Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing is an intensive skin and rejuvenation treatment. Learn about the laser skin resurfacing procedure, costs and side effects.

Laser skin resurfacing is a skin care technique to improve your skin texture and appearance. Dermatologists use two different types of lasers, ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers use either carbon dioxide (CO2) or Erbium. CO2 lasers are primarily used to get rid of scars, warts and deep skin wrinkles. Erbium lasers are used to treat finer lines and wrinkles and can also alleviate superficial skin conditions. Both types of ablative lasers remove the outer layers of your skin as part of the treatment.

Non-ablative lasers do not remove any layers of skin. Instead, they use pulsed light to treat various skin conditions, including rosacea, spider veins and acne. While there are several variants of non-ablative lasers, such as pulsed-dye or fractional, neither of the variants are more effective at treating skin conditions. While laser skin treatment is one of the most effective methods to treat your skin, it is also an involved procedure. Listed below is everything you need to know to prepare for laser skin resurfacing treatments.

When to get Laser Skin Resurfacing

Because it is a more intensive treatment, laser skin resurfacing is not recommended for everyone. Dermatologists recommend trying over the counter skincare products and treatments before scheduling laser skin resurfacing. In addition to treating scars, it can also be used for sagging skin, uneven skin tones, removing age spots and correcting enlarged oil glands.

In the past, laser skin resurfacing was recommended towards individuals with lighter skin tones to reduce the risk of hyperpigmentation. Because the technology has significantly developed, the American Board of Cosmetic Surgeons (ABCS) has clarified that laser skin resurfacing is available for all types of skin tones. However, certain types of lasers are better suited for select types of skin tones.

According to the ABCS, the best time to get laser skin resurfacing is during the fall or winter. This is because you are less likely to experience sun exposure on your vulnerable skin. If you suffer from active acne breakouts or excessive sagging skin, you may be ineligible for laser skin resurfacing.

What to Expect from Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing works by tarting both the outer and lower layers of your skin. The outer layer is directly treated with the laser, while the lower layer is heated during the treatment, which encourages collagen production. While the laser removes your old skin, the increased collagen creates smoother, firmer skin to replace the outer layer.

Before you can receive laser skin resurfacing treatment, you must prepare your skin. It takes several weeks for your dermatologist to treat your skin. During this period, you cannot take any medications or supplements that affect clotting. This includes aspirin, ibuprofen and medication high in vitamin E. You must also stop smoking at least two weeks before your treatment, as smoking can slow down your natural ability to heal. Your dermatologist may also prescribe antibiotic medication to decrease the chance of bacterial infection or developing blisters or cold sores after your treatment.

Once you are ready for the procedure, your dermatologist will apply a topic anesthetic to the part of your skin being treated. If you are having a larger section of skin treated, your dermatologist may also apply a sedative or pain killer. Your skin is also thoroughly cleaned before the procedure to remove any dirt, excess oils or other contaminants. The most common areas to treat as part of laser skin resurfacing are wrinkles, eyes, mouth and forehead. Treating each individual part takes around 30 to 45 minutes, while a full-face treatment takes two hours. 

After the laser treatment, your dermatologist will apply bandages to the affected areas. You must keep the bandages for the next 24 hours. After this period, you must clean the treated areas four or five times each day. You must also apply ointment to keep scabs from forming. It typically takes between 10 and 21 days to fully recover from laser skin resurfacing, depending on what areas were treated. 

Side Effects

There are several possible side effects with laser skin resurfacing. The most common side effect is swelling. If you are getting treatment around your eyes, your dermatologist may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling. Doctors also recommend using an extra pillow when sleeping to ease swelling. Another common side effect is an itching or stinging feeling on the afflicted areas. This typically persists for a few hours, but may linger for several days. Around a week after your treatment, your skin will feel dry and the outer layer will start to peel.

Your skin will also appear lighter after your treatment. If you are going outside during the day, make sure to protect your skin with sunscreen. Try to find sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Reapply your sunscreen every two hours if you remain outside.

Ablative lasers tend to produce more side effects than non-ablative. However, non-ablative lasers typically require two to three treatments, while ablative lasers rarely require more than a single treatment.

Costs of Laser Skin Resurfacing

The cost for laser skin resurfacing depends on the type of laser used in the treatment. Based on data from 2020, ablative treatments cost between $2,400 and $2,550, while non-ablative treatments were between $1,300 and $1,500. Laser skin resurfacing is considered an optional cosmetic procedure. Because of this, your insurance may not apply to the costs. The exception is if your doctor recommends laser skin resurfacing to treat scars or precancerous growths. Even if your insurance does not cover the entirety of the costs, you may be able to get at least some coverage.