CO2 Resurfacing lasers are typically more effective in treating acne scars, blotchy skin, deeper wrinkles and scars from surgery or trauma. They also produce better results when the skin has severe textural changes including pigment abnormalities from sun damage. The laser affects the deeper layers of skin and helps to tighten or shrink collagen, which becomes loose as people age.
CO2 resurfacing lasers can be used in areas where the skin is delicate, such as on the eyelids and around the mouth. This type of laser is also used to remove precancerous growths called actinic keratoses. Although it is primarily used on the face, it can also be used – by an expert operator only – in areas like the chest, neck, arms, and legs. Patients who are careful about skin care and sun protection may find CO2 resurfacing laser treatments are effective for several years.
What is the CO2 Resurfacing Procedure Like?
Although the procedure itself takes about an hour, you should expect to arrive about 45 minutes before your treatment. Your skin must be thoroughly cleansed. Numbing cream or gel is applied to reduce discomfort; it takes about an hour for the full numbing effect. The numbing medication is then removed. Your eyes will be protected during the procedure. If you are having the eyelids treated, special protective contact lenses are inserted after numbing eye-drops are placed in the eyes.
The hand-held wand or device is moved slowly over the treatment area. Some physicians use a treatment called a Zimmer cooler, which blows a strong stream of cold air onto the treatment area to help reduce any discomfort. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be helpful. Most patients describe the actual treatment as causing pins and needles feeling. Most people are able to drive themselves to and from their treatments.
Are You A Candidate?
The best candidates for CO2 resurfacing laser treatments are people in their late 40s to 70s who have moderate to severe acne scarring, wrinkles or sun damage. If you take medications that may increase sun sensitivity or anticoagulants (blood thinners) you may not be able to have the procedure.
CO2 resurfacing treatments are not recommended for women who are pregnant or for people who have a history of healing problems or excessive scarring. Patients who have taken the certain medication within the last year and those who have had chemotherapy should not have CO2 resurfacing treatments. CO2 resurfacing lasers are not effective in removing redness from dilated blood vessels or similar kinds of discolorations. Patients with darker skin types (Fitz 5 and up) are not suitable candidates for this procedure.
Q: How long will the procedure last?
A: The procedure itself lasts about an hour, but additional aspects such as numbing and cleansing add to the time. Plan on a total time of about two and half hours. Some people need more than one treatment – it really depends on how much time you need to have for recovery.
Q: What can I expect after the procedure?
A: Immediately after the procedure, you can expect to look and feel as though you have a sunburn. Ice packs can help relieve any discomfort. The skin will peel for up to a week after the treatment. Occasionally patients develop minor bruising, which can take about two weeks to resolve. The full results of the procedure won’t become visible for three to six months. You will notice some immediate effects, such as less blotchiness. The skin will feel smoother; it will tend to be pinker than usual for about four to six weeks.
Q: Are there risks?
A: No medical procedure is totally risk-free. Mild pain is normal for the first day or two and redness lasts up to two weeks after the procedure. Rarely, it may last longer, especially in those people who blush easily or have dilated blood vessels on the surface of the skin. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun for about four to six weeks after the procedure. Some people develop skin crusting as well as peeling. Occasionally people with darker skin may develop pigmentation changes (lighter or darker skin). These changes usually fade after three to six months, although on rare occasions that change is long lasting. Temporary swelling occurs in some patients, and very rarely, the treatment will cause scarring or an infection will occur.
Q: How soon can I return to work?
A: You should definitely plan to take the rest of the day off, as you will need to ice the treated areas. CO2 Resurfacing laser treatments can be customized – deeper treatments mean longer downtime for healing. Two shallow treatments may be equally effective and the healing time for each treatment is shorter. It takes three to 14 days for the skin to heal. For lighter treatments, expect three to five days of downtime, and for deep treatments, plan on seven to 10 days. If you are having the treatment performed for a special occasion like a wedding, allow at least two to four weeks of recovery time (longer for sites like the arms and legs).
To learn more about laser resurfacing, visit ncbi.nlm.nih.gov