There seem to be several different kinds of laser treatments available. What are the differences? Are there risks involved? If so, what are they?
There are several different types of laser resurfacing treatments. Before going into their differences, I’d like to take a step back and point out that laser treatments are most effective in treating atrophic acne scars or “pitted scars.” For a full review of atrophic scars, please visit the site’s acne scar resource library. [insert link on atrophic scars] Also, if you have hypertrophic scars—raised scars—then laser treatment would not be best.
At the most basic level, there are two main kinds of laser treatments available—ablative and non-ablative (see encyclopedia entry). A variant type is fractional, which treats small areas of skin rather than the entire surface. Fractional resurfacing can be ablative (the epidermis is removed in that small area) or non-ablative (the epidermis is intact in that small area). While it’s technically just a way to deliver ablative or non-ablative treatment, people do tend to speak about it as if it were a distinct type of treatment.
Ablative laser treatment is aggressive, and includes reducing the overall depth of the scars on your face by removing the outer layer of skin. The procedure stimulates collagen growth during the healing process, creating a new, smoother layer of skin. Recovery time can take several weeks, and sometimes longer. One of the side effects of ablative laser surgery is the possibility of making your scars worse, so it is very important to consult with a physician who is an expert at using lasers.
Non-ablative lasers are a gentler treatment when compared to ablative lasers because they are not associated with as much downtime. Similar to its more aggressive sibling, non-ablative laser treatment works to reduce the depth of acne scars by promoting the growth of collagen below the scar. However, it does so without removing the outermost layer of skin. Because non-ablative lasers are less intense, results tend to be not as robust, so it may be a better option for milder to moderate scarring. The treatment is usually most effective after three to five sessions and optimal results are achieved three to six months after the final treatment.
As I mentioned above, fractional laser resurfacing can actually be both ablative and non-ablative. The fractional approach differs in that it targets a specific region or section of the face, versus the others that cover the whole face. The benefit of this approach is that the laser focuses on only the affected areas, leaving healthy unscarred skin intact. Side effects are similar to ablative and non-ablative, including redness, swelling, dryness, darkening or crusting of the skin. The exact efficacy and side effect profile will depend on the energy settings that your physician is using and he or she can guide you on what to expect.
Please consult with a physician who is an expert in using lasers to correct scarring before starting any treatment.