“It’s important to manage expectations,” Dr. Ortiz, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, said at the annual meeting of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. “I tell them I can improve their scar and make it look less noticeable, but I can’t make it look like normal skin. It’s going to require multiple treatments. It’s not a one-time thing; it’s going to take several months to see the full benefit. And, it’s an investment of time and money.”
Nonablative, ablative, and fractional resurfacing stimulates dermal fibroblasts to replace lost collagen and elastin. Traditional lasers offer impressive clinical results for scars but are associated with significant preprocedural discomfort, prolonged recovery, and a significant risk of side effects, Dr. Ortiz said, while nonablative lasers are more tolerable with shorter recovery times.
Multiple sessions are required, and results are often less clinically impressive. “It’s often difficult for patients to have a lot of downtime with each treatment so often I prefer to use the nonablative laser, especially for acne scarring,” she said.
Mounting evidence suggests that the sooner scars are treated after they are formed, the better. That may not be feasible for patients with a long history of acne scars, but for surgical scars, Dr. Ortiz prefers to start treatment on the day of suture removal. “Whenever I do that, I always get better results,” she said.
Outcomes may also improve by combining different treatment options, but the type of scar drives the type of modality to consider. There are red scars from postinflammatory erythema, hyperpigmented scars, hypopigmented scars, atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars, spread scars, pin cushion scars, and keloid scars, “which are the most difficult to treat,” she said. “When I’m using a combination approach, I start with the redness component of the scar, because you don’t want to exacerbate nonspecific erythema, or it’ll be difficult to see where the redness is. So, I always use vascular laser first, then a pigment-specific laser, followed by resurfacing, and augmentation with filler if needed.”
Red scars generally fade with time, but that can take several months to more than a year. “If you use a laser, that can speed up the recovery,” said Dr. Ortiz, who is the vice president of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. “A vascular laser will work, such as KTP, or intense pulsed light. Studies favor a low fluence and a short pulse duration. Pulsed dye laser (PDL) penetrates deeper than KTP, so theoretically you get a bit of collagen remodeling because it can increase TGF-beta [transforming growth factor–beta], so theoretically, PDL is a little bit better than KTP for red scars, but both will work.”
In a comparative, researchers used purpuric and nonpurpuric parameters to treat surgical scars but found no significant differences between the two treatment settings. “I tend to stick to short pulse duration and low fluence settings,” said Dr. Ortiz, who was not affiliated with the study.
A separate, single-blinded, split scar