If you struggle with skin issues like sun spots, wrinkles, rough texture, and scars, then you might consider laser skin resurfacing. But, like any medical procedure, this treatment isn't something you want to jump into head first. It's extremely important that you educate yourself on how laser skin resurfacing works, what it can treat, and who should administer this treatment. Once you've armed yourself with this information, you'll know if this procedure is truly right for you.
Those of us who struggle with cosmetic skin issues are intimately familiar with the skincare aisles of our local drug or department store. But what if the solution to these problems didn't come in a bottle or jar? Lasers are the new hot trend in cosmetic skin care. Laser skin resurfacing is just one of the treatments available, but it is definitely one of the most popular. So let's find out a bit more about this revolutionary skincare procedure.
What is Laser Skin Resurfacing?
While laser skin resurfacing is the most common and most technical name, you may have heard this treatment called something else. Laser peel, laser vaporization, and lasabrasion all refer to this procedure.
Laser skin resurfacing works by removing thin layers of skin on the face. It works like microdermabrasion and also triggers a healing response from the body's immune system. New cells replace the ones sloughed away by the laser. These fresh cells give the skin a smoother appearance and can help lessen the appearance of wrinkles, spots, and scars. Of course, the actual science behind laser skin resurfacing is a bit more complicated than this simplified version. But we'll leave that to the dermatologists.
One great benefit of laser skin resurfacing is that you'll experience minimal downtime after your procedure. You will, however, need to follow some simple rules to get optimal healing and the best results. While your dermatologist will give you specific instructions, common post-treatment restrictions include limited sun exposure, no smoking, and avoiding certain medications.
Depending on the issues you wish to treat with laser skin resurfacing, your dermatologist might suggest multiple sessions and multiple lasers within these sessions. Different lasers treat different skin concerns. For instance, most dermatologists use a yellow-light laser to reduce skin redness. But for general laser skin resurfacing, they use two main types of laser: CO2 and erbium.
CO2 laser skin resurfacing
CO2, or carbon dioxide, lasers are useful for treating deeper, more pronounced skin concerns. This procedure uses a rapidly pulsating laser. While this laser is powerful, the pulsating helps limit heat damage to the skin. Using such a powerful laser allows dermatologists to reach through more layers of surface skin, therefore treating deeper wrinkles, sun damage, and scars.
Unfortunately, CO2 laser skin resurfacing normally requires a longer healing period and is a bit more painful. While your dermatologist will apply a numbing cream or even inject the treated area with an anesthetic before the procedure, you will probably still feel some discomfort.
Erbium laser skin resurfacing
For those looking for milder laser treatment or who simply have less skin damage to address, an erbium laser is the best option. Erbium laser resurfacing is also great for stimulating collagen production under the skin. Collagen is an essential protein that keeps our skin supple and plump as we age.
While this type of laser can't penetrate as deep as the CO2 laser, it is less painful and requires a shorter healing time. Many patients prefer the erbium laser for this reason, especially if it is their first time undergoing laser skin resurfacing.
What Issues Can Laser Skin Resurfacing Treat?
An important part of deciding if laser skin resurfacing is the right treatment for you is understanding what skin concerns it can fix. If you go into your appointment with unrealistic expectations, then you'll probably be disappointed by your final results. If you're unsure if laser skin resurfacing is the right course of action for your particular skin concerns, we recommend talking with a licensed dermatologist before committing to anything.
Thankfully, laser skin resurfacing is effective against many cosmetic skin concerns. We've gone into detail about some of the most popular uses for laser skin resurfacing below, but this list certainly isn't cohesive. Your dermatologist will be able to tell you exactly what their laser can and can't treat.
While wrinkles are a natural part of aging, many of us want to reduce or eliminate their appearance. These lines slowly emerge as our skin loses collagen, moisture, and elasticity. Of course, the best way to treat wrinkles is to prevent them in the first place. Some wrinkles are genetic, so there's not much we can do to prevent these, but others are purely environmental. Always use proper sun protection and avoid lifestyle factors like smoking to help delay the onset of wrinkles.
Unless your wrinkles are extremely fine, the best treatment is usually CO2 laser skin resurfacing. Since this laser penetrates more deeply, it can reach all or most of the way to the wrinkle bed. Realistically, you shouldn't expect a laser treatment to eliminate your wrinkles, especially if they're particularly deep. But many patients see an immense improvement in the appearance of their wrinkles after laser skin resurfacing.
Age spots, also frequently called sun spots, are usually caused by exposure to the sun. These spots can come in an extensive shade range, with some turning completely black. You should get age spots regularly checked by a medical professional, even if you don't plan to have them removed. While age spots themselves are harmless, they look very similar to some types of skin cancer.
Laser skin resurfacing is a great way to lighten age spots on the face. While many patients have success with lightening creams, laser treatments are much faster and effective at removing these spots. That also allows you to avoid potentially hazardous ingredients in some lightening creams.
Another concern for many patients is the texture of their skin. Even if they don't have deep wrinkles, they might have uneven texture from very fine wrinkles, acne scarring, and general aging. Mild texture issues caused by old skin cells sitting on the surface are common. For these cases, physical exfoliation might be all that's needed. But more severe cases require the help of a laser.
For improved texture, laser skin resurfacing's ability to trigger new cell generation is extremely useful. For mild cases of uneven texture, your dermatologist will probably recommend an erbium laser. But more severe cases, especially those caused by acne scarring, could require the strong CO2 laser.
Laser skin resurfacing isn't limited to just acne scars. This treatment can help reduce the appearance of other superficial scars on the face. There are also laser treatments specifically for scar removal, so you should consult with your dermatologist to decide which procedure will yield the best results for you.
Laser skin resurfacing won't completely remove a scar, but it can make it practically invisible to others. Depending on the location, this treatment can also bring back some mobility to the skin surrounding the scar location. That is especially important for patients who have scar tissue around their mouth or eyes that limit their facial expressions.
Can laser skin resurfacing treat tattoo removal scarring?
Some patients experience mild scarring after laser tattoo removal. This scarring could be from the tattoo process itself, or a rare side effect of the removal process. While some patients are fine with the scars left behind, others wish to have them removed as well.
For shallow scars, laser skin resurfacing can help reduce their appearance. The same dermatologist who performs your laser tattoo removal might even be able to perform laser skin resurfacing. While this can increase the cost and time it takes to remove a tattoo fully, the results will exceed those of laser tattoo removal alone.
Who is a Good Candidate for Laser Skin Resurfacing?
There are some restrictions when it comes to who will see good results with laser skin resurfacing. Of course, the only way to know definitively if you are a good candidate is to speak with a dermatologist personally. But here are some things that might make you reconsider whether this procedure is right for you or not.
Patients with deeper skin tones often experience hypopigmentation, or lightening of the natural skin color, in areas treated with a laser. While some see this color return, others have a permanent discoloration in the affected area. There is a risk that fair-skinned patients will also experience this side effect, but the darker the skin tone, the higher the risk. CO2 lasers are slightly more likely to cause these side effects than erbium ones.
If you have active acne or cold sore issues, then laser skin resurfacing might not work for you. Laser treatments can cause both acne and cold sore flare-ups in those prone to them. While you can take steps to prevent this side effect, none of them is a guaranteed fix.
How Much Does Laser Skin Resurfacing Cost?
The overall cost of laser skin resurfacing greatly depends on your location, the number of sessions, and type of treatment. But, in general, these treatments cost around $2,300 per session. Some patients can get away with only one session, but others might need to return for multiple visits to achieve the desired results.
Don't get fooled by cheaper, non-ablative laser treatments. While these treatments are often less than half the price of CO2 and erbium laser skin resurfacing, they are not the same thing. Non-ablative lasers tighten the skin and encourage collagen production, but do not have the same skin regenerating properties that ablative lasers do.
Risks of Laser Skin Resurfacing
On the one hand, most harmful side effects from this treatment are a result of the equipment not being used properly. Remember, even though laser treatments are quick and non-invasive, you're still treating your skin with a high-powered laser beam.
While it's normal for your skin to feel warm after a laser treatment, similar to a mild sunburn, you should watch out for signs of an actual burn. If a laser is applied too long to an area or the patient has a preexisting condition that makes them more sensitive to the laser, a medical burn can occur. Most burn cases clear up quickly and with no complications, but some can lead to scarring.
As the skin heals post-treatment, you are also susceptible to bacterial infections. Some dermatologists will prescribe an antibiotic no matter what, but if not you should keep a close eye on your skin for any signs of infection. To help prevent infection, it's important to keep your face clean and allow your skin to heal without interference.
Why You Should Visit a Dermatologist for Laser Skin Resurfacing
When searching for a clinic to perform your laser treatment, you'll probably see plenty of "medspas" pop up. These clinics are alluring because their prices are often much lower than an actual dermatology office. But these clinics are often unregulated and potentially dangerous. These clinics frequently operate without a medical doctor on-site, and the person who performs your treatment could have little to no actual training.
For the best, safest results, you should always see a cosmetic dermatologist for your laser treatment and other procedures. A licensed dermatologist has the knowledge and skill to provide you with the best experience while minimizing side effects. A qualified dermatologist will also make sure you don't undergo any unnecessary or ineffective procedures. No matter what your reason is for seeking out laser skin resurfacing, it's essential that you trust your doctor. After all, your skin and safety are in their hands.