Laser Resurfacing for Scars

Laser resurfacing uses a laser to send out brief pulses of high-energy light that are absorbed by water and substances in the skin. The heat energy from the laser vaporizes thin sections of skin, layer by layer. New, fresher skin grows over the treated area resulting in an improved appearance. The procedure also heats the layers underneath to promote collagen production, which stimulates skin in the treatment area to heal in a smoother, more even appearance.

Why choose laser resurfacing for scars?

Laser resurfacing is most effective for treating superficial scars caused by acne, surgery or trauma that are not growing or getting thicker.

Before and after nonablative fractionated laser, ablative fractionated CO2 laser and broad band light treatments to burn scars on the chest

Photo courtesy of Jill S. Waibel, MD -Miami, Florida

Possible Risks

As with any treatment, there are risks associated with it, though they are minimized in the hands of a qualified ASDS dermatologist. These include:

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

What you should know

The scar is cleaned and marked with a pen. Often a local or topical anesthetic is used to numb the area before treatment. Some patients are given a sedative or anti-anxiety medicine to relax. Patients being treated for facial scarring may need to wear goggles to prevent eye damage by the laser. Wet towels will be placed around the treatment area to absorb excess laser pulses. The laser is passed over the skin several times. In between passes, the scar is wiped with water or a saline solution to cool the skin.

The process may sting or burn slightly. Some patients feel a snapping sensation against their skin. Little or no bleeding occurs in most cases, although severely damaged skin may bleed. When the treatment is finished, the area is covered with a clean dressing or ointment.

What to expect after the procedure

Following treatment, your 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 a petroleum jelly, after cleanings 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 lighter appearance following resurfacing.
  • Keep new skin well-moisturized.

How to prepare 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.