Q: Dr Eppley,I was interested in getting a chemical peel or something for my skin type to help reduce/get rid of acne scars, melasma, freckles on my face. I am half asian/white and I am concerned about scarring and hyperpigmentation from doing such a procedure. I wanted to know your experience has been with asian patients and the success you have had with them.
A: I am not very enthusiastic about treating patients with intermediate skin pigments for discoloration issues because, as you know, those skin types are very problematic and often as many problems are created as are solved. Acne scars are problematic in any skin type in terms of the degree of improvement and the concept of completely getting rid of them is not usually possible. The fractional laser can help but, again, in intermediate skin types one has to balance the depth of treatment with the risks of hyperpigmentation. Scarring is not a concern in my experience.
Dr. Barry Eppley
Q: I was just wondering if Dr. Eppley could do scar revision on old keloid acne scars. I went to a Dermatologist over 7 years ago and he told me that plastic surgeons could remove the scars with great success. I am very self conscious and I love to swim, but I haven’t really done it because I know people are staring and want to know why I have these ugly scars. I wish I could tell them to mind their own business but obviously I can’t. I have them on my shoulders, top of my biceps, and a couple on my chest area. I was just wondering if you had done this kind of surgery before and what was the outcome from the surgery?
A: The success of scar revision is measured by how much the scar appearance is improved. Improvement in problematic pathologioc scars as you decribe is ultimately measured by whether hypertrophy or keloiding reappears. There is no question that scar revision is successful early because the previous scar is cut out and temporarily eliminated, trading off a thick raised scar for a more narrow scar line. But what does the scar look like three or six months later?
How successful scar revision is depends on many factors, including skin type, anatomic location of the scar, and what caused the scar. Hypertrophic or keloid scars in thicker skin with darker pigmentation over stretch out areas such as the sternum and shoulders can be very difficult scar problems with a high rate of recurrence. They remain a plastic surgery problem where a better understanding of the science of scar formation is needed before more effective treatments are developed.
Until that day arrives, we must consider traditional scar excision and see what happens. I would recommend to do just one of the scars and see what happens, using it as a ‘test’. Based on that outcome one can determine if the other scars are worth the surgical effort.
Dr. Barry Eppley
Q: I have some acne scarring on my face that I`d really like to get rid of. I have a rolling icepick scar and I want to know if a deep chemical peel would help. It isn`t very deep. One maybe two layers deep. Help! What should I do?
A: To understand whether any form of skin treatment or resurfacing will reduce a specific scar, it is important to appreciate the depth of the scar compared to the thickness of skin. Then one can look at the treatment method and see if it can go to the level of the depth of the scar.
Let us, for the sake of this discussion, assume that facial skin thickness is 1mm or 1000 microns. (some areas of the face are thicker and some areas are thinner, but let’s use this simplistic number as it is easier to understand) The top epithelium usually occupies about 5% or so, around 50 to 75 microns. This is the part of the skin that peels and sloughs off and is easily regenerated. The rest of the skin, 95%, is a thicker collagen called dermis. It is into the dermis that all visible scars really go. Most visible scars are at least several 100 microns (100 to 500 microns) Pitted or icepick acne scars will usually go much deeper than even that level.
Microdermabrasion, for example, removes only 2 to 4 microns of skin. This is why it is not an effective scar treatment, it simple can’t go deep enough. Microlaser peels, or superficial laser peels, remove skin from 10 to 50 microns. They have a minor effect but it will take a lot of treatments to have any visible scar reduction. Deeper CO2 laser peels do go down 200 to 400 microns which is why they can be more effective for scar reduction. But a laser peel can not go too deep (greater than 400 microns or so) or it will be a source of its own scarring.
Chemical peels, even deep ones, do not reach these laser depths. This is why a chemical peel, of any sort, is not an effective scar treatment.
Dr. Barry Eppley