Last Updated on September 17th, 2019
The Rhytec Plasma Portrait device is a recent addition to the kinds of treatments you can get only from a licensed dermatologist for the revision of scars caused by acne. Neither a chemical peel nor a laser treatment, it modifies the skin with the energy generated by a plasma1.
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We often think of materials as being solid, liquid, or gas. There is also a fourth state of matter known as a plasma. In a plasma, the atoms or molecules of the substance are so energized that they become “excited.” The plasma generates an ultra-high frequency energy that can be directed at the skin without making physical contact with the skin. Because plasma generates energy vibrating at a frequency higher than laser light, it does not interact with individual components2 of the skin, blood, or tissues beneath the skin in the way that laser therapy does.
Many dermatologists describe the new Plasma Portrait as a “non-aggressive” therapy for acne-scarred skin. It replaces a long line of treatment devices that doctors learned were too “aggressive” to be used safely for treating all acne scar patients.
About 1995, doctors had started using carbon dioxide lasers to treat scars3. Carbon dioxide laser treatments required long recovery times. They replaced scars with redness, and there was usually progressive loss of pigmentation of the skin. A light or white area was usually visible where the scar had been.
The carbon dioxide laser literally burned off the skin. Most people can’t tolerate that. It was also unsafe for people of color.
Many dermatologists gave up on laser scar revision altogether and started relying on chemical peels4 instead. The problem with chemical peels was that they produce only superficial changes in the skin unless the doctor used something aggressive like phenol, and phenol treatment of the skin ran the risk of the same kinds of complications that came with the carbon dioxide laser. Some dermatologists stopped using either laser scar revision or chemical peels before the Rhytec Plasma Portrait became available in 2008.
The Plasma Portrait is a non-contact device. It does not touch the skin. It has faster healing times5 than either carbon dioxide laser therapy or the heavy-duty phenol peels that used to be used for scar treatment.
The Plasma Portrait is what dermatologists call a “non-chromaphore dependent procedure.” It does not interact with pigments in the skin. It is found to be safe for all kinds of skin6.
The plasma gas emitted by this device superheats the topmost layer of skin, where the skin cells are already dead. Destroying these cells with heat produces immediate improvement in a scar. There is also a “thermal remodeling” zone below the layer of dead skin that stimulates the production of collagen by the skin.
It takes four to six months for the production of collagen in the thermal remodeling zone of the skin to produce further, visible changes in the contour of the skin. Scars may continue to be filled in with new collagen as long as year after treatment.
That’s what is different about plasma therapy of the skin. Superficial skin treatments like microdermabrasion and intermediate-depth treatments like ruby laser therapies don’t stimulate the production of collagen deep in the skin. They have short-term effects that make limited improvements in the appearance of scars, while Plasma Portrait makes dramatic changes in the scar that unfold as the skin renews itself over a period of six to twelve months.
One of the advantages of plasma therapy of acne scars is that the outermost layer of skin stays intact. At lower settings, the outermost layer of skin never comes off at all. At higher settings, the outermost layer of skin comes off after about 3 or 4 days. The most appreciated reason that is such an advantage is that patients don’t have the burning pain that they feel with laser treatments and skin peels, but the most important reason this is such an advantage is that intact skin protects against infection7 better than any bandage.
Keeping the skin intact also accelerates healing. Within 7 days, a new layer of skin has formed, and it is close to being healed. If there is an open wound, it is only open for a couple of days.
There is minimal discomfort compared to CO2 laser therapy. Other methods can require carefully changing bandages over the skin over a period of 3 to 6 weeks, but Plasma Portrait may only require meticulous skin care for 3 to 6 days.
Having your scars treated with Plasma Portrait does not require anesthesia or sedation. Your dermatologist will probably only rub your skin with a topical pain reliever before doing the treatment.
The darker your skin, the lower the setting the dermatologist will choose for your treatment. If you have African, Asian, or Middle Eastern skin tones, the doctor will avoid the risk of discoloring your skin by using only the lowest setting for the plasma treatment, which does not cause any breaking of the skin. If you have especially fair skin and an especially deep or large skin, the doctor may use a higher setting that causes the skin to slough off in 3 or 4 days. This difference in technique is due to the degree of pigmentation in the skin. The more pigment you have in your skin, the more likely you are to develop brown spots if your skin is excessively inflamed or irritated.
If you have darker skin, you may need several appointments over a period of months to stimulate the rebuilding of your skin. If you have fair skin, the doctor may give you a single treatment at a high setting. There is no “in between” setting for Portrait Plasma, because researchers have found that moderate power plasma causes all the sloughing of skin that occurs at a high-energy setting with none of the healing benefits.
Most doctors still recommend carbon dioxide (CO2) laser for the most effective acne scar treatment. But the easy recovery from Portrait Plasma makes it a more appealing option in medical scar correction8.
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