Severe facial scarring after childhood acne is not uncommon, having been shown to affect 43% of acne patients.1 Fortunately, there are several evidence-based treatments available to improve their appearance.
One procedure that you could recommend to your patient is microneedling, also known as percutaneous collagen induction or collagen induction therapy.2 This therapy works by using extremely fine needles to create small puncture wounds in the epidermis and superficial dermis, leading to tissue proliferation and collagen remodeling with subsequent enhancement in scar appearance.3 In fact, one randomized clinical trial showed a statistically significant 41% mean improvement following the procedure4. Adverse effects are limited with this treatment, with participants experiencing no issues other than mild erythema and edema.4
Another highly effective solution is laser therapy, which includes resurfacing (carbon dioxide, CO2; erbium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet, Er:YAG) and fractional (nonablative, NAFL; and ablative, AFL) lasers. One study compared the efficacy of these different lasers. Improvement in scar appearance was measured with a scale graded from 0 to 10. The mean improvement scores of the CO2, Er:YAG, NAFL, and AFL groups were 6.0, 5.8, 2.2, and 5.2, respectively.5 The Er:YAG laser has even been shown to have significantly better results than microneedling (70% improvement vs 30% improvement).6 The biggest downside to laser therapy is that patients reported more erythema, swelling, and crusting when compared to microneedling; however, they experienced significantly less pain.6
Other potentially effective treatments for acne scars include dermal fillers and chemical peels, neither of which have been shown to be superior to microneedling or laser therapy individually. However, certain peels do seem to significantly improve the effects of microneedling when used together.7 The good news is that all four can be performed easily in the office setting, so a referral to a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon would be a good first step to addressing your patient’s problem.
Request for treatment of scars years after onset of acne should not be surprising in a general medicine practice. Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting over 50 million people.8 Unfortunately, in severe cases, inflammation can lead to scarring in cosmetically sensitive areas, leading to a lower quality of life and higher rates of anxiety and depression.9
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that platelet-rich plasma (PRP), a concentrate of platelets and growth factors obtained from venipuncture, has been shown to enhance the effects of microneedling and laser therapy through increased protein synthesis, collagen remodeling, and accelerated wound healing? 10
Contributed by Aditya Nellore, MD, St. Louis, Missouri
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- Tan J, Kang S, Leyden J. Prevalence and Risk Factors of Acne Scarring Among Patients Consulting Dermatologists in the USA. J Drugs Dermatol. 2017 Feb 1;16(2):97-102. PMID: 28300850. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28300850/
- Orentreich DS, Orentreich N. Subcutaneous incisionless (subcision) surgery for the correction of depressed scars and wrinkles. Dermatol Surg. 1995 Jun;21(6):543-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.1995.tb00259.x. PMID: 7773602. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7773602/
- Fabbrocini G, Fardella N, Monfrecola A, Proietti I, Innocenzi D. Acne scarring treatment using skin needling. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2009 Dec;34(8):874-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.2009.03291.x. Epub 2009 May 22. PMID: 19486041. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19486041/
- Alam M, Han S, Pongprutthipan M, Disphanurat W, Kakar R, Nodzenski M, Pace N, Kim N, Yoo S, Veledar E, Poon E, West DP. Efficacy of a needling device for the treatment of acne scars: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 Aug;150(8):844-9. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.8687. PMID: 24919799. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24919799/
- You HJ, Kim DW, Yoon ES, Park SH. Comparison of four different lasers for acne scars: Resurfacing and fractional lasers. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2016 Apr;69(4):e87-95. doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2015.12.012. Epub 2016 Jan 7. PMID: 26880620. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26880620/
- Osman MA, Shokeir HA, Fawzy MM. Fractional Erbium-Doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet Laser Versus Microneedling in Treatment of Atrophic Acne Scars: A Randomized Split-Face Clinical Study. Dermatol Surg. 2017 Jan;43 Suppl 1:S47-S56. doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000951. PMID: 28009690. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28009690/
- El-Domyati M, Abdel-Wahab H, Hossam A. Microneedling combined with platelet-rich plasma or trichloroacetic acid peeling for management of acne scarring: A split-face clinical and histologic comparison. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018 Feb;17(1):73-83. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12459. Epub 2017 Dec 10. PMID: 29226630. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29226630/
- Bickers DR, Lim HW, Margolis D, Weinstock MA, Goodman C, Faulkner E et al. The burden of skin diseases: 2004 a joint project of the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the Society for Investigative Dermatology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2006;55:490-500. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16908356/
- Yazici K, Baz K, Yazici AE, Köktürk A, Tot S, Demirseren D, Buturak V. Disease-specific quality of life is associated with anxiety and depression in patients with acne. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2004 Jul;18(4):435-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2004.00946.x. PMID: 15196157. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15196157/
- Hashim PW, Levy Z, Cohen JL, Goldenberg G. Microneedling therapy with and without platelet-rich plasma. Cutis. 2017 Apr;99(4):239-242. PMID: 28492598. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28492598/
Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, their affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!