that a device which undertakes reshaping one’s skin would have intense effects on the affected area. Indeed, the older laser functions by literally taking off skin cells in order to smooth out the surface of the face4.This is because it is used against deep scarring and it functions more quickly than the new device. The fractional ablative laser does not necessitate numerous applications and it works well on severe scarring. For these reasons, it is also a lot more expensive than the newer variant.

On the other hand, the newer laser fortunately requires a shorter recovery period, but the therapy does take a higher number of sessions, and thus, more time. Moreover, it is known to be effective on mild to medium scarring, but its effects on extreme scarification are unclear. Because it is somewhat less effective, this treatment costs less than the previous one. However, as you are required to undergo application several times, the cost accumulates and may eventually reach the price of the fractional laser. It all depends on the level of scarring and on the commitment you are willing to make to effacing it.


Relevant research on the picosecond device’s effect on acne scars has already been conducted by Cynosure – a company that produces this type of lasers. The study yielded positive results5. Seventeen persons with acne scars underwent the procedure involving the laser device. The 10-15 minute treatments were repeated six times per patient, with a period of about a month and a half between sessions. The effect typically began showing a month after the last session. Most patients were quite happy with the results, which presented an average improvement of 35 percent. Even patients with deeply set scars commended the procedure.

The findings of the experiment are trustworthy, as the company only planned out the study, but was in no way involved in its conduction. Indeed, the gathering and synthesis of the accumulated data was performed by an outside source. For that reason, it is believed that the conclusions of the experiment are not related to the producers of the laser, and are therefore completely legitimate.

Side Effects

According to patients, the main side effects of the new laser are quite mild. They usually amount to some short-lasting irritation, including puffiness and reddening. Furthermore, while one patient asked for anesthesia prior to their session, the others reported only mild pain from the treatment. All in all, it appears that the briefly lasting side effects do not outweigh the consequent benefits6 of creaseless, glowing, scar-free skin.

While it is great news that these tattoo-removal lasers can successfully treat acne scars7, it is important to remember that they are, after all, potent devices which aim to change skin texture. They may therefore lead to an alteration of your complexion’s tint or even to further scarring. It is essential for you to decide the pros and cons of this treatment and of its potential effects before making the decision to give it a try. While this is an important warning, the conducted experiments did not actually contribute to additional scarification. In fact, most of the trial’s subjects reported smoother skin with a more consistent overall tint.

If you are still wondering whether you should give this treatment a try, we suggest reading up on it some more and even looking for the actual study. If you are doubting its potential effects on your particular type of scarring, don’t hesitate to inquire with your dermatologist.


  1. Jakus J., Kailas A. Picosecond lasers: a new and emerging therapy for skin of color, minocycline-induced pigmentation, and tattoo removal. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2017;10(3):14-15.
  2. Hsu V.M., Aldahan A.S., Mlacker S., Shah V.V., Nouri K. The picosecond laser for tattoo removal. Lasers in Medical Science. 2016;31(8):1733-1737.
  3. Hrabovsky S.L. Preoperative and postoperative skin care with laser resurfacing. Seminars in Ophthalmology. 1998;13(3):115-122.
  4. Werschler W.P., Herdener, R.S., Ross V.E., Zimmerman E. Treating acne scars: What’s new?. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2015;8(8 Suppl):S2-S8.
  5. Brauer J.A., Kazlouskaya V., Alabdulrazzaq H., Bae Y.S., Bernstein L.J., Anolik R., Heller P.A., Geronemus R.G. Use of a picosecond pulse duration laser with specialized optic for treatment of facial acne scarring. JAMA Dermatology. 2015;151(3):278-284.
  6. Torbeck R.L., Schilling L., Khorasani H., Dover J.S., Arndt K.A., Saedi N. Evolution of the picosecond laser: A review of literature. Dermatologic Surgery. 2019;45(2):183-194.
  7. Huang C.H., Chern E., Peng J.H., Hsien-Li Peng P. Noninvasive atrophic acne scar treatment in Asians with a 755-mm picolaser using a diffracting optic lens—A retrospective photographic review. Dermatologic Surgery. 2019;45(2):195-202.
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