Innovative Treatment for Burn Scars

The University of Chicago Medicine’s Burn and Complex Wound Center offers state-of-the-art laser treatments to help manage symptomatic and visible burn scars.

Laser treatment is most appropriate for thick, raised scars. These scars — also known as hypertrophic scars — result from abnormal or excessive healing. They are often red or inflamed and frequently cause significant functional impairment. For example, the scar may make it difficult for you to bend a joint. They may also cause emotional distress when they are located on the face, neck or other visible area.

While laser treatment will not completely remove burn scars, it can improve functional abilities you may have lost due to scarring. You might also experience a softening of your burn scars and less itching. The appearance of scars may improve after laser treatments, but you should not expect a dramatic improvement in how scars look with laser treatment alone.

Laser treatment may also be offered as part of a more comprehensive burn scar reconstructive treatment program tailored for you. Your surgeon will assess whether other treatments, such as surgery, tissue expansion or medication, would help you reach your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

During laser treatments, the surgeon uses a special device, called a fractional ablative carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, to create microscopic holes in the tissue of a burn scar. This energy is thought to stimulate changes in the scar tissue. Next, a steroid solution is applied to the scar, which is absorbed into the holes. This medication also contributes to scar improvements.

This is a one-day procedure that typically uses general anesthesia, and you should be able to go home the same day with a simple dressing over the treatment area.

We recommend three laser treatment sessions for each area of the body (e.g., arm, shoulder) being treated.

UChicago Medicine’s Burn and Complex Wound Center offers laser treatment for adults and children with hypertrophic burn scars.

Currently, we only perform laser treatment for symptomatic hypertrophic burn scars, or scars that are thick, raised, tight and often red or pink. If you are not sure whether your scar is hypertrophic, speak with our clinicians who can evaluate you and recommend the best treatments for managing your scars.

Burn scars should look somewhat better after laser treatments. In many cases, scars will decrease in height, and skin will become more flexible and less red. But we caution patients to set realistic expectations. Your scar will only soften, not disappear.

You may react to the general anesthesia used with these procedures. You may also experience bleeding, infection or skin pigment changes. If you are prone to excessive scarring, the treatment may make the scar worse. Your plastic surgeon will assess your risk for poor outcomes and recommend against the procedure if there is a risk of your scars worsening with the treatment.

Our Expert Burn Surgeon

Our plastic surgeons are among a small number of burn specialists in the Midwest providing laser treatment for burn scars.

Along with skilled surgeons, your team will also include advanced practice nurses and physical and occupational therapists devoted to treating burns. All of our team members are involved in decision making about whether laser treatment can truly improve your burn scars and return any lost functional abilities.