Laser Skin Resurfacing Overview
Advancements in laser technology have led to a number of innovative uses in medical science. Today, lasers are used for an increasing number of cosmetic procedures, including Laser Skin Resurfacing, Laser Hair Removal, Laser Vein Therapy, LASIK eye surgery and tooth whitening. The two most commonly used lasers for skin resurfacing are the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser and the erbium laser.
Laser Skin Resurfacing is used to treat facial wrinkles and fine lines, sun-damaged skin, acne scars, uneven pigmentation and other skin imperfections. Laser resurfacing can be performed on the whole face or in specific areas, such as around the eyes or mouth, to improve the texture and appearance of the skin with long-lasting results.
During Laser Skin Resurfacing, also called a "laser peel," the laser is directed at the area of skin to be treated. The laser beam vaporizes damaged skin cells, allowing fresh new skin to form. Laser resurfacing is a minimally-invasive procedure popular with both men and women who want to refresh their complexion and restore a youthful, vibrant glow.
Patients with deep wrinkles or sagging skin in addition to skin damage may consider other cosmetic procedures in conjunction with Laser Skin Resurfacing. A variety of plastic surgery procedures, including a Facelift, Forehead Lift or Eyelid Surgery, can be used as part of an overall treatment plan to smooth, firm and tighten the skin.
The best candidates for Laser Skin Resurfacing are in good health and want to enhance the appearance of their face with smoother, younger-looking skin.
Generally, the best candidates for Laser Skin Resurfacing:
- Are in good physical and psychological health.
- Are well-informed about treatment options and have realistic expectations.
- Want to improve their appearance by effectively treating wrinkles, signs of photoaging, acne scarring and other skin conditions and imperfections.
- Would benefit psychologically and emotionally from more youthful-looking skin with an improved texture.
Laser Skin Resurfacing Risks
Complications are rare when Laser Skin Resurfacing is performed by a qualified plastic surgeon. To reduce your risk, carefully follow all of your surgeon's instructions, both before and after the procedure. Contact your surgeon's office immediately if you have any symptoms you believe may indicate a complication.
The most common risks associated with Laser Skin Resurfacing include:
- Pain or swelling beyond normal levels
- Changes in skin tone
- Scarring (rare)
- Development of small whiteheads
Laser resurfacing can cause the treated skin to become lighter (hypopigmented) or darker (hyperpigmented) after the procedure. Skin lightening is caused by a decrease in skin pigmentation and can be permanent in some cases. Darkening of the skin, which is caused by an increase in skin pigmentation, usually fades within a few weeks but can persist longer. Patients, especially those with darker skin tones, may be pretreated with hydroquinone, a skin bleaching cream, prior to laser resurfacing to decrease the risk of hyperpigmentation.
Tiny whiteheads called milia sometimes develop after Laser Skin Resurfacing. Milia usually disappear on their own or by cleaning with soap and water. Scarring is unusual, but can occur in rare cases.
Laser Skin Resurfacing Costs
The national average surgeon/physician fee for Laser Skin Resurfacing in 2020 was $2,509 for ablative resurfacing and $1,445 for non-ablative resurfacing, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. This figure does not include other costs, such as anesthesia, operating room facilities or other related expenses. You should be provided with complete information on costs and financing options at the initial consultation with your doctor.
The total fee for Laser Skin Resurfacing can vary depending on the region of the country, the extent of the procedure and your specific needs as a patient. As it is considered to be a cosmetic procedure, the cost of laser resurfacing is usually not covered by health insurance.
Laser Skin Resurfacing Consultation
Prior to your laser skin resurfacing treatments, you will have a consultation to evaluate the condition of your facial skin and take a complete medical history, including existing medical conditions, medications (prescription and non-prescription) and vitamins. Be sure to tell your practitioner if you have any allergies, have a history of fever blisters or cold sores or if you smoke. Smoking decreases blood flow to the skin and slows the healing process.
Your practitioner should carefully listen to your goals for your appearance, fully answer all of your questions and explain the different options that are available. He or she may recommend Laser Skin Resurfacing and/or an alternative skin resurfacing procedure such as Chemical Peel, Dermabrasion or Microdermabrasion. The practitioner should give you the full details of the recommended procedure, including the benefits, risks, costs and recovery time.
As the consultation concludes, you may wish to schedule your procedure, take some time to think or seek a second opinion. If you decide to proceed, your practitioner will provide you with specific instructions on how to prepare for Laser Skin Resurfacing. These instructions may include guidelines for pretreating the skin with a bleaching cream prior to the procedure.
How Laser Skin Resurfacing is Performed
The Laser Skin Resurfacing procedure begins with a thorough cleansing of the face and application of an antibiotic to kill bacteria on the skin. The CO2 laser or erbium laser is then used to remove areas of wrinkled or damaged skin by emitting short, concentrated pulses of light that vaporize skin cells in the skin's damaged outer layer. The level to which the laser beam penetrates the skin is precisely controlled by your doctor. When resurfacing is complete, a dressing is applied to the treated area.
Laser Skin Resurfacing can take from a few minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the area to be treated and the condition of the skin. Only a single treatment is needed for the majority of patients. However, as with other skin resurfacing techniques, repeat treatments may be necessary to achieve the most beneficial results.
Laser Skin Resurfacing is usually performed as an outpatient procedure in your doctor's office, an outpatient surgery center or a hospital. When small areas of skin are treated, local anesthesia is used to numb the treated area and may be combined with a sedative to render drowsiness. Intravenous sedation or general anesthesia may be used when the entire face is resurfaced or when laser resurfacing is combined with other cosmetic procedures.
Laser Skin Resurfacing Recovery
Normal symptoms experienced after Laser Skin Resurfacing include some discomfort, swelling, itching, stinging and crusting of the skin. Any pain should subside quickly and may feel similar to a sunburn. To reduce swelling, most doctors recommend using cold packs during the first couple of days and using an extra pillow at night to keep the head elevated.
The sterile dressing applied immediately after the procedure is usually removed within 3 days. After about a week, the treated skin will peel and allow the new skin to emerge. This newly revealed skin will appear pink until skin redness fades within a few weeks. Redness can be camouflaged with make-up beginning about 2 weeks after laser resurfacing.
To help ensure a smooth recovery, always follow your doctor's instructions on caring for your skin and resuming your normal activities. Both men and women should take special care to keep the skin moisturized and protected from the sun after Laser Skin Resurfacing. An ointment such as petroleum jelly should be applied each time the skin is cleaned for up to 10 days after the procedure. Ask your doctor to recommend a sunscreen use it daily to protect the sensitive new skin. Most patients can return to work within 2 weeks.