Laser resurfacing uses the latest technology to give you clearer, brighter skin. Get a quick look at how the treatment works and whether it’s right for you.

Laser resurfacing uses strong lasers to remove several layers of skin from your face. That helps encourage your body to produce new, firmer and smoother skin — and it helps enhance the production of firming collagen in your skin.

Uses for Laser Resurfacing

A laser treatment can smooth away finer lines and shallow scarring or discoloration that's on your face — things like fine lines around the eyes, acne scarring and sun damage are among the most common things that laser resurfacing can help minimize. But laser resurfacing can do little for sagging jowls, stretch marks and other similar issues.

Kinds of Laser Resurfacing

CO2 lasers are used for ablative resurfacing, where whole layers of skin are burned away, which encourages the skin that remains to grow back younger and fresher. "CO2 lasers are the gold standard in plastic surgery — it's most aggressive and gives the best results," says Lori Cherup, MD, a plastic surgeon at Radiance Plastic Surgery in Bridgeville, Pa. Fractional or non-ablative lasers treat small areas of skin evenly placed between expanses of untreated skin. The untreated areas heal around the area that was burned away, creating a tightening effect. "Non-ablative lasers offer faster healing and less redness than ablative lasers, but often give you less-impressive results," says Josh Korman, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon in Mountain View, Calif.

Good Laser Resurfacing Candidates

"If you're a light-skinned woman with many fine wrinkles and not too many jowls, you're a good candidate for laser resurfacing," says Korman. People with dark skin must be especially careful about using lasers, as they can lead to permanent (and often uneven) changes to the color of their skin — and most plastic surgeons will suggest alternative treatments as a result.

Cost of Laser Resurfacing

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the cost of laser skin resurfacing ranges from an average of $1,228 for non-ablative procedures to $2,169 for an ablative CO2 laser treatment. Your costs may vary, depending on where you live, the type of laser used, the amount of skin being treated and the expertise of your doctor.

Preparing for Laser Resurfacing

Your doctor will have you take a few steps to minimize the chances of any complications with your procedure. Some doctors pretreat the skin with bleaching cream to minimize the chances of discoloration as well as Retin-A. "The Retin-A helps cells get used to a healing response," says Cherup. To head off infections or outbreaks of the herpes virus, doctors often pretreat patients with a three- or four-day course of antibiotics and antivirals.

Laser Resurfacing Recovery

For the less-invasive fractional laser treatments, you should be able to go back to work within a few days with only mild discoloration and puffiness in the areas that were treated. But ablative procedures may create red, raw skin that requires a bit longer healing time — at least a week before you're back to work. With either treatment, it will likely take several weeks after that for all residual redness to fade away.

Alternatives to Laser Resurfacing

If laser resurfacing isn't right for you, there are similar treatments that can help smooth skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles or other damage. Dermabrasion accomplishes something similar by blasting away layers of skin. Botox and fillers can help deal with fine lines and wrinkles. Finally, facelifts can help eliminate wrinkles and sagging skin.

Risks of Laser Resurfacing

Any cosmetic procedure comes with risks. Laser treatments could simply cause red, raw skin for an extended time, or it could burn your skin and create permanent scars. "There's always a risk of scarring with a laser," says Cherup. "If the laser injury goes too deep, into the middle or lower third of the dermis, it takes longer to heal." The treatment could also create permanent dark or light discoloration in your skin.

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