You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t experienced a breakout at some point in their life. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, with upwards of 50 million Americans dealing with it annually.
Some 85 percent of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least mild acne, and it’s not exactly like those pesky pimples magically disappear in adulthood. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 40 to 54 percent of adults over the age of 25 have some degree of facial acne. Adult acne is considered more common in women than men, though it is increasingly impacting people in their thirties, forties, and beyond.
While there are an array of professional treatments and at-home skincare that can treat various aspects of breakouts, dermatologists and plastic surgeons haven’t had a singular solution to offer patients that targets acne at the source without a laundry list of side effects – until now. In March, Cutera received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for AviClear™, a first-of-its-kind energy device for the treatment of mild to severe acne, and it is being hailed as the biggest acne breakthrough in decades. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is AviClear?
AviClear™ is the first and only FDA-cleared energy device for the treatment of mild to severe acne. “What’s amazing is that it works on all types of acne – whether it’s cystic acne, inflammatory acne, hormonal acne, mask acne,” says Arash Moradzadeh, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills, CA. “Regardless of what type of acne you have, it’s very effective.”
The laser treatment, which is safe for all skin tones, uses a 1726-nanometer wavelength to address the source of breakouts. Acne forms when sebum (read: oil), dead skin cells, and bacteria on the skin get trapped in the pores. AviClear™ works by selectively targeting oil glands, so that they produce less oil and, over time, less acne without damaging the rest of the skin. “The laser is actually being absorbed by the sebaceous glands, causing them to be down regulated, or destroyed, so that you then have less acne,” Dr. Moradzadeh explains.
Who Is the Ideal Candidate for AviClear?
One of the most compelling things about AviClear™ is just how inclusive the treatment is. “Unlike other lasers that you can’t use on dark skin, you can do this on anyone,” Dr. Moradzadeh says. It also doesn’t discriminate against certain types of acne, which means it can treat patients from adolescence through adulthood. Unsurprisingly, “teenagers are one of the main groups that want this treatment,” he says – though it’s not just about short-term relief. Less acne for less periods of time will likely mean less scarring down the road. “They can get treated early and avoid getting acne scars that are then very difficult to treat and cover,” Dr. Moradzadeh shares.
Additionally, AviClear™ is an in-office, energy-based procedure, which means it doesn’t require prescription or over-the-counter topicals, oral medications, or patients remembering to do anything at home. “You are avoiding chemicals, antibiotics, and difficult regimens that some people can’t stick to and abide by,” he says. “For example, a lot of women don’t want to be on birth control for their hormonal acne, so this is giving them a non-chemical, safe alternative.”
How Does AviClear Treatment Work?
The treatment protocol for AviClear™ is three sessions, spaced one month apart. Dr. Moradzadeh says each appointment treats the entire face – not just the areas you are prone to breakouts. “When you do the treatment, you are doing it over the whole face,” he shares. “Over the course of your three treatments, you are effectively treating all of the sebaceous glands.”
As Dr. Moradzadeh explains, patients are asked to wash their face upon arriving at the office, before the skin is “degreased” with acetone and “rehydrated” with water to improve contact. After the 15 to 30 minute treatment, he says most patients are “a little bit pink” for about 15 minutes. “There is really no downtime,” he shares. In fact, “most of my patients actually love the way they look after they leave because of that kind of micro-swelling glow in the skin,” Dr. Moradzadeh says. The effect “actually makes their acne look less visible when they walk out,” he adds. Patients can resume activities immediately after treatment.
If you’ve had a laser treatment in the past, you may be wondering about the comfort level. The AviClear™ device features a built-in sapphire cooling technology and sensory controls that work to maintain the skin’s temperature throughout the session. As such, “the treatment itself is relatively comfortable,” Dr. Moradzadeh says. “It feels a little bit hot with a needle-like sensation, but you do not require any pain medication or numbing cream at all.”
During the three months of treatment (and the months that follow), Dr. Moradzadeh says patients can carry on with their existing breakout-busting routine – including prescriptions like Accutane, spironolactone, and tretinoin. “You are not limited like you normally would be,” he explains. “If someone is already on Accutane, they can actually still get this treatment and then transition off their Accutane; if someone is already on spironolactone or an antibiotic or a skincare regimen, they can continue that during this treatment and then taper off.” The net-net: “Nothing has to really change,” he says.
Even so, it’s important to share your current skincare regimen with your provider to ensure you are setting yourself up for success. “I usually just review their protocol and see if there is anything better they could be doing as they get through the first six months to their clearer skin,” Dr. Moradzadeh notes. One non-negotiable during treatment? Sunscreen. “In terms of photosensitivity, the only thing we recommend is that you must wear sunscreen every day,” he emphasizes.
What Are the Results of AviClear?
If you are familiar with Accutane, you may know that it is a brand name for isotretinoin, a potent form of vitamin A that was approved by the FDA in 1982 for the treatment of severe, resistant, nodular acne that is unresponsive to conventional therapy. The orally prescribed medication treats acne by reducing the size of oil glands and the amount of oil they produce. The results can be life-changing (read one patient’s experience here) and lasting, but it is not without a litany of side effects that makes it a difficult choice for many.
What makes AviClear™ so unique is that it treats acne in the same way, but it does so without the additional quality of life impacts. We’re highlighting the similarities between the two because the results of AviClear™ are similar to those of Accutane. “The results that have been seen are equal to Accutane, and you are also avoiding Accutane and the side effects,” Dr. Moradzadeh says. It should be noted that, during clinical testing, no significant adverse effects were observed.
So, what does that mean in practice? “When you first start Accutane, there is this phenomenon called ‘the purge’ where you get a breakout,” he explains. “With AviClear™, it is very similar.” One to two weeks after your first treatment, you can expect to have a purge period. “After your second treatment, you see less of that,” he shares. “And then, three months after your third treatment, you notice a significant reduction in your acne.” About six months after your third treatment, “you will usually love your skin,” he notes.
In the clinical studies, 80 percent of patients saw at least half of their acne clear after three treatments, and 87 percent said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” at week 12. The results continued to improve over the course of six months. Furthermore, any breakouts patients experienced post-treatment were reported to be shorter with fewer and smaller flare-ups.
While AviClear™ has not yet been studied for the improvement of acne scars, Dr. Moradzadeh says some patients with “reddish- or pink-colored scars” find that they go away during treatment, while appearance of the remainder of their acne scars is minimized. “We are seeing skin quality improvements as a whole, but we have other treatments that are very specific for acne scar management,” he notes.
As Dr. Moradzadeh says, AviClear™ is a “game changer” because it’s the first true acne innovation in more than 30 years. But it’s not just about the aesthetics of clearer skin. Research has found that those diagnosed with acne are at an increased risk (40 to 60 percent greater) of developing major depression, and Dr. Moradzadeh has treated patients who don’t want to leave the house or go to school because of their skin. “Acne has such a strong impact on people’s self esteem and how they feel about themselves, and it hurts to not be able to give them something that is amazing,” he says. “So, to have something now that gives them equal results to Accutane feels good.” For the first time in a long time – or maybe ever – “treating acne is a happy thing,” he notes.
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