What is Laser Treatment?
Laser skin treatment or laser skin resurfacing as it is also called removes skin layer by layer with precision. The new skin cells that form during the healing process gives the skin a tighter, younger looking surface. The procedure can be done alone or with other cosmetic surgeries on the face.
Laser skin treatment or resurfacing is done by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist. It’s an outpatient procedure, meaning that you won’t have to stay overnight.
So in actuality, laser skin treatments or resurfacing is a cosmetic procedure that utilizes an intense light beam to treat your skin. It’s used to help treat wrinkles, acne scars, age spots, face blemishes, stretch marks, scars, sun damage, and hyperpigmentation.
All lasers fall into two categories: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers are invasive, like plastic surgery, and remove the top layer of your skin. Your skin surface will appear red after as it repairs itself. Non-ablative lasers are less invasive, using heat to stimulate cells to thicken the underlying collagen resulting in improved skin tone and elasticity. Since non-ablative lasers do not remove a layer of your skin, there is minimal swelling, redness, and recovery time.
Fractional lasers are used in a variety of laser skin resurfacing treatments. The notable difference between fractional laser treatments and other laser skin treatments and resurfacing is that fractional lasers target very small and specific areas. By doing so, they do not damage surrounding areas. As a result, fractional laser treatments tend to require less recovery.
A common misconception is that laser resurfacing is only safe for light skin types or those with fairer or Caucasian-like complexions. While it is true that certain lasers pose a higher risk for cell damage or discoloration in darker skin, there are safe and effective resurfacing options. For lighter-toned African-American, Hispanic or Asian skin tones, Erbium lasers can sometimes be a good option, posing less risk of discoloration. Patients with darker brown or black skin may need to consider other skin resurfacing options, such as radio-frequency treatments or microneedling.
Again, the best way to ensure a safe and effective treatment for your skin type is to consult with a provider who has extensive training and knowledge in laser treatment and resurfacing procedures and experience working with darker skinned patients.
What Do Laser Treatments Do to the Skin?
The doctor may treat wrinkles around your eyes, mouth, or forehead individually, or treat your entire face. For small areas, the doctor will numb the areas to be treated with a local anesthetic and may also sedate you. You may require general anesthesia if your whole face is being treated. Treating just parts of the face takes about 30 to 45 minutes. A full-face treatment will take up to two hours.
Surgeons and doctors commonly compare the sensation felt during skin laser treatments to a rubber band snapping against the skin. However, what laser resurfacing feels like depends on the laser, the depth and area of treatment, and an individual’s tolerance for pain. In all honesty, deeper ablative – wherein some outer layers of skin are removed – laser treatments may require local anesthetic injections or intravenous sedation to keep a patient comfortable.
Some non-ablative laser treatments – the laser passes through the skin without removing layers – cause little or no pain at all and require only a topical numbing cream to offset discomfort. Following the procedure, some degree of tenderness in the treatment area can be expected. Your provider will recommend safe ways to control discomfort after laser resurfacing when necessary.
What Types of Laser Treatments are Available?
Aside from the skin laser treatments mentioned above, the reason there are so many different laser options is that no one laser can treat all patients and all skin concerns. Here are the more common laser treatments available:
- CO2 Lasers are generally ablative lasers used to treat scars, warts, wrinkles and other deeper skin flaws.
- Erbium Lasers can be ablative or non-ablative. They promote collagen remodeling, making them popular options for treating fine lines, wrinkles, skin laxity, and age spots.
- Pulsed-Dye Lasers are typically non-ablative lasers that heat the skin and absorb pigments to reduce redness, hyper pigmentation, broken capillaries, and rosacea.
- Fractional Lasers (already mentioned briefly above) breaks up the laser energy into thousands of tiny beams to treat only a fraction of the skin in the area and this reduces downtime. Fractional lasers can be ablative or non-ablative and are used to treat many age-related blemishes.
- IPL (intense pulsed light) treatments are not lasers but are often used to treat similar concerns as lasers, such as sun damage, acne, rosacea, and hyper pigmentation.
Rather than get caught up in brand names and laser wavelengths, focus on what your individual goals are and what you really want or need. What skin problems do you want to address, and what results do you want or need? The good news is that you don’t have to determine this on your own because a board certified and licensed cosmetic surgeon or qualified skin care professional trained in laser treatment or resurfacing will be able to recommend the best treatment for you based on your skin type.
And since we are on the topic of a professional skin care professional, remember that in the hands of a highly trained and knowledgeable professional, skin laser treatment and resurfacing is a safe way to dramatically improve your skin’s appearance. In the hands of a poorly trained individual, lasers can be ineffective or even dangerous. Thus, choose a laser resurfacing provider based on an individual’s experience, training, and qualification. Don’t make your pick based solely on who offers the best deal or has a brand name laser platform. At this point, we do caution you against those advertisements from Chinese and other Asian so-called “medical tourism” areas that offer cheap skin laser treatments. Cheap often means sub-standard and mostly “made in China” treatments that will only harm your skin, or even give you worse.
Choose a skin laser treatment and resurfacing provider based on experience, training, and qualification. Don’t simply look for the best deal or the newest laser platform. Your best bet is to research and choose a cosmetic surgeon board certified and licensed by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Every ABCS certified surgeon has undergone a rigorous training fellowship that includes non-surgical treatments such as laser skin resurfacing. Getting a licensed professional from the ABCS is your assurance of safety.
Do take note that while in some cases a single laser treatment will take care of a patient’s concerns, most non-ablative lasers call for a series of treatments to produce the most satisfying results. This is a trade-off that comes with a no-downtime treatment, but once the treatment series is complete, results are long-lasting.
How to Prepare for a Laser Treatment
You always start by consulting a plastic surgeon or dermatologist to find out if you can be a candidate for the skin laser treatment. Tell your doctor if you get cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth. Laser skin resurfacing can trigger breakouts in people who are at risk.
If you decide to go ahead with laser skin treatment or resurfacing, your doctor will ask you not to take any medications or supplements, including aspirin, ibuprofen, or vitamin E, that can affect clotting for 10 days before surgery. If you smoke, you should stop for two weeks before and after the procedure. Smoking can prolong healing. In actuality, smoking isn’t even good for your skin so your smoking habit will render your skin treatment null and void. Now is a good time to stop smoking.
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic medication beforehand to prevent bacterial infections and also an antiviral medication if you are prone to cold sores or fever blisters. Always be upfront and honest with your provider about your medical history and any medications or supplements you are taking. For instance, aside from cold sores and fever blisters, acne medications that contain isotretinoin such as Accutane can lead to poor healing or scarring from laser resurfacing, while common over-the-counter products like aspirin can increase the risk of post-procedure bleeding. Other medicines can also lead to poor healing or scarring after laser treatments. Diabetes and other chronic conditions can also impact safety and results with laser resurfacing.
Laser Treatment Aftercare
You may feel itching or stinging for 12 to 72 hours after the procedure. Five to seven days after the skin laser treatment or resurfacing, your skin will become dry and peel. Depending on the problem that was treated, healing typically takes 10 to 21 days. Once the skin heals, you can wear makeup that is oil-free to minimize redness. This redness usually fades in two to three months.
You will also probably notice that your skin is lighter for a while after surgery. It is particularly important that you use a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that screens ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A rays to protect your skin during the time of healing. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one specially formulated for use on the face with a 7% or higher zinc oxide content and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 in the morning a.m. and 2 in the afternoon when the sun is at its zenith and the hottest, and wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.
It is also important to keep your new skin well moisturized. If you use Retin A or glycolic acid products, you should be able to start using them again after about six weeks or when the doctor says you can.
Because the aftercare is just as important as the laser treatment itself, it is advisable to have the skin laser resurfacing during the autumn months. Since laser-treated skin is hypersensitive to sun exposure for up to a year following some procedures, many cosmetic surgeons recommend undergoing laser resurfacing during the autumn months so that the healing process falls during the autumn and winter months. Of course, we all know that daytime hours during these seasons are shorter and you are spending most of your time indoors.
But again, regardless of what time of year you have your laser procedure, wear a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily and reapply as needed. This not only helps to keep your results looking their best, it also provides protection against skin cancer and helps prevent additional premature aging.
However, depending on the treatment, you may need some downtime –
Although skin laser treatments are generally considered non-surgical, not all are downtime-free. Laser treatment and resurfacing recovery time varies depending on the type of laser used as well as an individual’s health and healing rate.
Non-ablative lasers often require no downtime at all, while ablative lasers can require a 2 to 3-week healing process, depending on depth, before the new skin has healed completely and final results are evident.
This does not mean you have to stay at home for a month, but simply that it means that your skin will be raw, red and will scab over as it heals. You may not feel comfortable in certain social situations, and you will need to modify your activities to avoid situations where the infection is possible and thus, you will need to avoid strenuously and skin affecting activities such as swimming, gym workouts, and other heavy contact sports.