Laser skin resurfacing seems like it would be the ultimate skin treatment — just show up and let your doctor laser away the imperfections for a brand new look. But there’s more to preparing for a laser treatment than simply showing up and writing a check. Here is what you’ll need to do in the days and weeks leading up to your treatment to get your skin and body ready.

  • Figure out the smartest course of treatment. While laser skin resurfacing can really improve the fine lines, it may not be the only treatment option in your doctor’s arsenal. “The basic issue with wrinkles is hills and valleys,” Josh Korman, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon in Mountain View, Calif. “Treatment involves either taking down the hills or filling up the valleys.” Korman advocates for combining treatments to get your skin to that perfect happy medium. “Often there are greater benefits from combination therapy, like botox plus laser resurfacing. Skin is so variable that you need to deal with each patent individually.”
  • Start using a bleaching cream. Many doctors prescribe a bleaching cream to be used each day to help offset any potential issues with skin darkening brought on by the laser. “There are lots of different things you can use to help the skin prepare for the treatment—for instance, we pretreat with bleaching cream,” says Lori Cherup, MD, a plastic surgeon at Radiance Plastic Surgery in Bridgeville, Pa.
  • Prep your skin with retinoids. Many doctors recommend using moisturizers containing Retin-A in the weeks leading up to your laser skin resurfacing. “Retin-A thins down the stratum corneum, the superficial layer of skin,” says Cherup. “It gets cells programmed to divide and multiply — it’s like amphetamine for the skin.” Don’t throw out your retinoid-based cream when you go for your treatment — a few weeks after your skin heals, your doctor will tell you to start applying it again to help maintain your fresh new look.
  • Take some antibiotics. Your skin provides a protective layer to keep out bacteria and other harmful organisms. Laser treatments temporarily burn away that protection, leaving your skin open to infections. Your doctor will likely prescribe a short treatment with antibiotics in the days leading up to your treatment to help stave off any invaders that could lead to an infection and serious complications with your treatment. “Patients have to be pretreated with antibiotics because there’s an increased risk for strep and staph infection,” Cherup says.
  • Consider a short course of antiviral medication. If you’re prone to cold sores around your mouth, your doctor will likely prescribe a few days’ worth of antiviral medication to help reduce the likelihood of a herpes outbreak. If you get cold sores often, your doctor may increase the length of the prescription. “One of the most dangerous risks of laser resurfacing is probably a bad herpes infection in the face,” says Korman. The antiviral medication can help minimize that risk.
  • Stop smoking. In addition to the other serious health issues associated with smoking, it decreases blood flow to the skin, which can make healing from your laser skin resurfacing a much longer and more difficult process. Your doctor will likely recommend that you refrain from smoking for a few weeks before and after your treatment to help you heal.
  • Avoid taking blood-thinning medications. Blood thinners can prevent your injuries from healing and increase the risk of complications from your procedure. Your doctor will recommend that you stop taking Plavix or other anti-clotting medications, along with painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen as well as vitamin E, all of which can impact your clotting and healing.
  • Get ready for your recovery. Ask your doctor to give you any prescriptions and a list of must-have items (dressings, pain medications, etc.) before your procedure so you can make sure you have everything you need waiting for you at home. Make sure that you have plenty of your favorite comfort foods to enjoy while you’re recovering, and don’t forget to arrange for a ride to and from your doctor’s office on the day of your laser skin resurfacing.