Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing is generally more effective than some other laser treatments in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and scars but has a longer recovery time. Some research indicates that this type of laser resurfacing may even be an effective long-term solution for wrinkled skin. Damaged layers of surface skin around winkles and scars are removed using laser vaporization. The carbon dioxide laser uses pulses or continuous beams of light, precisely vaporizing to specified depths. Other terms used for carbon dioxide laser resurfacing include lasabrasion, laser peel and laser desurfacing.
The goal of resurfacing procedures is to remove layers of damaged skin and assist the skin in renewal. Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing vaporizes the skin, and it is believed this stimulates the skin to produce collagen. The result is smoother skin with the wrinkles no longer below the surface of the skin. This makes them less apparent, as there are no shadows formed along the formerly sunken wrinkles. Laser resurfacing is also used to treat skin conditions that are not merely cosmetic.
Prior to the laser resurfacing, patients use products to prepare the skin for treatment. These help reduce pigmentation and speed healing after the laser treatment. During the procedure a general anesthetic is usually administered. Depending on the extent of the area treated, the procedure can last from 15 to 90 minutes. After laser resurfacing, care is taken to assure the skin properly heals without scarring.
Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing has a longer recovery time than procedures using different types of lasers. While other treatments might have a week or less of recovery, up to two weeks might be required before a patient can return to normal activities after carbon dioxide laser resurfacing. During the first two weeks after treatment, the skin has an appearance similar to a deep burn with fluid drainage, and requires dressings. Painkillers may also be prescribed during this period. The skin remains reddened for one to four months — longer than with other laser options.
Side effects from carbon dioxide laser resurfacing may include the formation of small white raised bumps called milia that are removed with gentle scrubbing. Steroids are used to alleviate postoperative swelling in the areas resurfaced. Antibiotics given before the procedure can prevent bacterial infections. If the patient has a history of cold sores, an antiviral medication may be given to prevent their formation immediately after carbon dioxide laser resurfacing. Hyperpigmentation might occur in the areas treated, and fading creams are used to correct the over pigmentation of the skin.