What to know about laser treatment for scars

Dermatologists may use a laser to diminish the appearance of a scar and reduce pain and itching. Laser treatment is also able to prevent the formation of scars after surgery.

The laser helps stimulate the growth of new, healthy skin. Though laser treatment can not remove scars completely, it can make scars less noticeable and uncomfortable.

Individuals can get laser treatment on many forms of scars, including surgical scars, acne scars and accident scars. Using to the face is also safe.

In this article we look at how laser therapy works, its uses and process, and considerations that need to be addressed before this therapy is provided.

How does it work?

Laser treatment can make a person’s scar less noticeable.
Laser treatment can make a person’s scar less noticeable.

Laser treatment penetrates the outside layers of the skin to stimulate new , healthy growth of skin cell. The laser removes older, damaged skin layers so that new, healthy skin may grow instead.

Laser treatments are, in essence, creating a new scar in place of an old one. The new skin should grow more homogeneously, however.

A natural body response to injury is the formation of scar tissue. Scars are not harmful for medical reasons, and do not require removal. But if they’re painful, restricting, or psychologically influencing a person, a number of methods may minimize their appearance and discomfort.

Laser treatment can help with scars by:

  • decreasing pain or itchiness
  • reducing their appearance
  • improving the range of motion of the skin around the scar

Doctors can choose from a variety of lasers that use different luminous wavelengths and affect the skin in different ways. Some lasers are ablative, which means they strip the top layer of skin while others are nonablative, maintaining the surface of the skin while impacting the layers underneath.

Some lasers may be unsuitable for certain skin tones because they may cause discolouration of the skin to grow back.

Examples of laser forms used by doctors when treating scars include:

  • ablative fractional carbon dioxide laser
  • intense pulsed light
  • long-pulsed 1064-nm Nd:YAG
  • nonablative fractional laser
  • pulsed dye laser
  • Q-switched Nd:YAG

A doctor should assess a scar thoroughly before recommending use of a laser for treatment. They should explain the potential unique benefits of a specific laser, as well as its possible side effects.

Which types of scar can it help with?

Laser therapy can help with many common scar forms including acne scars and scars from injury.

Doctors tend to advise for superficial scars. Deep scars or scars which restrict the movement of an individual will typically respond better to more intensive treatment.

With the following types of scars a doctor can prescribe laser treatment:

  • acne scars
  • burn scars
  • surgical scars
  • injury scars

The American Academy of Dermatology noted that the treatment of laser is not a cure for wounds and will not fully eradicate them. Of example , in some cases, a doctor can prescribe a combination of treatments using injectable fillers alongside laser therapy to make the scar less visible.

How to prepare

A person may not be able to have laser scar removal if they have a tan or sunburn.
A person may not be able to have laser scar removal if they have a tan or sunburn.

Doctors may recommend that certain actions be taken in advance of the procedure to ensure it is as effective and safe as possible. Those might include:

  • Avoiding medicines and herbs that increase the risk of bleeding. Examples include aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and herbal supplements such as garlic or ginkgo biloba. It is important to tell the doctor about any prescription blood thinners.
  • Avoiding products that contain glycolic acid or a retinoid for 2–4 weeks.
  • Staying out of the sun and not exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light for extended periods. Doctors may not be able to use laser therapy if a person has a tan or sunburn.
  • Refraining from cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, collagen injections, and waxing.
  • Quitting smoking at least 2 weeks before the procedure. Smoking impairs the skin’s ability to heal, which can affect the treatment results.

The individual should avoid using lotions, deodorants, perfumes or any other products on the day of the procedure that might potentially interact with the laser treatment. Skin should be clean too.

A doctor usually suggests wearing clothing that is easy to take off and put on, such as a soft button up shirt and loose fitting pants, depending on the part of the body which requires treatment.

Procedure

A doctor will inspect the scar and mark the skin with a pen to label the region for treatment, before a person undergoes laser treatment.

An example of how the treatment process might work is as follows:

  • A doctor will clean the area around the scar and may inject local anesthetic or apply a numbing cream to the area.
  • If the scar is on the face, they may ask the person to wear protective goggles.
  • The doctor will place wet towels or gauze around the scarred area to absorb laser pulses that would otherwise affect healthy skin.
  • The doctor will pass the laser over the scar tissue. They may occasionally apply a cooling saline or water solution.
  • After the treatment is complete, the doctor will apply an ointment and a clean dressing to cover the area.

Following the procedure the treated area may remain red for several hours. There may also be mild swelling and stinging, which may resemble a sunburn.

Doctors often recommend applying moisturizing lotion to the area at least twice a day after the procedure and refraining from applying makeup until the redness has gone away.

Risk factors

Before conducting laser procedures a doctor should discuss possible side effects and risks with the patient. The side effects will depend on the type of laser, the severity of the scar and the skin tone of the person.

Some of the more common side effects include:

  • minor bleeding
  • discomfort
  • skin infection
  • skin crusting
  • skin discoloration
  • swelling

It is also likely that the treatment of a laser scar may prove ineffective or worsen the appearance of the scar.

Cost

Health insurance may cover part of the cost if a person’s scar is due to surgery.
Health insurance may cover part of the cost if a person’s scar is due to surgery.

If the treatment with laser scar is purely for cosmetic reasons, medical insurance is unlikely to cover the costs.

If the scar is due to surgery or is debilitating, a portion of the treatment cost may be paid for by health insurance. People can talk to their doctor and insurance company about those costs.

The average cost to laser skin resurfacing, which includes scar treatment, is $2,071 for an ablative laser, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Non-ablative laser treatment averages $1,144.

A doctor will likely advise a person over a period of several months to have multiple scar treatments to see the best results. The number of total treatments suggested would also affect the cost.

Summary

Doctors may use laser therapy as one or in combination with other approaches to reduce pain , itching, and scar appearance. Ideally the laser enables the growth of new, healthier-looking skin instead of scarred skin.

If a person is concerned about the cosmetic appearance of a scar, or a scar is physically uncomfortable, they can discuss treatment options with their doctor.

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