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Laser Skin Resurfacing


Laser skin resurfacing is a popular cosmetic procedure that can help rejuvenate the skin and reduce the effects of the sun, aging, and some facial skin disorders. Treatments are safe, effective, and convenient. Also, the cost of cosmetic laser skin resurfacing is minimal compared to many other treatment options. Learn more about how laser skin rejuvenation, or laser peel as it is often called, removes damaged outer layers of skin and stimulates the production of collagen and new skin cells in the underlying layers, bringing about smoother, younger, healthier-looking skin.

What Is Laser Skin Resurfacing?

Cosmetic laser skin resurfacing is a method for diminishing the appearance of imperfections on the skin’s surface. During the laser skin resurfacing procedure a laser is used to dissolve the molecular bonds of the damaged skin cells layer by layer until a smoother, more uniform skin appearance is achieved. The procedure may also be referred to as laser skin rejuvenation because of its anti-aging benefits, or laser peel because the damaged layers of skin are peeled away.


For some patients, the laser skin resurfacing procedure does an excellent job of diminishing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, scars, and irregular skin pigmentation. However, patients with certain skin types, skin tones, and medical conditions may suffer an increased risk of developing unpleasant side effects. Laser skin resurfacing may, in fact, worsen such a patient's facial appearance. Consult a dermatologist to discover if you are a good candidate for the treatment.

Ideal Laser Skin Resurfacing Candidates

Laser skin resurfacing is an effective procedure for patients with lines, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, or superficial facial scars such as acne scarring that does not respond to gentler treatments. The ideal candidate for laser skin resurfacing has elastic, non-oily skin that is not prone to scarring after minor injury. It is best that laser skin resurfacing be performed on a person who is free of any medical considerations, including prescription medication and existing health conditions that might cause unnecessary risk during the procedure or recovery period.

A good candidate would be a person who has realistic expectations for the results of the laser skin resurfacing procedure. A person seeking laser skin resurfacing should educate themselves on both the benefits and the limitations of the procedure beforehand. Persons with lighter skin tones are better candidates for this particular procedure than persons with darker skin tones because there is less risk of unexpected side effects such as permanent skin discoloration.

Who Is Not a Good Candidate for Laser Skin Resurfacing?

People with minor skin imperfections are often not good candidates for laser skin resurfacing. Laser skin resurfacing is considered by many cosmetic medical professionals to be a surgical procedure. As with any surgery, the side effects of laser skin resurfacing procedures tend to linger for at least a week and often longer. For minor skin imperfections, gentler alternative treatments are available.

Those with a very dark skin tone may also not be good candidates for laser skin resurfacing. During laser skin resurfacing, the pigment in the targeted skin cell absorbs the highly energetic laser light and produces intense heat, resulting in the cell's destruction. Any excess laser light is either harmlessly diffused or is absorbed by the surrounding untargeted skin cells. In a person with dark skin, more skin pigment is present so there is a greater risk of the excess laser energy being absorbed than for a person with a lighter skin tone. This unintended absorption can result in side effects like skin discoloration and even blistering. A Fraxel® laser or erbium laser procedure presents a slightly lower risk of skin discoloration than does a CO2 laser treatment. An experienced dermatologist can take steps to decrease the risk of damage to surrounding cells, however; you should consult a dermatologist who has experience performing the procedure on patients with your skin type to learn about the associated risks prior to having the procedure done.

Those who are not good candidates for laser skin resurfacing, may benefit from laser skin resurfacing alternatives. These milder treatments can also be performed to reduce the effects of sun damage as well as the appearance of lines and uneven skin coloration.

Medical Considerations

Because of the invasive nature of the procedure, particularly when performed using a CO2 laser, many physicians consider laser skin resurfacing to be a surgical procedure despite the fact that it involves no incisions. The healing process after any surgery can be quite taxing for a patient. Therefore, a laser skin resurfacing recovery will be very hard on a patient that suffers from a disorder of the immune system. Patients who scar easily should also not attempt the procedure for largely cosmetic reasons. Connective tissue disorders, such as lupus erythematosus or Sjogren's syndrome also present an increased risk of complications and are a valid reason for foregoing the treatment.

Although the laser skin resurfacing procedure can be used to treat acne scarring, the active presence of acne can increase the risk for infection. Those who experience regular outbreaks should consult a dermatologist before undergoing the procedure. The presence of other skin infections such as cold sores and herpes simplex also increase the risk of complications during the healing process.

Studies have linked the prescription acne treatment, Accutane®, to a decreased healing capacity in the skin. If you have used Accutane® in the last 18 months, many physicians ask that you refrain from undergoing a laser skin resurfacing procedure.

Laser Skin Resurfacing Alternatives

Laser skin resurfacing hardly has a monopoly on diminishing the appearance of age-related skin damage. Before deciding that the deteriorated condition of your skin requires the employment of a cosmetic treatment, you may try incorporating prescription skin care products into your morning routine to improve your skin's health. Available from your local dermatologist, many of these products contain potent mixtures of vitamins and other nutrients along with other skin clarifying solutions to improve the way your skin feels as well as the way your skin looks.

If you do decide to seek an anti-aging cosmetic treatment, you have many options that are less invasive and require a shorter recovery time than laser skin resurfacing. One popular injectable product for treating fine lines and minor wrinkles in the area between the brows and around the jaw is BOTOX® Cosmetic. Injectable dermal fillers such as Restylane®, Juvederm®, and RadiesseTM can not only eliminate lines, but they can also give your skin a fuller, more hydrated appearance. Collagen injections and fat transfer treatments can achieve similar benefits.



A more youthful appearance can also be achieved through the use of a skin tightening procedure such as Thermage® which encourages the growth of new collagen at the lower dermis level. This procedure is non-ablative, meaning it treats the underlying layers of skin without damaging the outer layers. Non-ablative laser skin tightening procedures involve fewer painful side effects than laser skin resurfacing procedures.

For treatment of acne scarring, sun damage, and other issues involving skin texture, microdermabrasion and chemical peel can serve as viable alternative treatments.


There are a variety of factors that go into determining the exact cost of cosmetic laser skin resurfacing treatment. There is the surgeon’s fee, the cost of the facility and anesthesia, and also the expenses incurred from the pre- and post-operative care. Scheduling a complete patient consultation with a laser surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist is the best way to achieve the most accurate cost estimates for your specific procedure.

Laser Types – CO2 Lasers

The CO2 laser is the highest intensity laser treatment currently available. After being treated with the CO2 laser, the surface of the skin appears tighter and smoother because the laser uses heat to restrict the collagen bands found in the lower dermis. The CO2 laser can eliminate or diminish the appearance of most wrinkles, scars, warts, and birthmarks. It has even been used to treat skin cancer in its earliest stages.

Laser Types – Erbium Lasers

Erbium lasers are able to remove thinner layers of skin than the more powerful, but less precise CO2 laser. Erbium lasers are often a better choice for patients with dark skin because there is less risk of permanent changes to skin pigmentation. With a shorter healing, they are also better for patients with generally healthy skin who wish to treat only minimal fine lines and wrinkles.

Fraxel® Laser Skin Resurfacing

The Fraxel® laser skin resurfacing treatment is distinct from other laser rejuvenation treatments that use either the erbium or the CO2 laser. Because the Fraxel® laser procedure is non-invasive, there are few post-treatment side effects. There is virtually no skin tenderness or pain after undergoing treatment and no downtime is required after the procedure. It should be noted, however, that this is not a single session treatment. Improvements to the skin’s appearance will appear gradually over the course of weeks or months.

The Procedure

A laser skin resurfacing procedure can be performed either in a hospital or, more likely, in an outpatient surgical facility. The procedure is typically performed with local anesthesia (a numbing injection at the treatment site). An oral sedative may or may not be used as well. More extensive laser skin resurfacing procedures can require intravenous or general anesthesia, although this is less common. A knowledgeable cosmetic surgeon can determine with great accuracy how each laser skin resurfacing patient can best benefit from treatment and the necessary anesthesia needed to provide them adequate comfort.

Once the necessary anesthesia has been administered, the surgeon uses a special laser to perform the skin resurfacing procedure. Using a precise and controlled beam of laser light, the outer layers of skin are vaporized, revealing the smoother, younger-looking skin beneath. While the old layers of skin are removed, the growth of new skin cells is stimulated.

A partial laser skin resurfacing procedure typically takes 30 to 45 minutes and a full treatment can take up to two hours. Both of these lasers help to minimize the potential for laser skin resurfacing complications by limiting the amount of heat damage to the skin and offering the cosmetic surgeon an extremely high level of precision. Your physician will help you prepare for a beneficial laser skin resurfacing recovery.


Undergoing a laser skin resurfacing procedure can greatly benefit the youthfulness and beauty of your skin. A laser peel can be performed to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, acne scarring, age spots, birthmarks, and blotchy patches on the skin. It can also improve the skin's overall texture which can become rough and coarse as a result of accumulated sun damage. Deep laser skin rejuvenations can stimulate the production of new collagen in the lower dermis. A laser skin resurfacing procedure can also be employed for removing skin growths such as moles and warts, and even as a treatment for skin cancer in its earliest stages. Additionally, laser skin resurfacing is currently one of the most effective means of revising mild to moderate facial scarring resulting from either previous surgery or injury.


Laser skin resurfacing procedures are generally safe when performed by a board-certified dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon. A patient should, however, keep in mind that laser skin resurfacing complications such as infection or abnormal healing, though infrequent, do occur. Patients who are prone to scarring after a minor injury should not undergo laser skin resurfacing because of the risk of cosmetic damage. Cold sores, acne, and other skin disorders may increase the risk of laser skin resurfacing complications and this should be discussed with your dermatologist. Hyperpigmentation or permanent darkening of the skin is a prominent risk for darker skinned individuals seeking to undergo the procedure. An erbium laser or Fraxel® laser presents a slightly lower risk of permanent skin discoloration than does the use of a CO2 laser to perform the laser peel treatment. Your doctor may advise the use of an over-the-counter bleaching agent prior to undergoing laser skin resurfacing to further decrease the likelihood that this will occur. Hypopigmentation or permanent lightening of skin is also a possibility, but this is less common.

You should discuss your medical history at length with your dermatologist before undergoing laser skin rejuvenation. Drug allergies, medical conditions, especially connective tissue and immune disorders, previous surgeries, medications you're currently taking, and any prior skin treatments, particularly Accutane® and chemical peels are potential sources of laser skin resurfacing complications. Smoking decreases the ability of the skin to heal, so smokers will have to quit for a period of two weeks before and two weeks after laser skin resurfacing. Your dermatologist will give you pre- and post-treatment guidelines to minimize the risk of complications and unwanted laser skin resurfacing side effects.

Recovery and Results

Laser skin resurfacing recovery and results vary depending upon the type of laser that is being used and the size of the area you wish to have treated. The most invasive treatments may produce enormous improvements, but may require an extended recovery time of multiple weeks. A gentler laser skin rejuvenation treatment may reduce the appearance of some imperfections and may require little or no downtime. Consult a dermatologist to determine the most appropriate treatment as well as a case-specific estimate of healing time and likely results.

Side Effects

After laser skin resurfacing, certain side effects may arise among certain patients. However, these are usually relatively minor and should fade away in a short time. Common side effects include redness of the skin, swelling of the treated area, and moderate irritation similar to the feeling produced by a mild sunburn. In rare cases involving laser skin resurfacing, side effects such as burning, scarring, or a change in the pigmentation of the skin have occurred. During a consultation with a trained dermatologist, patients will review potential risks and discuss the likelihood of complications developing for them.

Expected Recovery Time

Following laser skin resurfacing, recovery takes roughly two weeks while the treated area heals and a new layer of healthy skin appears. Pinkness or redness of the skin usually lasts longer, sometimes persisting for up to several months. If this occurs, the discoloration can usually be covered with makeup until it disappears. Patients undergoing treatment should plan on being away from work for one or two weeks, though this will vary depending on the extent of their treatment.


As successive layers of skin are removed during laser skin resurfacing, the process results in a fading away of wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes and mouth. After treatment, new skin emerges during the healing process, leaving the treated area looking smoother, tauter, and healthier overall. The same refreshed appearance can be achieved on the delicate skin on the hands and neck, where many of the signs of aging first appear. In addition, uneven skin pigmentation often improves with laser skin resurfacing; during recovery, freckles, sun spots, and other discolorations will begin to fade or disappear.

Are Multiple Laser Skin Resurfacing Treatments Necessary?

The number of treatments needed generally depends on the severity of the patient's condition. For light wrinkles and minor skin discolorations, one or two treatments may be enough to achieve excellent results. For deeper wrinkling and more serious problems like acne scars, additional treatments will be necessary. During the initial consultation, a dermatologist will discuss the patient's goals and assess his or her physical condition. It will then be possible to estimate the number of laser skin resurfacing treatments required and the costs of each.

Laser Skin Resurfacing FAQs

The more you know about laser skin resurfacing, the better able you will be to make an informed, confident decision about whether to undergo the procedure. The following questions are just some of those commonly asked by patients who are interested in rejuvenating their skin through laser treatment.

Is laser skin resurfacing right for me?

Laser skin resurfacing provides patients with relief from damaged skin. Treatment may be performed to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars, and abnormal pigmentations. If your face displays telltale signs of age, and you would like to correct these or other skin imperfections, a laser skin resurfacing procedure may be right for you.

Your physician will analyze your individual case to determine if laser skin resurfacing is right for you. Patients with darker skintones may be at risk of unwanted pigmentation changes. Those taking Accutane® and certain other medications may also be at a higher risk of experiencing side effects. Patients who have active skin infections or who are prone to keloid scarring may not be good candidates for the procedures. An experienced physician can help you determine if you are a good candidate for laser skin resurfacing or if other laser skin treatments are better suited for your needs.

What are the benefits of laser skin resurfacing?

The benefits of laser skin resurfacing include the advanced treatment of fine lines and wrinkles and a correction of scars and skin irregularities. Treatment areas include "crow's feet" at the edges of the eyes, lines around the mouth, and deep lines that run from the nose to the corner of the mouth (the nasolabial fold). L aser skin resurfacing treatments may also reduce or eliminate the appearance of acne scars, uneven pigmentation, and many other skin imperfections. By removing damaged skin and exposing that which is softer and younger looking, laser skin resurfacing treatments have been found to be an effective method of reversing tell-tale signs of age and other forms of skin damage.

What type of laser is used during resurfacing procedures?

Laser skin resurfacing treatments are typically performed with a carbon dioxide (CO2) , erbium, or Fraxel® laser. These lasers vary in their strength and treatment usages. The CO2 laser provides a more powerful treatment and is therefore used to treat lines and wrinkles that are deeper and more pronounced. The erbium laser is used to treat more moderate lines and wrinkles and has the added benefit of resulting in a shorter recovery period. The erbium laser has also been shown to stimulate collagen, further tightening and smoothing the skin.

Is laser skin resurfacing an outpatient procedure?

Yes, laser skin resurfacing treatments can be conveniently performed as an outpatient procedure at a hospital, or at a surgeon's office-based facility.

Will I be awake during laser skin resurfacing?

Yes, many laser skin resurfacing treatments can be performed with a local anesthetic (an injection at the treatment site). An oral sedative may also be used to help you relax during the procedure. For more extensive laser skin resurfacing treatments, your doctor may decide whether intravenous sedation or general anesthesia is best.

What is the average cost of laser skin resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing cost can vary, so it is important to fully discuss the price of your treatments with your cosmetic surgeon. In addition to the surgeon's fees, costs can include pre- and post-operative care, necessary medications, and other services. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has estimated that, on average, a surgeon's fees are roughly $2,500 per session.

Are there any long-term risks associated with laser skin resurfacing?

With a qualified cosmetic surgeon, laser skin resurfacing treatments are a safe and effective way to correct fine lines, wrinkles, and other forms of skin damage. With that in mind, it is important to remember that all surgical procedures carry with them some risk. The risk of laser skin resurfacing complications is minimal, generally occurring infrequently. However, the procedure has the possibility of resulting in heat injury, activation of cold sores, lightening or darkening of the skin, and, rarely, scarring or infection. Your cosmetic surgeon will fully discuss the risks associated with laser skin resurfacing with you before performing the procedure.

When will I be able to return to normal activities?

Recovery time after laser skin treatments varies. Much of the variation can be attributed to the type of laser that is used. With a CO2 laser treatment, the recovery time is typically two weeks. After erbium laser skin resurfacing for the treatment of more superficial lines and wrinkles, a shorter recovery period of about one week is typically required. Fraxel laser treatments require a recovery period of only a few days. That being said, the time it takes each patient to recover from laser skin resurfacing and return to normal activities varies from patient to patient. The length of laser skin resurfacing recovery depends heavily upon the general health and lifestyle of the patient, and simply the speed at which their body heals.

What are the temporary side-effects of laser skin resurfacing treatment?

After laser skin resurfacing, patients typically experience reddening of the skin for several weeks. Other temporary side effects depend largely on the extent of treatment. Laser skin resurfacing treatments can sometimes result in temporary swelling and discomfort. However, your cosmetic surgeon can help you move through this phase of treatment as comfortably as possible by prescribing the proper pain medications. Laser skin resurfacing may also result in the formation of crusting on the skin. This typically clears in about 10 days. As the temporary side-effects of laser skin resurfacing treatments subside, patients begin to see the procedure's amazing results, younger-looking skin.

Is recovery painful?

While patients can expect some swelling and discomfort during their laser skin resurfacing recovery, the pain can be easily managed. This is done through pain medication, ice packs used to reduce swelling, and wraps for treated skin, as well as other methods of making your recovery as comfortable and beneficial as possible.

Find a Dermatologist in Your Area

Cosmetic laser skin resurfacing treatments can help reduce the effects that sun exposure, aging, and acne has on the skin in order to reveal a healthier, younger-looking complexion. Laser peel procedures are also surprisingly cost effective. To find out more about what laser skin rejuvenation can do for you, contact a dermatologist in your area to schedule a personal consultation today.

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