A type of laser treatment has been hailed as the biggest step forward in acne treatment for 30 years by an expert who tested it on patients in a small study. The pilot study of 41 patients showed that a single five-minute session with the NLite laser could produce a 50 percent improvement.
Ten of the patients who took part in the trial at London’s Hammersmith Hospital were completely cleared of acne. Dr Tony Chu, a consultant dermatologist at the hospital, and founder of the Acne Support Group, said: “The results were stunning. I was a complete sceptic but now I’m completely converted. This really is the first major advance in acne treatment in 30 years.”
How Nlite works
The NLite, originally developed at the University of Wales to tackle birthmarks and wrinkles, is now being used to treat acne at about 25 private clinics around Britain. A single facial treatment costs about 480 dollars (R3 840).
It works by heating small blood vessels to provoke a natural healing response and collagen production. Sixteen male and 25 female patients took part in Chu’s trial. All had mild to moderate acne, and had failed to respond to treatment with antibiotics or other drugs.
The patients were given one NLite treatment and then monitored for 12 weeks. By the end of the study period 81 percent showed a significant improvement, and in 58 percent of cases, acne lesions were reduced by 50 percent.
Ten patients were given a “fake” treatment, and doctors monitoring the volunteers were not told who had received the genuine therapy. Presenting the findings in London, Chu said: “It is a very effective treatment for acne.
“But the most important thing is it has a prolonged effect. A single treatment has an effect that lasts three months. It does support the idea that there is a fundamental alteration in the skin micro-environment.”
More studies needed to confirm results
Chu is now investigating precisely how the NLite achieves such dramatic results. He acknowledged that more work and larger studies were needed to confirm the findings. He said he was continuing to use the machine alongside other treatments at his clinic at Hammersmith Hospital.
His is the only NHS clinic in Britain using the NLite to treat acne. At present, most private clinics advise their patients to repeat the treatment at three-monthly intervals - a cost of 1 900 dollars (about R15 200) a year.
Cost effectiveness considered
Chu would like to see the treatment made more available to NHS patients, but added: “The major thing would be convincing the NHS that it would be cost effective.”
Acne is the most common skin disease in the world, affecting more than 90 percent of adolescents but also a large number of people in their 40s and 50s. Chu said it was a complete myth that acne was caused by bad diet, not washing, or too much or too little sex.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD