Ablative fractional carbon dioxide (CO2) laser treatments have gained popularity due to their efficacy, shortened downtime, and decreased potential for scarring in comparison to traditional ablative CO2 resurfacing. To date, scarring with fractional CO2 lasers has not been reported.
Five patients treated with the same fractional CO2 laser technology for photodamage of the neck were referred to our practices 1–3 months after treatment. Each patient developed scarring. Of the five cases, two are discussed in detail. The first was treated under general anesthesia on the face and anterior neck at a pulse energy of 30 mJ (859 µm depth) with 25% coverage. Eleven days after treatment, three non-healing areas along the horizontal skin folds of the anterior neck were noted. At 2 weeks after CO2 ablative fractional resurfacing, these areas had become thickened. These raised areas were treated with a non-ablative fractionated 1,550 nm laser to modify the wound healing milieu. One week later, distinct firm pale papules in linear arrays with mild hypopigmentation had developed along involved neck skin folds. Skin biopsy was performed. For the second patient, the neck was treated at a pulse energy of 20 mJ (630 µm depth) with 30% coverage of the exposed skin, with a total treatment energy of 5.0 kJ. Minimal crusting was noted on the neck throughout the initial healing phase of 2 weeks. She then experienced tightness on her neck. Approximately 3 weeks after treatment, she developed multiple vertical and horizontal hypertrophic scars (HS).
Histopathology for the first case confirmed the presence of a hypertrophic scar. The papules in this case completely resolved with mild residual hypopigmentation after treatment with topical corticosteroids. HS failed to resolve in the second case to date after 1 month.
As with traditional ablative CO2 laser resurfacing, HS is a potential complication of ablative fractional CO2 laser resurfacing, particularly on the neck. With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment HS of neck skin may be reversible. We urge caution when treating the neck with this device and close attention to wound care in the post-operative period. Lasers Surg. Med. 41:185–188, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.