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What is a CO2 Laser?

When researching laser resurfacing options for fine lines and wrinkles, sun damage or acne scars, it’s common for patients to discover CO2 laser resurfacing. But what is CO2 laser resurfacing? Let’s start first with laser resurfacing in general.

Laser Resurfacing

Laser resurfacing is a process by which we can positively influence the texture, elasticity or color of the skin. During (ablative) laser resurfacing, we purposefully cause a controlled injury to the skin. It is because of this controlled injury that the skin is forced into a healing process that stimulates the production of new collagen. When new collagen is created, the texture, color and elasticity of the skin improve.

CO2 Laser Resurfacing

CO2 laser resurfacing is a specific type of laser resurfacing. The term CO2 stands for “Carbon Dioxide” and this designation defines the laser as a type of light that uses 10,600 (wavelength) light. Each type of laser has a different effect on the skin and unique tp 10,600 nanometer CO2 laser light is the fact that it vaporizes skin tissue. The high heat generated upon impact of the laser with skin means that we can remove layers of skin in a very controlled way. The healing process initiated after the procedure is what makes CO2 resurfacing effective. This healing process stimulates the production of new collagen as much as any other laser.

Fractional CO2 Resurfacing

Fractional CO2 laser resurfacing is a newer technology that has emerged since approximately 2008. Up until 2008, traditional CO2 resurfacing procedures had some side effects that prevented it from being viable for darker skin types. Newer fractional resurfacing technologies are unique in that only a portion of the skin is resurfaced as the primary laser beam is divided up into many small beams. In this case only 20% – 50% of the skin is resurfaced vs. 100% in traditional CO2 laser resurfacing. With the onset of fractional resurfacing some of the side effects of traditional CO2 resurfacing were addressed and now fractional resurfacing can be offered to a wider array of skin types. In addition, Erbium fractional lasers, which have the same ablative effect on the skin (tissue vaporization) as CO2, do not have the same side effects. Because of their slightly different wavelength, Erbium fractional laser resurfacing can be used for all skin types, including dark African.

Benefits of CO2 Resurfacing

The benefits of fractional and full field CO2 resurfacing are many. The primary reason a patient would choose CO2 resurfacing is if they have textural issues with their skin. By textural issues we include fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars, large pores and other types of scars (surgical, chicken pox, etc.). Because of it’s ability to stimulate the production of new collagen, CO2 resurfacing is extremely effective at recontouring the skin, which includes getting rid of fine lines and acne scars.

Downtime for CO2 Laser Resurfacing

The recovery period for CO2 resurfacing depends on whether or not is traditional full field CO2 resurfacing or fractional CO2 resurfacing. Full field resurfacing requires general anesthesia and several weeks of recovery, whereas fractional CO2 resurfacing is typically less than a week of recovery. The depth of the fractional resurfacing does affect how many days of recovery you will require.


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