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What Laser Skin Resurfacing Can and Cannot Do 
by Robbi Erickson October 13, 2005

This article goes over the basics of laser skin resurfacing. Included are topics on different types of lasers and their uses, as well as what is involved in laser skin treatments, how to find a qualified doctor, and what types of results you can expect. After reading this article you should be able to make an informed decision on whether laser skin resurfacing is right for you.


If you are beginning to lose the battle with the clock and are starting to notice wrinkles and age spots more and more, then you might want to consider laser resurfacing to rejuvenate your skin. Laser skin resurfacing is a good option to reduce the appearance of wrinkles because it not only exfoliates the top layers of skin, but it also acts as a tightening agent of the underlying collagen fibers. However, before you go to the plastic surgeon for laser treatment there are some things that you need to know about the procedure.

What is Laser Skin Resurfacing?

Laser Skin Resurfacing is a skin treatment that involves the use of one or more of several different types of lasers. Each type of laser has its own pros and cons, and it is designed to target a specific layer of skin.

The first type of laser is a Carbon Dioxide laser. It is the most powerful laser, and it is used in the treatment of deep wrinkles. The advantage of this laser is its power, and its ability to treat even the deepest of wrinkles. However, this power is also its drawback as it is easier to be burned by this laser. Because of the burning drawback of the CO2 laser, it should not be used if you have had an eye lift, or if you have had silicone injections.

The second type of laser is the Erbium: YAG laser. It is intended to treat shallow wrinkles, however, skilled surgeons are able to target even deep tissue issues with this laser and produce results on par with those generated by the CO2 laser. The most important advantage of this laser is that your doctor can more accurately treat specific areas of tissue that needs treatment. The second advantage of this laser is that it has a shorter recovery period associated with it because it is not as intense. Like all other laser treatments, the Erbium: YAG laser does have the risk of permanently damaging skin structures and burning the patient.

Lastly there is the Nlite (non-abrasive laser resurfacing) laser. This laser treatment, also known as Photorejuvenation, utilizes the energy projected by this laser to actually encourage the body’s own collagen cells to grow and produce more collagen and thereby naturally rejuvenate the skin. The advantage of this gentler procedure is that it causes less irritation, and therefore it can be used in more sensitive areas like the eyes and the neck. The drawback to this procedure is that it doesn’t have the power to exfoliate as aggressively as the other types of laser treatments.

How is Laser Skin Resurfacing Done?

The laser treatment begins by preparing the skin with a solution or gel that helps to minimize burning and scarring. As the laser is applied to target areas the concentrated light beam destroys the outer layer of skin, and the dead cells are either vacuumed away or gently swabbed away. Depending on the depth of penetration that is needed several passes may be needed to remove or treat various levels of skin strata. The tightening effect of laser skin resurfacing occurs because the new layer of skin that is now exposed grow in response to a healing process that in turn produces a tighter, more youthful appearance with fewer blemishes and free from sun and weather damage.

What Laser Skin Resurfacing Can Do

While nothing is 100% effective in turning back the hands of time, laser skin resurfacing, when preformed by a skilled professional, can help reduce mild, moderate, and even deep wrinkles on the neck and face. In addition to treating wrinkles, laser treatment can also be used to remove skin abnormalities, depending on the nature and depth of skin penetration the abnormality possesses.

What Laser Skin Resurfacing Can’t Do

As mentioned above, nothing is 100% effective in turning back the hands of time. Laser skin resurfacing can definitely improve the appearance of wrinkles, but these treatments won’t be able to completely remove the appearance of all your wrinkles. Laser treatment is only able to reduce the appearance of wrinkles by 25 to 75% depending on the severity of the wrinkle. However, shallow wrinkles can, in most cases, be completely erased as can mild pigmentation lesions.

Do You Qualify for Laser Skin Resurfacing?

While laser skin resurfacing is an elective procedure there are restrictions on who is able to receive this medical procedure and who cannot. If you have a bacterial infection or viral infection you will need to wait for your infection to clear before you get laser treatment, especially if the infection is near your face. This is because the laser treatment makes your skin vulnerable to infection, and you could contract a serious infection in the treated area that will negatively impact your ability to heal, and this will inevitably destroy your results.

Another issue that will eliminate you as a possible laser skin resurfacing candidate is if you have an impaired immune system. Your immune system may be impaired if you have AIDS, cancer, if you are a transplant patient, if you are diabetic, or if you are going through chemotherapy. It is important to the success of your laser treatment that you have a strong immune system and that you have the ability to heal normally.

Certain procedures that you may have undergone in the past year or so can also impact your eligibility for laser treatment. For example you can not have used isotretinoin for 12 months prior to your treatment, nor can you have had radiation therapy. Again both of these treatments will impair your ability to heal and their side effects may negatively react with the laser treatment.

If you have Scleroderma, burns, or have a history of slow or troubled healing patterns, you will probably be disqualified as a laser treatment candidate. To be the most qualified candidate for this type of procedure you need to be healthy, have a strong immune system, and be free of skin diseases.

Is Laser Resurfacing Right For You?

If you have determined that laser skin resurfacing is right for you and you have ruled out other skin treatments like Botox injections, chemical peels, live fill, and other plastic surgery options like having a face life, then your final considerations will be made upon what types of results you can expect. The success of laser resurfacing treatment will depend upon a number of things.

The first consideration is of course your age. Because of the aggressive nature of this type of procedure your plastic surgeon may recommend different types of skin treatments for you based on your age. Generally speaking skin resurfacing is usually only recommended for people in their 50s and later. However, if you have excessive skin damage laser resurfacing may be the only effective treatment available to you. If you are under 50 years of age and don’t have severe skin issues, then you may want to consider other skin treatments such as chemical peels, live fill, and implants.

The second consideration that you will need to make is how your skin pigmentation will effect your results. Skin with less pigmentation, fair skin, responds better to laser treatment than skin with higher concentrations of pigmentation does. If you have darker skin you will want to discuss the possible negative effects that laser skin treatment may produce in your case. There are two conditions that people with darker skin may experience as a result of laser treatment. The first is hyperpigmentation where pigmentation pools together and produces a blotch of skin with darker pigmentation than surrounding skin. The alternative negative effect is depigmentation where pigmentation is diffused and a light patch of skin appears on an otherwise dark complexion.

Finally, ask your doctor if a combination of treatments will help you achieve the result that you are trying for. For example you may want to combine laser skin resurfacing with and eye lift to help give your eyes a younger appearance. Fat or collagen injection may also be used in combination with laser skin resurfacing to help erase deep wrinkles.

The bottom line is to ask to see before and after picture of people with similar skin issues as you have. It is also helpful to find a before and after model that has similar coloring as you do. This way you can better gage what results you will be able to achieve and what issues you may have to deal with in case the treatment has negative side effects.

Selecting a Surgeon

The horror stories that you may have read about in the last few years about patients being horribly scarred by laser treatment have been caused by inexperienced and unqualified people performing the laser treatment. To protect yourself from a tragic laser experience there are steps that you can take to locate a qualified surgeon.

Your first line of defense is to select a doctor that has been recommended to you by a friend or by some other person that you trust. Ask people you know who have had the procedure where they went, what they thought of their doctor, and ask to see their before and after pictures. If you find one doctor that is being continuously recommended schedule a consultation with that doctor.

If you don’t know anyone who has had laser skin resurfacing then you can go online to find opinions about doctors, or you can ask your dermatologist to refer you to someone. If these options still don’t result in you locating a doctor, you can also go to a plastic surgery organization and see if they have a list of local doctors that are certified. Once you have a list of doctors that you are willing to meet with, your next step is to go through the consultation process.

During the consultation process you will want to ask questions about the doctors training and experience with the laser he or she will be using. Ask if they are certified by any professional organization on the use of lasers for skin treatment. Write down these organizations and research them online after your consultation. Make sure that membership in these organizations is based on skills and experience on not simply based on who paid their membership fee. In addition to asking for the doctor’s qualifications you will also want to ask to see before and after pictures. Again you will want to try and find a patient that has similar coloring as you do, and who has similar skin issues.

When you are done with your consultation and research your next step is to select the doctor that has the most experience, the best results, and who you feel the most comfortable with. After you make this selection you will want to contact the doctor to schedule your treatment and ask for your pre-surgery instructions.

Before Laser Skin Resurfacing Surgery

The period of time between you scheduling your skin treatment and the actual treatment day will probably include a pre-treatment regime that will prepare your skin for optimal results. If you smoke your doctor will ask you to stop, at least until you have recovered from surgery. It is in your best interest to completely stop smoking as it not only impairs your internal biology, but it also damages the appearance of your skin and it will negate any results that the laser treatment achieves.

You may also be asked to prepare the skin for treatment by hydrating and applying lotions, creams, or special gels. This regime will probably need to be continued after treatment as well.


Laser skin resurfacing usually takes a bout an hour and a half depending on the type of laser used, and the type and intensity of the treatment that you will be getting. In most cases general anesthesia is not required, and only a local anesthetic agent is used to relax you and deaden the pain in your face. After the procedure(s) has been completed the doctor will probably apply some sort of ointment or cream that will help minimize the threat of infection and aid in the healing process.

After Surgery

After your laser skin resurfacing procedure you will have some recovering to do. Your skin will be sensitive, swollen, and yes, sore. If you are bandaged then you will need to have the post-treatment bandaged changed in a day or two after your treatment. Once the bandages are removed you will be given instructions and medical supplies to treat your healing skin at home.

To avoid scarring and to avoid damaging treatment results, you should not scratch or pick at scabs or crusts that form on or around the treatment area. These actions could cause scaring, bleeding, and they will increase the chances that your treatment area will become infected. In addition to not picking at your treated area and making sure that you care for the treated area, to maximize your results you should also avoid sun exposure. You will need to use a strong SPF sunscreen whenever you go outside. You may want to incorporate SPF lotion into your daily skin care routine. This will protect you from sun damage and maintain the youthful look of your skin.

Healing Time

Healing time will depend on the intensity of the procedure performed as well as your own healing abilities. In most cases recovery is quick, and your skin will be back to a rosy glow within a few weeks.


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