Home > Health Library > Laser Resurfacing
Laser resurfacing is a treatment to improve the look of the skin. It uses a
laser to send out brief pulses of high-energy light. This light is absorbed by water and substances in the skin called chromophores. The
light is changed into heat energy. The heat then destroys (vaporizes) thin
sections of skin, layer by layer. As the wounded area heals, new skin grows to
replace the damaged skin that was removed during the laser treatment. Some
lasers only tighten the skin by heating it but do not destroy the skin.
The CO2 (carbon dioxide) laser is the most common type of laser used for
resurfacing. Erbium lasers are also used often.
In most cases, laser resurfacing is very precise and causes little
damage to the surrounding skin and tissue. It is done most often on the face,
but it may be done on skin in other areas of the body. It's usually not done on the hands, neck, and
chest. The skin in these areas does not heal as well as it
does in other areas. It tends to thicken and scar as a result of the laser
treatment. But some surgeons may treat the neck using a lower-energy
Newer methods of laser resurfacing cause fewer problems
and have faster recovery times. These methods include:
The areas to be treated are cleaned
and marked with a pen. A
nerve block with a local anesthetic is usually used to numb the area
before treatment. You may also get medicine to
help you relax. If your whole face is going to be treated, you may need
pain relievers, sedation, or stronger anesthesia. (In some cases,
general anesthesia is used.) You
may need to wear goggles to prevent eye damage by the laser. And wet towels
will be placed around the area to absorb excess laser pulses.
laser is passed over the skin, sending out pulses. Each pulse lasts less than a
millisecond. Between passes with the laser, the skin will be wiped with water
or a saltwater solution. This is done to cool the skin and remove tissue that the laser has
destroyed. The number of passes needed depends on how large the area is and
what type of skin is being treated. Thin skin around the eyes, for instance,
needs very few passes with the laser. Thicker skin or skin with more severe
lesions will need more passes.
The pulses from the
laser may sting or burn slightly. You may feel a snapping feeling against
your skin. In most cases, there is little or no bleeding. Severely
damaged skin is more likely to bleed. When the treatment is done, the area is covered
with a clean dressing or ointment.
Laser resurfacing is usually
done in a doctor's office or an
outpatient surgery center.
The time needed to heal and
recover after laser resurfacing depends on how big and deep the
treated area is. Someone who has the full face resurfaced, for example, will
take longer to recover than someone who has only a small area of skin
In most cases, the wounded area will be pink, tender, and
swollen for at least several days. Cold packs and
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as
aspirin or ibuprofen) may help reduce swelling and pain. After the skin grows back, the skin will stay red for several weeks.
Proper care of
the treated area while the skin heals is very important.
If you are getting treatment around your mouth, you may get an antiviral drug called acyclovir to
prevent infection. Tell your doctor if you have had
cold sores in the past.
You will need several follow-up
visits to your doctor. The doctor will keep track of how well the skin heals and regrows. He or she will also watch for and treat early signs of infection or other
Laser resurfacing may be used to
remove or improve the look of:
People with lighter skin who do not get a lot of sun
exposure after the procedure tend to have the best results. People with darker
skin may benefit from laser resurfacing, but their skin may not heal as
You may not be a good candidate for laser resurfacing if
There are many things that can affect the short-term and long-term
results of laser resurfacing. These include your skin type, the health of
your skin, how much experience your doctor has, the type of laser used, and your
lifestyle after the treatment. Some types of skin problems or defects respond
better to laser resurfacing than others. People with lighter skin who limit
their time in the sun after treatment tend to have better results than those
with darker skin and those who keep spending lots of time in the sun.
In general, laser resurfacing tends to have good results with
fairly low risks.
The long-term results of laser treatment may not be seen
for several months.
Side effects and risks of laser resurfacing may
Laser resurfacing first injures or
wounds the skin and then destroys the top layers. You need to prepare yourself
for how your skin will look after treatment and throughout the
healing process. It is also very important for you to follow your doctor's instructions on caring for your skin after the treatment. This will help you avoid
infection and help your skin heal.
Be sure that your doctor
knows what you hope to achieve. And make sure that you know what results you
can expect. Even with realistic expectations, you may not see
results for several weeks or months after the treatment. And you may need more
than one treatment to get the results you want.
After laser resurfacing, you will
need to wear sunscreen every day and avoid the sun as much as you can.
New skin is more likely to be damaged and change color from sunlight.
chemical peel, and dermabrasion are the most common techniques to improve the texture and look of the skin. These techniques use
different methods, but they have basically the same effect on the skin. They
destroy and remove the upper layers of skin to allow the skin to regrow.
No one technique is better than the others. When done by
an experienced surgeon, laser resurfacing may be slightly more precise than
chemical peels or dermabrasion. But the choice of technique is based on the
site you want to treat, your skin type and condition, the doctor's experience,
your preferences, and other things. Some people may get the best results by
using more than one technique.
Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.
Tanzi EL, Alster TS (2008). Skin resurfacing: Ablative lasers, chemical peels, and dermabrasion. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2364–2371. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKeith A. Denkler, MD - Plastic Surgery
Current as ofJune 11, 2015
Current as of:
June 11, 2015
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Keith A. Denkler, MD - Plastic Surgery
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