LASER SKIN RESURFACING
When should I have laser skin resurfacing?
Did you know that autumn is considered “laser season”? Because laser-treated skin is hypersensitive to sun exposure for up to a year following some procedures, many cosmetic surgeons recommend undergoing laser resurfacing during fall or winter months, when daytime hours are shorter and you are spending most of your time indoors.
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.
Treatments may hurt—or they may not
Patients and doctors commonly compare the sensation felt during 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.
Deeper ablative (where some outer layers of skin are removed) laser treatments may require local anesthetic injections or intravenous sedation to keep a patient comfortable. Examples of ablative lasers are CO2 lasers and Erbium YAG lasers.
Some non-ablative laser treatments (where the laser passes through the skin without removing layers) cause little-to-no pain and require only a topical numbing cream to offset discomfort. Non-ablative lasers include pulsed-dye, ND: Yag, and Alexandrite lasers. 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.
Having darker skin does not necessarily preclude you from laser resurfacing
A common misconception is that laser resurfacing is only safe for light skin types. 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 laser resurfacing can sometimes be a good option, posing less risk for discoloration. Patients with darker brown or black skin may need to consider other skin resurfacing options, such as radio-frequency treatments or microneedling.
Certain medications or conditions affect how the skin reacts to laser treatment
Always be upfront and honest with your provider about your medical history and any medications or supplements you are taking. For instance, if you are prone to cold sores or fever blisters, laser treatments may induce breakouts. Acne medications that contain isotretinoin (i.e., 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.
Diabetes and other chronic conditions can also impact safety and results with laser resurfacing. You should also quit smoking at least 2 weeks prior to and after laser treatments to avoid complications with healing and provide your body with the best chance for optimal results.
Plan on having multiple treatments
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.
Depending on the laser treatment, you may need some downtime
Although laser treatments are generally considered non-surgical, not all are downtime-free. Laser 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; it just means that your skin will be raw, red and 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 infection is possible (swimming, gym workouts, etc.).