Laser Resurfacing for Acne Scars

Ablative laser resurfacing is a procedure that uses a wand-like laser instrument to remove the upper layers of skin from acne scarring. It is sometimes referred to as "laser peeling" since it removes old skin cells in order to reveal newer, more youthful cells.

Before and after non-ablative fractionated laser treatments for acne scars on the right cheek.

Before(left) and after(right) non-ablative fractionated laser treatments for acne scars on the right cheek.

Photo courtesy of Tracy M. Katz, MD - Houston, Texas

Benefits

Ablative laser resurfacing also heats the skin layers underneath to promote collagen production, which stimulates skin in the treatment area to heal in a smoother, more even appearance.

Risks

As with any treatment, there are risks associate with it, though they are minimized in the hands of a qualified dermatologic surgeon. These include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Crusting
  • Discoloration
  • Infection

What to expect after the procedure

Following treatment, the ASDS dermatologist will bandage the treatment area. Patients will be required to:

  • Clean the treatment area after the first 24 hours and then four to five times a day thereafter.
  • Apply an ointment, such as petroleum jelly, after cleaning to prevent scabs from forming.

Laser resurfacing patients also can expect the treated area to:

  • Swell for 24 to 48 hours after treatment.
  • Itch or sting for 12 to 72 hours after treatment.
  • Slough and peel off old skin five to seven days after treatment.

Healing typically takes 10 to 21 days, depending on the size and location of the procedure. After the treatment area is fully healed, patients should:

  • Use only oil-free makeup for at least two to three months.
  • Avoid sun exposure and apply an appropriate sunscreen to the area, which will have a ligther appearance following resurfacing.
  • Keep new skin well-moisturized.

Preparing for the procedure

Before the procedure, an ASDS dermatologist will usually review the patient's medical history and conduct a physical exam. This is the time for the doctor and patient to discuss expectations, potential risks and outcomes of the procedure. Patients also should:

  • Discuss any susceptibility to cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth since the procedure can trigger breakouts in at-risk individuals.
  • Avoid medications or supplements that can affect blood clotting – such as aspirin, ibuprofen or vitamin E – for 10 days before surgery.
  • Avoid smoking for two weeks before and after the procedure.