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Is CO2 skin resurfacing right for you? Here are 5 things to consider

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CO2 skin resurfacing is a major commitment on the part of the patient. It is an intense procedure that requires careful prep and aftercare. Typically, only very experienced practitioners perform skin resurfacing with a CO2 laser. And, we believe it should only be done in clinics overseen by licensed physicians. Plenty of side effects can occur if the right protocols are not in place before, during and after the treatment.

When looking at before and after pictures of CO2 laser skin treatments, it’s easy to get excited. In fact, it can seem like a miracle! Who would have thought such a technology could exist today – one that can reverse signs of aging by the look of years! Brown spots, scars, wrinkles, laxity, sun damage – it can all be treated with visible results.

However, CO2 skin resurfacing is not for everyone. If you’re considering this as a cosmetic procedure or investment, there are important factors you – and your doctor – should be deciding on first. We’ll explain them below.

Before we do, we’ll note that CO2 laser skin resurfacing isn’t only for those who want to ‘look good,’ cosmetically speaking. It can also be used for health reasons, such as getting rid of cancerous lesions in the skin. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss factors relating mostly to aesthetic goals.

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Your age and the degree of your condition

As a clinical, anti-aging treatment, this procedure is generally best for those in their 50s to 70s. This is when advanced wrinkles and folds become more prevalent and noticeable. It is also when sun damage starts to surface, and age spots look more stark.

However, we use the term generally because age is not the determining factor of when wrinkles, sagging skin and brown spots start to appear. If someone has had far too much sun exposure in their early years, they may look older than their age. Or, they may simply feel strongly about getting rid of brown spots and freckles in a ‘one-shot’ procedure. With a doctor’s approval, these cases may also be eligible for CO2 skin resurfacing.

On the flip side, someone in their 50s may not have developed advanced signs of aging. Skin resurfacing would yield little benefit for those cases. Instead, other ‘upkeep’ solutions can be pursued.

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Your pain tolerance, your body’s ability to heal and your psychological strength

Off the bat, we can let you know that if you have had cancer, are HIV positive, or are immunocompromised in any way, this laser won’t be for you. You will need a strong immune system to be able to heal from its effects.

Other health reasons that can prevent you from being eligible for skin resurfacing include photosensitivity from medications (or otherwise), taking anticoagulants, bleeding disorders, a history of scarring easily and pregnancy.

Very dark skin tones can also experience pigment changes from this procedure, so it will need to be done with caution, if it can be done at all. A doctor should advise you on this.

A doctor should also be screening you for other risk factors.

Apart from the ‘health check,’ you should also be psychologically prepared for the pain and inflammation that you’ll experience after the procedure. You will be very red, and maybe even swollen for about a week. After that, you’ll notice peeling, and possibly even crusting. In rare cases, the flushing can last for three to six months (especially if you are already prone to facial redness).

Though rare, some people – most notably those with darker skin tones – can develop hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation (skin lightening or darkening). Most of the time this starts within two weeks (as the skin heals), and subsides within three to six months.

Now, if you are opting for a doctor-led clinic, help should be offered to deal with the above issues. There are treatments for redness and pigment changes after a CO2 laser procedure. But, they do require patience.

On the one hand, most people won’t want to schedule this procedure before a big event, like a family reunion or wedding. But even if you can stay home for a few weeks, you’ll still have to look at yourself in the mirror. We aren’t mentioning this in a ‘tongue in cheek’ kind of way. It can be hard to see yourself that way.

And, while three weeks or so may seem like nothing in hindsight, it can feel like a long time while you’re going through it. You will need a strong mindset to endure it.

Why would anyone do this if it requires so much healing time? Because the payoff is worth it! Laser skin resurfacing is a fast way to get a big improvement in skin texture.

If you’re not up for the recovery period, you may want to opt for non-ablative procedures. These require multiple treatments spread over several months. You should see incremental results after each treatment.

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Your expectations

Above, we did say that CO2 laser skin resurfacing can seem like a “miracle.” We also said you can see a “big improvement” from it. However, we should balance those statements with a word of reality and reason.

Yes, given the technology’s abilities, doctors consider the results of this procedure to be amazing. But that’s because doctors know what is biologically possible and feasible.

If you’re hoping to look 20 again, when you’re already 60 and sagging, you may be disappointed. If you’ve got advanced acne scarring and are seeking baby-smooth skin, you may not get what you’re hoping for.

To set expectations straight, it’s best to ask your practitioner for before and after photos of past patients.

However, keep in mind that each person’s reaction to this procedure will be different – even if the exact steps and settings and machinery are used on all patients (which isn’t the case). That’s because our bodies are naturally different. So, you can’t expect the same results that someone else had. Yours can be more drastic, or less drastic. It also depends what you’re starting with.

Finally, on this point, note that the effects of a CO2 laser treatment appear gradually. It can take up to a year to see full results. This is because the body needs to heal, naturally – and that takes time!

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Your commitment to pre and post-procedure care at home

During your first consultation with a doctor for a CO2 skin treatment, you may be advised to take certain medications, and to use certain skin care products for about one to two weeks before your procedure. These can include antiviral or antibiotic pills to prevent infection. Or, they can be as simple as using a cosmeceutical face cream designed to build up your skin’s regenerative abilities.

After the treatment, you’ll be sent home with care instructions. It will be important to keep your face clean, for instance, to avoid infection. You’ll also need to keep using oral and topical products your doctor recommends.

As noted above, after 2 to 7 days, your skin will begin to peel. You won’t be able to pick at or scrub your skin during this phase, as it can lead to scars. You will also want to sleep on your back.

For at least four to six weeks after the procedure, if you receive any UV exposure at all – even while indoors through a window – you MUST wear sunscreen. Your skin will be extra sensitive to sunlight while it heals. So, treating this rule as ‘law’ is important. Remember: sun damage is how your skin degraded in the first place. There is no sense in undergoing this procedure only to worsen it with UV rays while it’s ‘raw’ and photosensitive.

That said – everyone should be using high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis anyway.

All of the above will require diligence on your part. A doctor can only do so much while you’re at their clinic. The majority of pre and post care will depend on your following of instructions rigidly.

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Your budget

A CO2 skin resurfacing procedure is not a minor cosmetic treatment. It requires specialized training and experience to achieve successful outcomes. With that comes the price tag to go with it. Now, it’s not usually as much as plastic surgery. And, not all clinics will charge the same rates. However, generally, this type of procedure can cost upwards of $3,000 CAD.

For people who seek the effects of CO2 skin resurfacing, the price is often considered an investment. If you’re a person who already spends thousands on anti-wrinkle products, or is very insecure about visible sun damage, this procedure can be totally worth it. The same goes if you have excessive facial scarring from acne, or another trauma. These things can really affect our mental health – and that’s no joke.

However much you want this treatment, be sure you have the budget for it. It is not an area to be ‘price shopping’ at all. If budget is a concern, consider financing options to pay for this service in installments. There are great, 0% interest payment plans out there. Whatever you do, DON’T go with a lower-quality, less-experienced provider. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you end up experiencing rare side effects, they can be complicated to treat after-the-fact. And, if you seek a new doctor to reverse these issues, they won’t know all the details that went into your treatment. Backtracking to be able to help can be harder in that way, too.

You know what they say: with great power comes great responsibility! And that’s definitely true when it comes to the power of a CO2 cosmetic laser.

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CO2 skin resurfacing can be a great option, but it is one of many!

To conclude, we will say that while CO2 skin resurfacing is a fantastic option for some people, it is not the only option. If you want to rejuvenate your skin, several other technologies exist to do it. They don’t all require such a long healing process, either.

You can always start your introduction to laser skin care by opting for mild laser peels (basically photofacials). Try chemical peels, too. Gradually work your way up to something like a Fraxel® DUAL laser treatment. It is strong, but not nearly as rough on your skin as a fractional CO2 laser. Hot microneedling over multiple sessions can also achieve collagen regeneration.

Your best bet will be to book a consultation with a good skin care clinic. Laser technicians and a doctor will be able to analyze your skin, listen to your concerns, and recommend treatment paths that work for you. You should never feel pressured into buying the ‘big ticket’ item, and you should be given more than one option. Not only that, expectations given to you should be realistic. Don’t let anyone sell you with ‘smoking mirrors’!

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