Laser skin resurfacing is a cosmetic procedure that uses laser light for diminishing or eliminating skin imperfections, such as scars and sun-damaged skin. Also referred to as laser skin rejuvenation or laser peel, the method encourages the growth of new skin cells and collagen production, resulting in younger-looking and healthier skin.
How does laser skin resurfacing work?
Laser skin resurfacing employs several types of laser technology to dissolve the molecular bonds of old or damaged skin cells layer by layer. As the damaged skin cells are peeled away, a younger and smoother layer of skin is revealed underneath.
For what conditions is laser skin resurfacing used?
The procedure is used to treat wrinkles, lines, superficial scars or acne marks, irregular skin pigmentation and other facial imperfections that do not respond to gentler treatments. Because of the invasive nature of laser skin resurfacing, it is not recommended for patients who are prone to scarring or with darker skin tones because highly pigmented skin tends to absorb excess laser light, which may result in skin discoloration or blistering. Laser skin resurfacing is also not recommended for those with active acne and skin infections such as herpes or cold sores because of the risk of complications during the healing process.
What are the commonly used laser skin resurfacing technologies?
There are several commonly used laser skin resurfacing technologies:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) laser is the most powerful among laser treatments. It is used to treat deep scars, wrinkles, birthmarks, warts and even the early stages of skin cancer.
- Erbium laser is milder than the CO2 laser and is used for removing superficial to moderate scars and wrinkles. Erbium laser is a better option for patients with dark skin since it has less risk of permanent skin discoloration. Because it is less invasive, it has a shorter downtime than the CO2 laser.
- Fraxel® laser is noninvasive, unlike the CO2 and erbium lasers. Thus, Fraxel does not cause any skin tenderness or pain after treatment, nor does it require any downtime. However, it usually takes several sessions of this treatment to attain the desired results.
Laser skin resurfacing treatments are typically performed as an outpatient procedure, whether at a hospital or your doctor’s clinic. The treatment is usually done under local anesthesia or oral sedative; extensive laser treatments may require general anesthesia, although this is rare.
After anesthesia has been administered, your eyes will be covered to protect them from the laser light that will be beamed over the skin. How long the procedure takes will depend on the severity of the skin condition and the size of the area to be treated.
What are the typical results of laser skin resurfacing?
After laser skin resurfacing treatment, most patients experience flushing of the skin for several weeks. There may also be some swelling or discomfort in some patients. These temporary side effects eventually subside and better-looking skin becomes more noticeable. The more invasive treatments usually result in more dramatic improvements of the skin but a longer recovery time for the patient. Less invasive laser treatments, on the other hand, do not produce results as dramatic as invasive treatments do and usually require several sessions to attain the desired results. The upside to the gentler treatments is that they require either no downtime or only a short recovery period.
In general, laser skin resurfacing treatments result in tighter, smoother and evenly textured skin, with significantly diminished imperfections, including lines, wrinkles and scars.
Is laser skin resurfacing safe?
Because of its invasive nature, laser skin resurfacing is considered by many physicians as a surgical procedure even though it does not involve any incisions. Thus, to guarantee safety, laser skin resurfacing should be performed by a board-certified dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon.
Patients seeking laser skin resurfacing must be in good overall health and free from skin infections such as cold sores and acne, which may increase the risk of complications. The procedure is also not recommended for dark-skinned patients because of the risk of skin discoloration. Patients who are taking medication or who smoke are advised to stop these practices before treatment to facilitate the healing process
How long does recovery take?
Recovery time varies depending on the type of laser technology used and the size of the area treated. Recovery time is usually longer for the more invasive procedures: usually two weeks for CO2 laser and one week for erbium laser. For Fraxel laser, recovery time is typically just a few days. The overall condition of the patient is also a factor in recovery; it takes less time for healthier people to heal and longer for those with health considerations.