What to Know About Laser Scar Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on February 29, 2024
4 min read

Living with scars can be difficult. A scar can change the way you think about and see yourself, but it can also affect your life in bigger ways. Some scars can even limit your motion. There are several ways to reduce the look of your scars, including laser treatment.

Scars are the result of an injury or trauma to your skin. The severity of this type of injury varies, with more serious injury resulting in bigger and deeper scars. 

When your skin is damaged, all of its available resources are transferred to the affected area with the goal of repairing the damage as quickly as possible. This is why scars don't have the same smooth, neat pattern as standard skin. Your body creates collagen (a type of protein) to fix the damage.

Scars can have side effects that impact your life, including:

  • Problems with movement, especially if the scar is over a joint or particularly tight
  • Pain, even long after the wound has closed
  • Itchiness
  • An appearance you don't like or are self-conscious about

Laser treatment is also referred to as laser skin resurfacing or laser scar revision. This treatment can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, and skin lesions, as well as scars. It can be effective even several years after a scar has formed.

Laser treatment is done in a doctor's office and doesn't require an overnight hospital stay. The doctor will use a local anesthetic on the treatment area, and you may be administered an oral sedative. 

During the treatment, beams of light will be used to either remove scar tissue or poke holes in it, depending on the type of laser used. Both methods stimulate the production of collagen and allow your body to create new, smoother skin. After the treatment, your scar should appear lighter and less noticeable.

Laser treatment doesn't remove scars completely. In essence, you're replacing one scar for another that's smaller and not as noticeable. It may also take multiple treatments for you to see desired results.

There are two types of laser treatment available, including CO2 laser therapy and fractional laser therapy.

CO2 laser therapy. This type of therapy uses short pulses of light or continuous light beams to remove thin layers of skin with minimal damage to the surrounding skin. A small amount of scar tissue is targeted during each treatment, so you may need multiple visits for larger scars. Recovery time for this type of therapy can be up to two weeks.

Fractional laser therapy. Fractional therapy uses many narrow columns of light, causing the collagen in the scar to tighten. Less of your skin is injured in the process, but — because the laser goes deeper — there's also the possibility for additional scarring and increased recovery time. The typical recovery time for this type of treatment is one week.

If you're considering laser treatment, make an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss the procedure. They'll look at the scar you want treated and make a recommendation for the best type of laser treatment.

After the laser treatment, a bandage will be applied and should be left on for 24 hours. After that, you should clean the area between 2 to 5 times per day with a saline solution or a diluted vinegar solution. You can also apply a healing ointment, like Aquaphor, Eucerin, or Vaseline. The goal is to prevent a scab from forming. 

Healing time is typically between 5 to 21 days, depending on the type of treatment. Once the area has healed, there may be some redness for as long as a few months.

There are some possible side effects of using laser treatment, including:

Aggravating cold sores. If you have a history of cold sores, laser treatments can aggravate them, especially if the treatment is around your mouth. Let your doctor know if this is a concern, and they should be able to give you an antiviral medication before the treatment.

Milia. Milia are small, white bumps, similar to tiny whiteheads. They're not a serious complication but can be annoying or unsightly. Gentle exfoliation with a warm cloth should remove them. If this doesn't help, your dermatologist can also remove them.

Hyperpigmentation. There may be a darkening effect on your skin after laser treatment. You can use a skin-lightening cream if you're concerned about it. You should also use sunscreen with a minimum Use an SPF 30 if you're spending time out in the sun after treatment.