Researchers say carbon dioxide lasers work by vaporizing water molecules inside and outside cells, which damages the surrounding tissue. The skin's natural response to this damage is to produce more of the protein collagen, which reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Most side effects of the high-tech wrinkle treatment were short term, such as acne, darkening of skin, and infection. But the study showed 13% of those who underwent laser resurfacing also developed a lasting lightening of skin color.
"In addition to structural changes, the healing process frequently leads to pigmentary [coloring] changes," write P. Daniel Ward, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery. "These changes in skin pigmentation may be desirable, such as when patients wish to remove solar evidence of aging; however, changes in pigmentation after treatment can often be a troubling adverse effect."
Zapping Wrinkles for Good
In the study, researchers followed 42 women and five men (average age 52) who underwent carbon dioxide laser resurfacing on their entire face between 1996 and 2004.
The results showed 45% experienced no complications following the wrinkle treatment. Of those who did have complications, the most common were:
- Acne (30%)
- Darkening of the skin (17%)
- Lightening of the skin (13%)
In addition, 2% developed an infection after the laser resurfacing.
After more than two years of follow-up, most of these side effects had improved, and facial wrinkles had improved by 45% on average.
But 13% of the participants experienced lightening of the skin that persisted after a year. These patients were also more likely to have had a greater response to the wrinkle treatment.
Researchers say treatment with chemical peels using glycolic acid or tricholoroacetic acid may help blend the lines of demarcation between treated and untreated skin. They say the risk of developing this side effect may be minimized by advising people to use sunscreen before and after laser resurfacing treatment.