Laser skin resurfacing is a procedure that uses light beams to treat facial scars, wrinkles and blemishes. This technique is also known as a laser peel, laser vaporization or lasabrasion. Laser devices send short, concentrated pulsating beams of light at irregular skin. This removes unwanted, damaged skin in a very precise manner one layer at a time. This targeted approach means there are fewer problems with hypopigmentation especially when used for acne scar removal. Newer laser technologies give your plastic surgeon a new level of control in laser surfacing, permitting extreme precision, especially in delicate areas.
How does it work?
The laser beam used in laser resurfacing will remove your outer layer of skin, called the epidermis. It simultaneously heats the underlying skin, called the dermis. This action works to stimulate growth of new collagen fibers. As the treated area heals, the new skin that forms is smoother and firmer.
Laser resurfacing can improve minor facial flaws, such as:
- 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 or large pores on the face or nose
Preparation for laser skin resurfacing
Laser skin resurfacing is usually done on an outpatient basis and typically takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours depending upon the treated areas.
Laser skin resurfacing can be painful. This is why your doctor may numb the skin with local anaesthetics. You may also receive a sedative to help you relax if necessary. Prior to laser skin resurfacing, your face will be thoroughly cleaned and you might be given eye protection.
(Carbon dioxide) CO2 laser resurfacing
For many years CO2 lasers have been used to treat various skin conditions. It works by vaporizing superficial, damaged skin cells. 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.
After the procedure
After laser skin resurfacing is completed, your plastic surgeon will apply specialized dressing to protect the treated tissues. Further dressing changes or specialized topical treatments may be needed to enhance healing.
Special considerations, risks and recovery
Skin that is 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.
To achieve an optimum look, follow these steps as part of your recovery
- Clean the treated areas two to five times a day with saline solution or mild facial cleanser as directed by your plastic surgeon
- Apply protective skin care treatments that are recommended 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. It is very important to use sunscreen at all times to prevent hyperpigmentation
- Use a liberal amount of moisturizer each day on your new skin to keep it moist
You can expect the treated area to 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 several weeks or months for the pinkness to go away. It is very important to protect your skin from excessive sun light during this time of healing. Redness tends to last longer on individuals with very fair skin.
Complications of laser skin resurfacing include
Acne flares - Your plastic surgeon will recommend a treatment regimen
Bacterial infection - If this occurs, antibiotic is prescribed prior to the surgery and afterward
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 is possible for the treated area can become darker in tone. Your physician 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 with gentle cleansing using 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.
Camouflage the pink or red skin after laser skin resurfacing
Once your treated areas have healed, makeup may be used to tone down the color. Try a green-based makeup to neutralize red color. Be sure to opt for an oil-free makeup.
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 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.
Ideal candidates for laser skin resurfacing
It may not be the best choice 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.
How much will laser skin resurfacing cost?
Cost is always a consideration in elective procedures or treatment. The cost for laser skin resurfacing may vary based on the expertise and qualifications of a person performing the treatment, the type of procedure used, and the time and effort a procedure or treatment requires.