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Oftentimes, the face is the first thing other people notice about us. Unless you are very lucky, at some point in your lifetime, you experience different skin issues that affect the quality of your skin. These may include fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars and age spots among others.
So, when it comes to skincare, it is always a goal to maintain a smooth, glowing and young-looking skin. This is why a lot of my patients carry out the necessary steps to take good care of their skin.
There exists a wide range of products and treatments that promise effective solutions to skin issues. Everything from simple over the counter commercial skincare products to topical creams and different medical procedures is readily available in the market. What is more, a lot of clinics in Singapore have these things available too.
One of the advanced technologies that are used presently is laser treatments. In this article, I will talk about a specific type of laser technology - the fractional CO2 laser.
To begin, let me answer the primary question…
What is Fractional CO2 Laser and what does it treat?
The fractional CO2 laser is a non-surgical cosmetic procedure that uses advanced skin revitalisation and resurfacing laser technologies to treat a wide range of skin issues. Over the years, CO2 lasers have always been proven to be effective and this one is no exception.
Fractional CO2 lasers can treat different skin conditions such as:
- Age spots
- Skin laxity
- Fine lines and deeper wrinkles
- Age-related pigmentation
- Skin texture changes from sun damage
- Acne and other trauma-related scars
Fractional CO2 technology is designed to provide better skin resurfacing and correction of different skin conditions. After just one treatment, your skin will look significantly healthier, rejuvenated, smoother and younger-looking. Studies and clinical trials have shown that fractional CO2 treatment helps to reduce the effects of ageing as well as reverse the existing signs of ageing. Also, fractional CO2 treatment is widely acknowledged in numerous studies as the gold standard for the treatment of acne scars.
Which leads to me to my next point…
How does Fractional C02 Laser technology work?
Fractional CO2 Laser treatment is used to treat a ’fraction’ of the skin with textural changes and severe scarring caused by acne.
It works by emitting a pattern of carbon dioxide laser beams to treat the skin below the surface. This laser energy then fractionates or pixelates into microscopic holes or shafts into the skin and induces collagen production.
This process removes the older, damaged layer of skin cells and replaced by new and fresher skin cells. This replacement of skin and collagen production lightens acne scars and smoothen skin texture over time.
Fractional CO2 laser can deliver energy to the target areas on the skin in a precise manner, therefore the surrounding skin will not be touched and damaged making this procedure more effective and safer.
In addition, compared to other types of laser technologies available in the market, CO2 lasers have the longest wavelength. Therefore, with proper adjustments in the settings, it can be safely used on a wide range of skin types.
Are curious how the procedure is performed? To help you know what to expect with Fractional C02 Laser procedure, refer to these succeeding questions:
What should you expect BEFORE Fractional C02 Laser procedure?
- First, a consultation is a must so your doctor can make a proper assessment of your condition and will be able to recommend the correct treatment regimen and give you a heads up of what results to expect after treatment.
- After consultation, the clinic may snap pictures of you so the progress can be tracked and monitored. These before treatment pictures will help you see the difference and the effectiveness of the treatment over time.
- Before the start of the procedure, you or a nurse will wash and clean the area to be treated (usually your face). Then, the target area will be applied with numbing cream to help lessen the discomfort you may feel during the procedure.
As a tip, make sure that you tell the nurse to apply generous amounts of numbing cream to sensitive areas like the hairline, chin and the area around the mouth. Based on experience, I usually recommend leaving it on for at least an hour or two to achieve the best effect of the numbing cream.
What should you expect DURING Fractional C02 Laser procedure?
Most patients say that they experience slight discomfort and prickling sensations when the laser beams hit the skin. It may even be more painful on sensitive areas like the hairline, chin and the area around the mouth. Though this may not be applicable for everyone because tolerance for pain and discomfort can vary among different individuals. Just make sure you communicate with your doctor regarding your discomfort level so he/she can make necessary adjustments.
Also, during the procedure, you might smell some kind of burning but you do not need o worry because these are typically normal and when done by a trained professional, burning and scarring will be avoided.
The laser procedure itself is a relatively quick procedure lasting for about 15-30 minutes depending on the size and severity of the treatment area.
What should you expect AFTER Fractional C02 Laser procedure?
- Right after the procedure and for the next 24 hours:
Expect the treated area to feel though as it is sunburned. Also, the treated area may experience a stinging or itching sensation but nonetheless tolerable. Some patients who have high discomfort tolerance are able to drive home or come back to work without any hassle at all.
- After a few weeks:
During the next few weeks, your skin may start to peel and become more pinkish as the outer skin layer start to shed. During this time, consult your doctor if you can use make-up to cover up the peeling and pinkish appearance. The duration of healing will depend on how deep under the skin the laser energy has penetrated. Deeper treatments have more healing and downtime while or shallower treatments have less healing time. However, the deeper the treatment, the more effective the results are.
What aftercare tips and treatments are needed to ensure the best results?
- Pain Relievers
After the procedure and depending on your doctor’s recommendation, you may be given ice packs or pain relievers to help soothe the pain. If pain becomes intolerable, talk to your doctor right away.
The most common side effects of fractional CO2 laser treatment are irritations and infections brought about by sun damage. To prevent this from happening, always protect yourself from the sun by applying appropriate sunblock (at least SPF 30) everyday especially when you are going out. If possible, stay away from direct sunlight to protect your skin from the UV rays.
To help speed up the recovery process and to protect your skin from irritations, make sure you moisturise your skin all the time. Ask your doctor if he/she can recommend a good moisturiser to help soothe and hydrate your skin while it repairs itself.
During the recovery process, your skin will peel off and it may appear unflattering causing you to peel it with your own hands. If you can help it, let the natural peeling process take place to avoid scabbing and infections.
When can you see results?
After each session, results are practically immediate. Noticeable improvement on skin conditions such as scars, wrinkles, age spots can already be observed. However, for best results, it may take about 3-6 months after treatment to achieve 50-70% improvement. This time allows production of new collagen to replace the damaged ones.
Fractional CO2 laser treatment produces long-lasting results and reduces the need for the use of over-the-counter topical creams and products. Over time, you will notice that your skin will become tighter, smoother, more moisturised and glowing.
Are you now sold on fractional CO2 laser treatment? Consider this last question first before getting you to make an appointment:
What are the important things that you need to know before committing to Fractional C02 Laser treatment?
- Make sure that you are a suitable candidate.
Though fractional CO2 laser technology is backed by numerous studies and is generally safe, you cannot just simply say that this treatment is appropriate for you. To ensure safety and effective results, it is best to know if you are a suitable candidate first. Some reasons why Fractional C02 Laser may not be suitable for you may include:
- very sensitive skin
- history of delayed healing and bleeding disorders
- use of specific medications that can cause complication with the treatment
This is why I always advise my patients to have a proper consultation first. This is to help assess each individual’s needs and help determine if the treatment will be effective for a particular case. Most importantly, consultations are very helpful to manage expectations.
- The cost of fractional CO2 lasers may vary.
In Singapore, the cost of fractional CO2 lasers is around $400-700 for one round of treatment. This price might vary due to factors such as:
- The doctor’s consultation fee
- The size of the treatment area
- The number of target areas (up to 2 areas at a time can be treated with varying prices)
- The number of sessions required to achieve best results
- Aftercare medications if complications develop
It is also important to note that since fractional CO2 lasers are considered as a cosmetic procedure, the treatment sessions will not be covered by your insurance.
During your first consultation, I strongly suggest that you get a specific quote from your dermatologist so you can already have an idea about the total cost of the treatment.
- Laser settings matter.
A laser with a low energy setting is not capable of reaching deeper layers of the skin rendering it less effective. Because of this, more sessions may be required to achieve optimal results.
While lasers with higher settings are generally more effective because they can reach increased depths underneath the skin resulting to lesser sessions and zero to minimal downtime.
Before committing to a clinic, make sure first that you know the different settings that they can offer. Choosing the right laser settings can really make a difference on the expected results and can save you money in the long run.
- Allot appropriate time intervals in-between sessions.
After every session, your skin may need time to regenerate, heal and replace the damaged skin. As a personal recommendation, only go for fractional CO2 laser treatment once every 2-3 months.
If a doctor or clinic requires to get laser too often, I would be suspicious. Trustworthy clinics and physicians will make sure you get the best treatment without compromising your safety.
- Your choice of doctor matters.
Before committing to any treatment, make sure first that your doctor have the necessary credentials and training to perform the fractional CO2 laser procedure.
To help you decide to choose the right doctor, make sure that he/she have the following qualities:
- have extensive training and experience with a fractional CO2 laser procedure
- can identify different types of skin conditions and acne scars
- helps you understand everything you need to know about the procedure
- able to provide you with expected results and the number of sessions required
- willing to show you before and after photos of his/her previous work
At the end of the day, the main factor that will determine the best results for your treatment would be your doctor’s skills and experience.