Acne is an extremely common skin condition; the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that each year, some 85 percent of U.S. teens will have at least a mild outbreak of pimples. Most teens and young adults are lucky enough to escape permanent effects from their acne, but some wind up with scars. Fortunately, dermatologists have a wide array of treatments for these scars, including microdermabrasion.
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Not everyone suffers from acne scarring, even if they had a bad case of acne as a teen, according to the AAD. Most scars that appear look like pockmarks or craters in the skin's surface, although acne also causes painful raised scars called keloids or red, pink or purple spots on the skin, which are not technically scars because they fade in time. Microdermabrasion is most effective in treating the common pockmark-type acne scars.
In a microdermabrasion treatment, which usually is performed in a dermatologist's office, the physician or technician will use very small particles or even a wand tipped with diamond to literally remove some of the skin's top layer, which encourages growth of new skin cells. This evens out the skin's texture, making the scars less visible. The AAD says the procedure generally does not require any pain-deadening medication and has no side effects beyond temporary skin redness.
Microdermabrasion is most effective in very mild acne scarring cases, according to the AAD. Few medical studies have been published on the procedure for acne scarring, but those that have indicate it can work well. For example, a study published in 1995 in the journal "Dermatological Surgery" looked at 41 facial scar patients who had been treated with dermabrasion. That study reported all patients had good to excellent improvement in their scars after about nine treatment sessions.
Microdermabrasion is not a quick fix for acne scars; even patients with mild acne scars likely will need multiple treatment sessions to see improvement in their skin. Treatments generally are spaced two to three weeks apart, making microdermabrasion for acne scars a long-term project. However, the AAD reports that patients seem to like it because there's no recovery time after microdermabrasion treatments, and the treatments themselves are painless.
Microdermabrasion by itself seems to work best on mild acne scarring and has limited effectiveness in moderate and severe cases. Because of this, the AAD says it's not among the most popular treatments for acne scars. In addition, insurance may consider it an unproven, experimental or cosmetic procedure and therefore might not pay for it.