Laser resurfacing of the skin for the improvement of facial acne scarring: a systematic review of the evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This review presents and evaluates the evidence of the effectiveness of laser resurfacing for facial acne scars. Primary studies of all types of design in any language were identified from MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane database, Science Citation Index and various internet sites. Studies were accepted if they included patients treated by any laser for atrophic or ice-pick acne scars. The quality of the studies was assessed and data extracted by two independent researchers. There were no controlled trials but 14 case series were found which reported the effects of either the carbon dioxide or erbium:YAG laser. All of the studies were of poor quality. The types and severity of scarring were poorly described and there was no standard scale used to measure scar improvement. There was no reliable or validated measure of patient satisfaction; most improvement was based on visual clinical judgement, in many cases without blinded assessment. The inaccurate use of ordinal scales meant that any improvement was impossible to quantify with any validity, although the evidence suggested that laser treatment had some efficacy (a range in individual patients of 25-90% for both the carbon dioxide laser and the erbium:YAG laser). Changes in pigmentation as a side-effect were common (in up to 44% of patients), although lasting only a few weeks. Laser resurfacing technology is increasingly used in clinical practice to treat acne scars. Despite the poor quality evidence, it is plausible that there is some improvement of acne scarring; there is insufficient information, however, for patients to make informed decisions on whether to opt for treatment and there is not enough evidence to compare the two types of laser. There is a particular lack of information about the psychological effects of acne scar improvement. Good quality randomized controlled trials are needed with standardized scarring scales and validated patient outcome measures in order to assess the effectiveness of laser resurfacing in this group of patients.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-423
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of Dermatology
Issue number3
Early online date24 Dec 2001
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2002