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What is Fractional CO2 Laser Resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing has been called the anti-aging breakthrough of the 21st Century. The term fractional CO2 laser resurfacing actually refers to two different types of laser skin resurfacing procedures, ablative and non-ablative. Both treatments are highly effective anti-aging procedures, and they can be used to correct mild to severe skin problems ranging from dark spots to deep wrinkles. Using the latest laser technologies and applications, ablative and non-ablative skin resurfacing can deliver dramatic results.

Beverly Hills Fraxel laser before and after

What's The Difference Between Ablative and Non-Ablative Fractional Laser Resurfacing?

Ablative fractional skin resurfacing, also known as fractionated or pixilated carbon dioxide (CO2) laser skin resurfacing systems, deliver the most dramatic results but require significant downtime for recovery. Non-ablative fractional skin resurfacing lasers like the Fraxel deliver gentler, milder results and require minimal downtime, you can expect to be pink and puffy for approximately 4-5 days but you can wear makeup after 24 hours and resume normal activities. Although ablative and non-ablative procedures all involve laser skin resurfacing, the procedures are performed differently and they produce different results.

How Does Non-Ablative Fractional Laser Resurfacing Work?

Non-ablative fractional skin resurfacing goes deep into the epidermis of the skin and stimulates the production of collagen, a protein that's found in connective tissue. Collagen causes the skin to plump up, and as it does, the collagen fills in wrinkles and lines. The result is firmer, smoother, suppler and younger-looking skin. Because non-ablative skin resurfacing is performed within the skin rather than on its surface, there is minimal discomfort and no downtime.

Over time, as collagen in the skin is destroyed by aging, sun damage and pollution, the skin takes on a loose, saggy and blotchy appearance. Non-ablative Fraxel laser resurfacing uses light energy to create tiny pinpricks deep in the skin that ramp up collagen production. Unlike traditional fractional CO2 lasers, Fraxel lasers can accomplish their work without damaging the outermost layers of the skin. If your wrinkles are mild to moderate, Fraxel non-ablative laser treatments can give you a younger-looking face with minimal discomfort.

Although the fractional CO2 laser works best for acne scars, deep lines and wrinkles, the non-ablative Fraxel laser treatment is a great option for anyone whose fine lines and wrinkles are not deep. Non-ablative skin resurfacing is also an excellent treatment for dark spots, sun spots and skin discolorations; it penetrates the skin and causes these spots to rise to the surface so they can be removed.

One disadvantage of non-ablative laser treatments is that because it's gentler and gives mild to moderate results, it may take multiple sessions to get the desired degree of smoother, firmer skin.

Non-ablative laser resurfacing requires minimal downtime, no anesthesia is required and pain following the procedure is minimal. The treatments themselves can be mildly uncomfortable depending on your pain threshold, but topical numbing cream is applied to the skin for an hour to help alleviate any discomfort. After the treatment is complete, you can apply makeup and continue with your day, although there may be some redness for 3-5 days after the treatment. One session typically takes about an hour.

Given the aging process and the damage caused by the sun, a non-ablative laser treatment will not last forever; eventually wrinkles, fine lines and skin imperfections will return. However, because your initial treatment targeted these imperfections beneath the skin's surface, you now have only to treat the surface of the skin to restore the initial results, and this is accomplished in fewer sessions than the initial treatment required. We also recommend that patients are on a proper skin care regime prior to a laser treatment, specifically retinols or lightening agents, as this will help to get your cells under control and work in combination with the lasers to improve pigment, tone and texture.

How Does Ablative Fractional Laser Resurfacing Work?

co2 fractional laser resurfacing before and after

Also known as fully ablative fractional laser resurfacing and fractionated or pixilated carbon dioxide (CO2) laser treatments, ablative laser therapy essentially vaporizes the uppermost layer of the skin. An ablative laser delivers a more intense light beam than a non-ablative laser, and the treatment generally requires anesthesia or sedation. After an ablative laser treatment, you will need considerable downtime to give your skin a chance to recover. Ablative laser therapy is considered an outpatient surgical procedure.

Vaporizing the outer layer of the skin stimulates collagen production, and the skin restructures itself as it heals. Ablative CO2 laser restructuring can get rid of unwanted lesions, smooth out acne scars and correct irregular pigmentation. Although this treatment can deliver dramatic results and significant improvement in deeper wrinkles, it will not obliterate severely sagging skin or deep wrinkling, and it's not a good treatment option for anyone with darker skin.

Ablative lasers differ in their intensity depending on how deeply they penetrate the skin. With a deeply penetrating laser, you will usually require anesthesia along with pain medication during and after the procedure. With a less aggressive laser, you will still require pain medicine during and after the procedure. In either case, plan on 2-4 weeks of downtime for recovery. The treatments can last anywhere from a half-hour to two hours, but the good news is that you'll only need one treatment.

After the ablative laser procedure is completed, you may have to wear a mask bandage for two days. When the bandage is removed, your skin will be weeping and raw, and there may be significant discomfort. You will have to apply an ointment to the skin regularly to aid in healing, and it can take up to a month before the skin is completely healed. Ablative laser treatment is somewhat intense, but if you want dramatic improvement, the results are worth it. You'll have a fresh, unblemished complexion, and the results can last for up to five years. Although facial imperfections such as fine lines, dark spots and discolorations will return over time, you can refresh your skin with an additional laser treatment that's less intense than the initial treatment.

What Else Do I Need To Know About Fractional Laser Skin Resurfacing?

As a general rule, the more striking the results you want, the stronger your laser treatment must be and the longer your recovery will take. Although problems like skin discolorations and brown spots from sun damage can be corrected with the less aggressive non-ablative Fraxel laser, deeper wrinkles and acne scars require a more aggressive laser.

Depending on where you live, laser skin resurfacing can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. Patient reviews of laser resurfacing are positive overall as long as you are prepared to deal with recovery process involved in ablative laser treatments. If you are considering fractional laser skin resurfacing, it can give you remarkable results, but it's a good idea to consult a medical professional before scheduling a procedure to find out how to best achieve the results you want.

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