A seriously ugly bout of acne in my late 20s was excruciating to deal with, but the lasting impact of scars sometimes feels worse. I obsess over the uneven texture of my skin, how the scars seem to look deeper at night, awful on mornings I haven’t gotten enough sleep, and darker after even a short time in the sun. And it’s a pretty common concern: 95 percent of people who get acne (which includes about 85 percent of adolescents and an increasing number of women age 30 and over) wind up with scars.
I’m a disciple of topical retinol, but it can only do so much on its own. Nothing will make scars disappear completely, but I did learn through hours of obsessive online research that in-office treatments can significantly diminish their appearance. So I went to see dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett, who specializes in scar reduction at her Toronto clinic, and talked to her about which procedure would be most effective for my skin.
For a skin tone like mine (I’m South Asian), settling on a treatment is tricky because certain procedures run the risk of changing the colour of my skin. Resurfacing lasers basically “wound” the skin and thus stimulate collagen production in the healing process. In fair-skinned patients this often results in skin turning pink, then lighter pink, and then going back to its natural skin tone. But in patients with light brown and darker skin tones, Windsor-based dermatologist Dr. Jerry Tan warns that skin tends to first go black, then bright red, and then turn pink, and that it may stay pink or become darker rather than returning to its natural colour.
After a thorough consultation about the nature of my acne and an examination of my scars and considerations for my skin tone, Kellett recommended a light profractional ablative laser, which removes thin layers of skin, followed by microneedling, a procedure that involves hundreds of tiny needles running over the skin to puncture it, encouraging collagen production. While typically an ablative laser isn’t a good option for my skin tone, Kellett reassured me that it would be a light once-over, more of a laser peel, in order to make the microneedling more effective.
I was booked in a couple of weeks later for the procedure, which took about two hours. First my face was numbed with an anesthetic. About 45 minutes later I was taken into a large drafty room in the basement where the laser — a massive machine— sat. A medical aesthetician meticulously passed the laser over each and every pore, a procedure that lasted about 30 minutes. It didn’t exactly hurt, but I could feel the laser pulsating through my skin, feeling like a teeny tiny pinch. The smell of burning was a bit alarming, but I was told it was “normal.”
Immediately afterwards my face was very, very red and felt like it was on fire— but that was also “normal.” I was instructed to ice my face on and off that evening (with cheek-sized icepacks) to help soothe it. I hid from the world for about two days, but by the second day the redness was gone and the tiny grid the aesthetician had created with the laser was visible — dried up skin that flaked off on its own. Since the goal of the procedure is collagen production, results aren’t instant — it can take months to see improvement. But within six weeks, I started receiving unsolicited comments from my sister, co-workers and friends, all about how my skin was looking great. It felt a bit smoother and I had a glow that was definitely not from the winter sun.
When I went in for a microneedling session a few months later, the procedure seemed a little less scary. First, there was no need to travel to a subterranean location and there was no huge, noisy machine — the procedure was done with the eDermastamp, an electronic microneedling device that basically looks like a fat pen. My face was numbed again, and then my medical aesthetician, Lindsay, ran the device all over my face a few times, lengthening the needles for certain areas she wanted to target. That took about 20 minutes. Immediately afterwards, there was a burning sensation — not like my face was on fire this time, more like I was sitting close to a fire — and again, she reassured me in soothing tone that it was “normal.” She then put a mask with hyaluronic acid on me for about 20 minutes, to help cool my face down.
That night, my face was a bit red and splotchy, but the following day there was already a lot of improvement. By day two, I was pretty much back to normal. Similar to results from laser, it takes three to six weeks for the results of collagen production to be visible. While I wait not-so-patiently for final results, I can already tell that I’d need a few more sessions for more dramatic results, but I’m definitely not complaining about the compliments I’ve been receiving on how great my skin looks lately.