Carbon dioxide lasers can precisely remove thin layers of skin with minimal damage to the surrounding structures. These lasers treat sun damage, wrinkles, scars, warts, birthmarks and other skin conditions.
Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing is used to treat a variety of skin conditions. Carbon dioxide lasers very precisely remove thin layers of skin with minimal heat damage to the surrounding structures.
Carbon dioxide lasers treat:
The lasers have been in use for many years to treat non-cancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant) skin conditions. A new generation of carbon dioxide lasers uses very short-pulsed light energy (ultrapulsed) or continuous light beams that are delivered in a scanning pattern.
The ability to rejuvenate sun-damaged, wrinkled skin has been revolutionized by this new technology. Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing joins other treatment options including tretinoin (Retin-A®) products, vitamin C lotion, alpha hydroxy acids, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, collagen or fat augmentation and botulinum toxin (Botox®) for decreasing facial lines and scars. Be sure to look for a surgeon with documented training and experience in laser surgery.
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Carbon dioxide laser resurfacing is usually performed on an outpatient basis, using local anesthesia in combination with sedative medications given by mouth or through a vein.
The areas to be treated are numbed with a local anesthetic. General anesthesia may be used when the entire face is treated. Wrinkles around the eyes, mouth or forehead may be treated individually, or a full-face laser resurfacing may be performed.
A partial-face laser resurfacing takes 30 to 45 minutes, and the full-face treatment takes one-and-a-half to two hours.
Following the laser resurfacing procedure, a non-stick dressing is applied to the treatment sites for 24 hours. You may be instructed to clean the treated areas two to five times a day with saline or a dilute vinegar solution. You can then apply Vaseline®, Eucerin®, or Aquaphor® to the area. This wound care is intended to prevent the forming of any scabs, which can increase the chance of scarring and prolong the healing time.
In general, the areas heal in 10 to 21 days, depending on the nature of the condition that was treated and the intensity of the laser settings. The stronger the settings, the longer the recovery time.
Once the areas have healed, you can wear oil-free makeup to camouflage the pink-to-red color that is generally seen after laser resurfacing. Green-based makeup is particularly suitable for the redness in the skin. The redness in the laser-treated sites generally fades in two to three months, but may take as long as six months to disappear. It generally persists longer in blondes and redheads.
Patients with darker skin tones have a greater risk of healing with darker pigmentation (hyperpigmentation), although anyone can be affected by this condition after laser treatment. This may be minimized by the use of a bleaching agent before surgery. It also may be reduced with the continued use of this agent after healing.
You should avoid sun exposure for four weeks before laser treatment and liberally apply sunscreens pre- and post-procedure.
Daily sunscreen application is necessary after healing to protect the newly laser-resurfaced skin. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended, which screens both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A rays. Use a sunscreen specifically formulated for use on the face with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
Liberal moisturizer application is also recommended after healing. You can resume application of Retin-A and/or glycolic acid products approximately six weeks after the procedure, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/20/2020.
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