Is the fractional radiofrequency, CO2 laser or erbium laser more effective for deep acne scars?

Doctor's Answers 3

With regards to your question:

  1. Fractional CO2 lasers generally penetrates deeper than Erbium lasers
  2. Fractional CO2 lasers also generally penetrates deeper than Fractional RF devices EXCEPT Microneedle RF machines that can reach a depth of 3.5mm (only in some machines) which in this case will have a greater penetration depth as compared to Fractional CO2 machines.

Fractional CO2 lasers also generate more heat than Erbium lasers and as such have better collagen synthesis etc but this also confers a higher risk of heat-related side effects namely Post-Inflammation Hyperpigmentation (PIH) , redness and longer downtime.

As the other doctors have mentioned, this is where Fractional RF machines have a safer side effect profile with a lower risk of PIH.

That being said, one would also have to consider the type of acne scars you have as different scars are treated differently and not all scars respond well to machine-led treatments.

In conclusion, all these devices have their pros and cons, and can deliver good results when executed to its full potential.

Hope that helps.

All the best!

The current options for ablative treatment of acne scars would be mostly limited to :

  1. Fractional Co2 laser
  2. Fractional Erbium laser
  3. Fractional RF

I would say that for easy understanding, fractional CO2 has the best results because it is able to penetrate deeper into the skin. However, it’s a double edged sword and has much higher chances of side effects like PIH ( Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation) and Hypopigmentation.

Fractional Erbium and Fractional RF were developed precisely because of the higher chances of those side effects, and thus they do not penetrate as deep or ablate as strongly. However, they still give a good result with much lower chances of side effects.

Thus, your idea that fractional RF goes deeper than fractional CO2 is likely not true, based on the above principles.

To help you decide, mainly you need to think through the following factors :

  1. Are you still having active acne? If yes, you will need treatment for that first. There’s no point treating the scars if you are still having active acne. It’s like trying to fill a bucket of water to the brim but the bottom has a hole continuously leaking. You need to plug the hole first. There are many options and if your keen to find out more, you can send another question on Human.
  2. How much downtime can you afford? The deeper the laser, the longer the downtime and the more conscientious you need to be with your post-laser recovery. You’ll need to apply more recovery products as well.
  3. Are you willing to take the risks of PIH/Hypopigmentation ? This is more pronounced if you have a darker skin type. There are always risks with every medical treatment.
  4. Cost

Hope that helps!

In a nutshell:

  1. Fractional CO2 gives the best improvement but is frequently not tolerated in out context because of prolonged downtime and high risk of side effects such as PIH.
  2. Fractional radio frequency (RF) was invented for this purpose – much safer profile for Asian skin and supposedly less effective.
  3. However, because it is safer to use Fractional RF at a higher power setting, some doctors actually get better results than the CO2 (which would be undesirable or unsafe to use at higher setting)
  4. There are two forms of Fractional Erbium – the Erbium Yag and Erbium Glass. The Yag laser is ablative whereas the Glass laser is non ablative.
  5. The fractional Erbium Glass laser was shown on a clinical study to have better results than the Fractional RF for scarring. Similarly, it is also much safer for Asian skin types and offers even less downtime.

Hope this was helpful!

Similar Questions

For very deep acne scars, what are recommended treatment methods? (photo)

Hi there,You do have a combination of deep Box scars, Ice pick scars and some that are tethered down. Personally, I would recommend a combination of treatments involving Subscision, TCA CROSS and Skin Resurfacing modalities (Co2, Erbium, Microneedle RF) as these treatments are able to treat each scar type optimally. Multiple sessions will be required and treatment is to be done at least 4 weeks apart. Downtime / redness will be expected for a few days to a week on average. Do speak with your treating physician on the pros / cons of each treatment. Hope that helps. All the best!

Photo of Dr Rui Ming Ho

Answered By

Dr Rui Ming Ho


How do I treat acne marks as compared to acne scars? (photo)

Hi, Acne marks (post-inflammatory erythema and hyperpigmentation) will gradually fade on their own over several weeks/months, so do not worry. It is important to prevent new acne from occurring (check out the Acne section for the various strategies to do so) as new acne will cause new marks to occur. Hope this helps.

Photo of Dr Chin Yee Choong

Answered By

Dr Chin Yee Choong


Ask any health question for free

I’m not so sure about a procedure...

Ask Icon Ask a Question

Join Human

Sign up now for a free Human account to get answers from specialists in Singapore.

Sign Up

Get The Pill

Be healthier with our Bite-sized health news straight in your inbox