Can A Tattoo Removal Laser Erase Acne Scars?

I had three treatments with the newly FDA-approved picosecond laser. Here's how it went.
Publish date:
January 14, 2015
acne, acne scars, tattoo removal, acne scar treatment, dark spots, laser treatments

I hate needles. Despite my admiration for permanent ink, it’s why I have not accumulated any tattoos--no pretty designs, no weird symbols, nothing. But around the time that I reached the legal tattooing age, something else did accumulate: acne.

Ugh. Cue the emo music my 18-year-old self once loved. Unlike the frequent blemishes (and my well-worn concert tees), acne scars were something that I couldn't grow out of. They were there. Staring at me. Every day. Twenty million Americans have severe enough acne to cause scarring, and I was one of them.

I needed to find a solution that: A) Would rid my scars, B) Not hurt (remember, pain is not my forte) and C) Wouldn’t leave my face blotchy and torn up (my main gig is working red carpets).

In late July of last year, PicoSure by Cynosure announced it was the first and only FDA-cleared picosecond laser to treat acne scars. Treatments begin at $300 and go up to $1,000 depending on the treatment area and physician.

The pitch: strong enough to remove tattoos after a few treatments but gentle enough to not leave my face resembling a pizza. And no down time (i.e. hiding away because my face looks like a beaten tomato). Bonus: it helps alleviate wrinkles (well, that will count in a few years). My response: Sign. Me. Up.

I walked into Dr. Geronemus' office at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center in New York three times. The first visit took place in late September. The second was about four weeks later, and the third was four weeks after that. Here's how my treatment went.


Each treatment required numbing, using a topical cream, which was left on for an hour and swiped away. In the waiting room, I caught up on emails, texted my friends, took pics of my face. (Hey there, selfies!) Then, it was time for business.


Lying back, the actual laser took no longer than 10 minutes--and only included the areas below and beside my eyes (there were no scars on my forehead). The doctor moved the laser across my cheeks and with a slight cackling sound came a sensation that felt a little like static (similar to the slight shock from shuffling your socks against a rug and touching metal).

The technology used on my face delivers super short pulses of energy in trillionths of a second, which restores normal skin elasticity in the scar tissue, therefore reducing the scar’s appearance.


Afterward, moisturizer was applied to my (still numb) face and I was handed two ice packs. My face was a bit red and felt slightly warm, but not unbearably so. By the time I walked back to my apartment (10 minutes away), I no longer needed the frozen circles I was holding to each cheek.

Less than two hours later, I was no longer red. There was no immediate disappearance of scars--that took a few weeks (darker spots turned lighter, others faded). My pores, however, were noticeably smaller right away.

About a month after my final treatment, my skin still isn’t perfect. Chances are, it will never be. I still have some scars, discoloration, and pigmentation across my cheeks.

With that said, there is less of all of the above, which is a major improvement. Though I’d much rather look back on yesteryear and remember bands rather than bad skin, the physical evidence of the latter has substantially faded.

I’m still not a fan of needles, so a tattoo is probably not in my future, but should I need one removed one day, I’ll know where to start. In the interim, I’m celebrating a less noticeable amount of imperfection on my face.

  • Would you use a laser to rid acne scars?
  • What other scar-fading methods or products have you tried and liked?