Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser Skin Resurfacing

Do have age spots, wrinkles, fine lines, or other blemishes on your face? Would you love to have tighter, smoother, more youthful looking skin with more balanced tone and texture? Laser skin resurfacing is an outpatient procedure that can help improve the appearance of your skin. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about laser skin treatment and what it can do for you.

What is laser skin resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing is a type of facial rejuvenation that uses lasers to treat minor flaws, signs of aging, sun damage, and skin growths.

How does laser skin resurfacing work?

A laser is a device that emits intense light beams. When the laser beam is directed onto the skin, it destroys damaged cells in the outer skin layer or epidermis. Also, the heat from the laser beam stimulates collagen production in the middle layer or dermis. Collagen is the protein that gives skin its youthful, smooth appearance.

What problems can this procedure help correct?

Laser skin resurfacing can help to correct or improve several common skin concerns, including fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, hyperpigmentation, broken capillaries in the skin, rosacea, mild to moderate acne scars, warts, port wine stains, spider veins, skin growths, enlarged oil glands, minor skin blemishes, and uneven skin tone and texture.

Types of lasers used for skin resurfacing

Two main types of lasers are used for skin resurfacing. Ablative lasers wound the epidermis and heat the dermis (the upper and middle skin layers, respectively). This helps to stimulate the production of new collagen in the middle skin layer, which makes the skin tighter and smoother. Examples of ablative lasers are carbon dioxide CO2 laser and Erbium laser.

Non-ablative lasers stimulate the production of collagen fibers without wounding the skin (similar to radio frequency treatments). They are less invasive and require a shorter recovery time compared to ablative lasers. However, they are also less effective in correcting skin problems.

Different lasers are suitable for for different skin issues and skin types. Your dermatologist or plastic surgeon will advise you about the best option for your skin type and skin concerns. Some commonly used laser skin resurfacing treatments are briefly summarized below:

Pulsed dye lasers

These are non-ablative lasers that absorb pigment. They are used to treat problems like hyperpigmentation, red spots, redness, broken skin capillaries, and rosacea.

Carbon dioxide CO2 lasers

CO2 laser resurfacing is an ablative treatment that is used to correct warts, acne scars, wrinkles, and deeper lines in the skin.

Erbium laser resurfacing

This can be an ablative or non-ablative treatment. Erbium lasers are used to treat fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, damage from sun exposure, and loose skin.

Fractional lasers

These types of lasers can be both ablative and non-ablative. They use tiny laser beams to treat small portions (fractions) of the skin at a time. This reduces the downtime and makes recovery quicker. Fractional lasers are indicated in patients with signs of aging and minor blemishes.

Who is a good candidate for laser skin resurfacing?

Most people can safely undergo laser resurfacing treatments. However, it is important to tell your dermatologist or surgeon your complete medical history as well as any medications or supplements you are currently taking. This is because certain medications or medical conditions affect the skin's response to laser treatment.

For example, if you are taking acne medications that contain isotretinoin (for example, Accutane), the laser skin resurfacing procedure can result in scarring or poor healing. Common over-the-counter medications like aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding after treatment.

In people with diabetes and other chronic medical conditions, doctors need to carefully weigh the benefits versus risks of laser skin treatment. Those who have a tendency to get fever blisters or cold sores may not be ideal candidates for laser treatments because they can trigger breakouts. However, it may be possible to have the procedure by taking an antiviral medication prophylactically (for prevention).

It is highly recommended that you stop smoking for at least 2 weeks before and after the treatment to reduce the risk of healing complications.

Does dark skin preclude you from undergoing laser resurfacing?

If you have a light skin tone, you are considered a good candidate for laser resurfacing because the risk of hyperpigmentation is low. However, having a darker skin tone does not preclude you from having the procedure. The important thing is to choose a dermatologist or aesthetic provider who has extensive experience with laser resurfacing and knows what treatments work best for what skin tones.

When to have laser skin resurfacing?

Laser treated skin cells are hypersensitive to the sun. For this reason, autumn and winter are considered good "laser seasons" because the daytime hours are shorter and sun exposure is less during these months. However, treatments like fractionated laser can be done year-round because they cause very little damage to the skin cells.

What to expect during the procedure

Laser skin resurfacing is an outpatient procedure that is usually done by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. It can be done under local anesthesia with or without sedation if a small area of the face is being treated. If the whole face is undergoing laser resurfacing, general anesthesia may be required.

The laser vaporization procedure can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes for small parts of the face to 2 hours for a full-face laser skin resurfacing.

Do the treatments hurt?

Laser skin resurfacing treatments are not a plastic surgery. They are a non-invasive procedure to revitalize and rejuvenate your skin. Most patients describe laser treatments like the sensation of a rubber band snapping against the skin. The pain experienced during the procedure depends on the type of laser being used as well as your individual pain tolerance. Non-ablative lasers cause little to no pain and can usually be performed with topical numbing medication. Some deeper ablative laser treatments are performed with local anesthesia or intravenous sedation to keep you comfortable.

Aftercare and recovery


After the procedure, your surgeon or dermatologist will bandage the treatment area. It is common to have some swelling after laser resurfacing. You will be given an ointment like petroleum jelly to apply to the skin - this helps prevent scab formation during the healing process. Sleeping on an extra pillow to raise the head can help reduce the swelling. Your doctor may prescribe steroid medications to control swelling around the eyes. There can also be some itching for a few days. The skin will become dry and start peeling 5-7 days after the treatment.


Depending on the type of laser resurfacing you undergo, you should plan some downtime. The complete healing process can take 10-20 days. The redness can take up to 3 months to fade, but this can usually be covered well with makeup.

Sun protection

The skin is sensitive for a while after laser treatments. Therefore, it is important that you use a broad spectrum sunscreen for protection against both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. Check to make sure the sun protection factor is 30 or higher. Also be sure to check the zinc oxide content because it acts like a physical barrier against harmful rays. It is also a good idea to avoid going outdoors in the afternoon hours when the sun's rays are the strongest.

Skin care

Last but not least, you will need to practice good skin care after your laser procedure. This incudes keeping your skin well moisturized. Ask your doctor about restarting the use of glycolic acid or Retin A products in the treatment area if you used these products before. It is usually recommended to wait at least 6 weeks after ablative laser, maybe somewhat shorter after less intensive treatments.

What to expect in terms of results?

With deeper ablative laser treatments, a single procedure can usually take care of all your skin concerns. However, non-ablative lasers are less intense and you will likely need to have multiple treatments to see the desired results. The trade-off is that recovery from such a procedure is quicker and the downtime is minimal. However, once the treatment series is completed, you can expect the results of the laser procedure to be long-lasting.

Possible side effects, risks, and complications

Like all cosmetic treatments, laser skin resurfacing does carry some risks. The most common side effects and complications are burns and injuries from the heat of the laser, scarring, pigmentation changes, bacterial infection, and herpes outbreak (cold sores). If you follow your doctor's instructions and advice, your risk of side effects and complications will be low.

How much does it cost?

Laser treatments cost $2,000 on average. The cost can vary greatly depending on the type of laser resurfacing procedures you're having, the experience level of your doctor, and your geographical location. Since it is a cosmetic treatment, CO2 laser resurfacing and other types of laser peel are not usually covered by health insurance.

How to select a dermatologist?

Laser skin resurfacing can dramatically improve the appearance of your skin. However, it is important to choose an experienced provider to perform the treatments. Your results can vary greatly depending on who performs the treatments. Also, in the wrong hands, lasers can be ineffective or even dangerous.

The MeTime app makes it easy to find board certified dermatologists and other certified aesthetic providers in your area. You can click and upload pictures and have suggestions sent directly to you. Want to book a consultation for laser skin resurfacing? Try the MeTime app now!

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