Common Acne Surgery Procedures

Common Acne Surgery Procedures and How They Help Your Skin

Woman having a chemical peel treatment
Photo: John Burke / Getty Images

The word surgery brings up images of being wheeled into an surgical room where an anesthesiologist is waiting for us, then waking up hours later with no recollection of the entire procedure. 

So, acne surgery may conjure up some scary images.  Is acne truly that serious that it requires surgery?

Really, acne surgery is a term that's used to describe a number of acne treatment procedures -- and none of them quite as frightening as your imagination might lead you to believe.

The procedures aren't your first line of defense against acne.  Rather, they're used to treat stubborn breakouts that aren't improving with other treatments.  In most cases, you'll still use an acne treatment medication in addition to you acne surgery procedure.

All of these treatments can be done at your dermatologist's office, and at some medical spas.

Blemish Excision

Some blemishes are extra stubborn and don't want to respond to the medications your doctor has prescribed.  In this case, you dermatologist may decided that blemish excision will be helpful.

Excision is probably what most people imagine when they think "acne surgery."  A small incision is made in the skin, and the dermatologist drains the pus and debris from the blemish.  You're awake the entire time. 

Ideally, after the pus is cleared, the blemish begins to heal.  The procedure itself may cause a slight scar, so you'll have to decide with your doctor if this is right treatment for you.

Extractions are a bit different -- they're used to remove non-inflamed blemishes like blackheads and milia.  An esthetician can take care of extractions for you. 

Excision and extractions don't stop new breakouts from forming, though.  They only work on existing blemishes.  You'll still need to use an acne treatment medication to get breakouts under control.


These procedures are best left to the medical professionals.  Don't ever try to lance and drain any blemish, tiny or not.  You open yourself up to infection and could easily scar your skin.  

Laser Surgery

There are many different types of laser treatments.  They type that is best for you depends on many factors, like your skin type and color, and what your ultimate goal is.

During a laser treatment, a high intensity pulse of light is directed onto the skin.  Depending on the treatment used, laser can reduce inflammation and acne-causing bacteria, help existing pimples heal, and stimulates the skin to rejuvenate itself.   

Lasers are used to treat both acne and acne scars.  Some lasers need only one treatment to do the job, while others require a few treatments. 

Laser treatments are expensive, and generally aren't covered by insurance.

Chemical Surgery

More commonly called chemical peels.  You may be familiar with the superficial or "lunchtime" peels that are offered at your local day spa.  These peels gently exfoliate and have no downtime, although your skin may be a bit pink afterward.

  Superficial peels are best for treating mild acne. 

Stronger, medium-depth and deep chemicial peels are available at your dermatology office.  There are different types of chemical peels, too.  Your dermatologist will help you decide which is best for your skin.

All peel procedures are basically the same, though.  A chemical agent is applied to the skin and left for a period of time.  The chemical removes the surface of the skin, triggering a remodeling process.  Over the next several days to weeks, your skin will flake or "peel" off, allowing the renewed skin to come to the surface.

Just like laser treatments, chemical peels can be used to treat both acne and scarring.

Intralesional Injections

Intralesional corticosteroid injections, or what most of us simply call cortisone injections, are also often lumped into the acne surgery category.  Cortisone injections are used to help shrink down large, inflamed blemishes.

The dermatologist injects a small amount of cortisone directly into the pimple.  It sounds worse than it is, the needle used is quite tiny.  Over the course of a few hours, the blemish flattens out.

Consider cortisone injections an "emergency treatment" for big zits.  You'll still need to use a regular acne treatment to get acne cleared up. 

Next Steps:

Video: What Is Acne Surgery?

Treatments for Severe Acne


Jih MH, Kimyai-Asadi A.  "Lasers in Plastic Surgery."  Semin Plast Surg.  2007 Aug; 21(3):167-74.

Lanoue J, Goldenberg G.  "Acne scarring: a review of cosmetic therapies."  Cutis. 2015 May; 95(5)276-81.

Simonart T.  "Newer approaches to the treatment of acne vulgaris."  Am J Clin Dermatol. 2012 Dec 1;13(6):357-64.

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