CO2 Laser Treatment of Acne Scars
Acne strikes about 40 million to 50 million people in the U.S. each year, most of them teenagers or young adults, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Most commonly, the pimples and inflammation will clear without leaving permanent reminders in the forms of scars. But some people, particularly those who are genetically susceptible to acne scarring, will be stuck with reminders of their teenage years in the form of acne scars. Over the past several years, dermatologists increasingly have turned to CO2 lasers to treat acne scars.
Acne occurs when the three main causes occur at the same time, according to the Mayo Clinic. First, the skin's sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, a thick oil that normally lubricates the skin. Second, the skin begins to shed dead cells at an abnormally quick rate. These cells can combine with the sebum, producing a pasty, off-white substance that clogs pores and causes whiteheads. And third, bacteria normally present in the skin overproduces, leading to pockets of inflammation and infection below the blocked pores.
When the pockets of infection clear up, they often leave behind depressed acne scars that look like pockmarks or trenches in the skin. These scars often appear unsightly, and potentially can cause low self-esteem in patients, the AAD says. Studies show that skin resurfacing with CO2 lasers can improve the appearance of these scars by removing the top layer of skin and stimulating regeneration and collagen growth, the AAD says.
Dermatologists have been using CO2 lasers to treat acne scars only for a few years, but results are promising. For example, a 2008 report in the "Journal of Dermatological Treatment" looked at CO2 laser treatment in 27 Korean patients. After three to five sessions, spaced three to four weeks apart, eight patients reported excellent improvement, while 16 patients reported significant improvement and three patients reported moderate improvement. Meanwhile, another study, this one reported in 2006 in the "Journal of Dermatology," looked at 10 patients treated with the CO2 laser and concluded that all 10 were treated successfully, with minimal adverse effects.
Patients will need multiple CO2 laser treatments to see a real difference in the appearance of their acne scars. For example, in the study conducted on 27 Korean patients, most patients received four or five laser treatment sessions over the course of several months. In addition, the skin's appearance continues to improve after the patient finishes the active treatment phase; in the Korean study, researchers evaluated the treatment results three months after the final treatment.
CO2 laser treatments can offer an effective alternative to other physical procedures in treating acne scars. However, the AAD warns that most patients require a combination of different scar treatments, possibly including laser therapy and another physical procedure, such as dermabrasion, in order to obtain the best possible results. Acne scar sufferers should consult with their dermatologists to determine what course of treatment would suit their individual situation best.
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