Laser skin resurfacing is a cosmetic procedure that uses a laser to improve the appearance of the skin by removing the outer layers of damaged skin cells. The laser beams used in this procedure can target specific areas of the skin, heating and vaporizing the damaged skin cells to promote the growth of new, healthy skin cells. It can reduce facial wrinkles, scars and blemishes. Newer laser technologies give the doctor a new level of control in laser surfacing, permitting extreme precision, especially in delicate areas.
What laser skin resurfacing can improve?
- Fine lines or wrinkles around or under your eyes, forehead or mouth
- Scars from acne or chickenpox
- Non-responsive skin after a facelift
- Aged or sun-damaged skin
- Liver spots
- Improve your complexion if you have yellowish or grayish skin tones
- Birthmarks such as linear epidermal nevi
- Enlarged oil glands on the nose
There are two main types of laser skin resurfacing: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative laser resurfacing removes the outer layer of skin, while non-ablative laser resurfacing targets the deeper layers of the skin without removing the surface layer.
There are several types of non-ablative lasers that can be used for skin resurfacing. Some examples include:
- Nd:YAG laser: This laser emits a long pulse of light that can penetrate deep into the skin to target the deeper layers of tissue. It can be used to treat wrinkles, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation.
- Fractional laser: This type of laser breaks up the laser beam into small, targeted columns of light, which can penetrate the skin to stimulate collagen production and improve skin texture and tone. It can be used to treat fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, and age spots.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) laser: This laser emits a broad spectrum of light that can target a range of skin conditions, including hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and broken blood vessels. It can also be used for hair removal.
- Pulsed dye laser: This laser emits a concentrated beam of yellow light that can target blood vessels and skin pigments, making it effective for treating redness, rosacea, and acne scars.
- Erbium laser: This laser emits a short pulse of light that can penetrate the skin’s surface to target fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. It can also stimulate collagen production and improve skin texture and tone.
The choice of laser will depend on the specific skin condition being treated, as well as the patient’s skin type and other individual factors.
Non-ablative laser resurfacing is typically performed in a clinical setting by a doctor experienced to perform medical aesthetics procedures. The procedure typically takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated.
Here is a general outline of what happens during a non-ablative laser resurfacing treatment:
- Preparation: The patient’s skin is cleaned and prepped for the treatment. A topical numbing cream may be applied to the area to reduce discomfort during the procedure.
- Laser treatment: The laser device is passed over the skin, delivering short pulses of light to the targeted areas. The patient may feel a warm or prickling sensation during the treatment, but it is usually well-tolerated.
- Cooling: After each pass of the laser, a cooling device or cool air may be used to cool the skin and reduce discomfort.
- Post-treatment care: After the treatment, the patient’s skin may be red and slightly swollen. The skincare professional may apply a cooling gel or ointment to soothe the skin. The patient will be instructed to avoid sun exposure and to use a sunscreen to protect the skin during the healing process.
Depending on the severity of the skin condition being treated, multiple treatments may be necessary to achieve the desired results. The interval between treatments will depend on the specific type of laser being used and the patient’s individual needs.
Non-ablative laser skin resurfacing is generally considered safe and has fewer risks and side effects than ablative laser resurfacing. However, as with any medical procedure, there are still some risks to be aware of.
Here are some potential risks and side effects of non-ablative laser skin resurfacing:
- Redness and swelling: After the procedure, the skin may be red and slightly swollen for a few days. This is a normal reaction and usually resolves on its own.
- Pain or discomfort: The procedure may cause some discomfort or mild pain, which can be managed with topical anaesthesia or pain medication.
- Pigment changes: In rare cases, the treatment may cause the skin to become lighter or darker. This is more common in people with darker skin tones.
- Scarring: Although rare, there is a risk of scarring after the procedure.
- Infection: There is a risk of infection after any skin treatment. It is important to follow the skincare professional’s post-treatment care instructions to reduce the risk of infection.
- Eye injury: If the treatment is performed near the eyes, there is a risk of eye injury from the laser.
It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of non-ablative laser skin resurfacing with the doctor before undergoing the procedure. They can help determine if it is the right treatment for your specific needs and discuss any potential risks based on your medical history and skin type.
Ablative laser skin resurfacing is a type of laser treatment that uses a high-powered laser to remove the top layers of skin. This process stimulates the growth of new skin cells and collagen, resulting in a smoother, tighter, and more youthful-looking skin.
During the procedure, the laser removes the outer layers of skin, which can help to diminish the appearance of wrinkles, scars, and other skin imperfections. Ablative lasers can also be used to treat sun damage, age spots, and uneven skin tone.
There are two main types of ablative lasers: CO2 (carbon dioxide) and erbium lasers. CO2 lasers are more powerful and can penetrate deeper into the skin, making them ideal for treating deep wrinkles and scars. Erbium lasers are less powerful and typically used to treat surface-level imperfections.
Because ablative laser resurfacing removes the top layers of skin, it can be a more intensive procedure than non-ablative laser resurfacing. Recovery time can vary, depending on the extent of the treatment, but typically takes between 1-2 weeks. During this time, patients may experience redness, swelling, and peeling of the treated area.
Ablative laser skin resurfacing is generally considered safe and effective, but it may not be suitable for everyone. Patients with darker skin tones may be at a higher risk for pigmentation changes, and those with a history of skin cancer or certain medical conditions may not be good candidates for the procedure. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of ablative laser resurfacing with the doctor.
You may not be a good candidate for laser skin resurfacing if you have:
- Active acne
- Very dark skin
- Deep wrinkles
- Excessive or sagging skin
Patients with darker skin tones have a greater risk of healing with darker pigmentation (hyperpigmentation). This may be minimized by use of a bleaching agent after laser skin resurfacing as well.
What are the steps of a laser skin resurfacing procedure?
For best results, your doctor may first start you on a series of skin treatments to prepare your skin for your laser procedure. Often these treatments begin 6 weeks or more before your scheduled procedure. These skin treatments are customized for your particular skin type to minimize complications and obtain the best result from your laser resurfacing.
Cosmetic laser resurfacing is usually done on an outpatient basis and typically takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
Managing your discomfort: Laser skin resurfacing can be painful. This is why your doctor may numb the skin with local anesthetics. You may also receive a sedative to help you relax. Afterwards, the doctor will provide painkillers to keep you comfortable. In preparation, your face will be thoroughly cleaned and you might be given eye protection.
Two types of lasers are commonly used in laser resurfacing: carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium. Both work to vaporize superficial, damaged skin cells.
CO2 laser resurfacing
For year doctors have used CO2 lasers to treat various skin conditions. A newer generation of CO2 lasers has the power to deliver very short pulsed light energy (called ultrapulsed) or continuous light beams. This type of laser precisely removes thin layers of skin with minimal damage to your surrounding tissue.
Erbium laser resurfacing
This type of laser wrinkle removal is typically used to remove superficial and moderately deep lines and wrinkles on your face, but can also be used on your neck, chest or hands.
After the procedure
After laser resurfacing is completed, your doctor will apply specialized dressing to protect the treated tissues. Further dressing changes or specialized topical treatments may be needed to enhance healing.
What should I expect during my laser skin resurfacing recovery?
Skin that’s treated with laser resurfacing may react in different ways. But most of the time, it will feel like a mild sunburn. You’ll have some redness and swelling. You may also experience itching or stinging for a few days after the procedure.
Depending on the treatment, some people may have what looks like a severe sunburn. The skin will be raw, oozing and may even blister. A yellow liquid may ooze from treated areas to form a crust. Do not scratch or pick at crusts because this can cause scarring.
Usually, about five days to a week after laser skin resurfacing, your skin will become dry and peel.
Follow these steps during your laser skin resurfacing recovery
- Clean the treated areas two to five times a day with saline as directed by your doctor.
- Apply protective skin care treatments that are recommended by your doctor to help your skin heal.
- After healing, you’ll need to use sunscreen, particularly one that’s formulated for the sensitive, rejuvenated skin on your face. Every day. No exceptions!
- If directed to do so by your doctor, use a liberal amount of moisturizer each day on your new skin.
You can expect that the treated area will peel. After that, the new, rejuvenated skin will be pink, but it will gradually lighten over two to three months. It may take up to a year for the pinkness to go away. It is very important to protect your skin during this time of healing. Redness tends to last longer in fair skinned individuals.
You may resume application of Retin-A and/or glycolic acid products around six weeks after laser resurfacing or as directed by your physician.
Complications of laser skin resurfacing
- Acne flares. Your doctor will recommend a treatment regimen.
- Bacterial infection. Your doctor may recommend taking an antibiotic prior to the surgery and afterwards.
- Cold sore reactivation. This may occur if you have laser resurfacing around your mouth. Be sure to tell you doctor about your history of cold sores (herpes). You can prevent the reactivation by taking an
- antiviral medication before and after the procedure.
- Hyperpigmentation. It’s possible the treated area can become darker in tone. Your doctor may recommend a bleaching solution. More rarely you may have hypopigmentation, a lightening of the skin tone.
- Milia. These small white bumps may appear during healing. They can be removed by gentle cleansing with a washcloth.
- Prolonged redness. For some people, the redness just takes longer to disappear.
- Scarring. This is rare, but possible.
- Swelling. If you are having laser skin resurfacing around your eyes, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids to manage this swelling.
Tips for an easier recovery
- Elevate your head with an extra pillow at night.
- Use an ice pack during the first day or two to ease swelling and discomfort.
- Stop smoking. Tobacco smoke will complicate the healing process.
Recovery times will vary depending on your treatment
CO2 laser resurfacing: Generally up to two weeks.
Erbium laser resurfacing: One full week.
It’s possible that your skin may stay red or pink for up to several months after laser skin resurfacing. You may also be extra sensitive to sunlight for up to a year. Make efforts to minimize sun exposure and use that sunscreen liberally, every day.
Some people who have laser resurfacing may see an immediate difference in the treated skin. That will continue to improve for up to a year. While the effects of laser resurfacing can last for many years, the normal aging process means that wrinkles and expression lines will reoccur. You may repeat laser resurfacing as necessary.