Laser skin resurfacing burns away layers of facial skin with a powerful blast of light. The skin beneath it heals and regrows new, smoother skin to replace the fine lines, scars or other damages.
But even though it’s done wonders for many patients, there are some misconceptions about the treatment and its results. Discover the biggest myths out there about laser resurfacing — and the truth behind the fables.
The Myth: Lasers can take care of any skin issue you have. “Some people think lasers are ‘magic’ and can take away anything and everything,” says Josh Korman, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon in Mountain View, Calif. “We all suffer from some degree of ‘magical thinking,’ where we believe what we want to believe, and this is no exception.”
The Truth: Laser resurfacing works well on a limited number of skin issues. Laser treatments can’t dive below the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis, without risking permanent scarring and damage. So it works best on issues that only scratch the surface, such as acne scars, sun damage and fine lines. “You can always improve superficial wrinkles with the CO2 laser, but you can’t improve deeper layers,” says Lori Cherup, MD, a plastic surgeon at Radiance Plastic Surgery in Bridgeville, Pa. “That’s an architectural change in thickness and fat — you can’t laser deep enough to get rid of it.”
The Myth: Lasers can make your skin “perfect.” “Sometimes people think that any imperfections in their skin can be corrected with a laser, so that there will be no scar, no after effects, and no uneven skin tones,” Korman says.
The Truth: Lasers can make your skin look better and younger — but not flawless. People who undergo laser treatments to remove scarring or imperfections will see some drastic changes — but the imperfections won’t disappear entirely. That’s especially true if you choose the non-ablative or fractional laser treatments, which remove tiny vertical columns of skin, and leave healthy, untouched islands in between which can aid the healing. This more moderate approach will give you more moderate results. “You often achieve less dramatic results with a non-ablative laser,” says Korman.
The Myth: Anyone can get laser resurfacing done. Laser resurfacing sounds like a treatment that could help everyone get fresher, smoother complexions — but it’s not.
The Truth: Laser resurfacing works best on fair-skinned people who don’t have active acne flare-ups or frequent cold sores. “The CO2 laser is not an option in a black patient — you’re basically taking all the color off of the skin, and there’s no guarantee it will come back evenly enough,” Cherup says. “Even with people with somewhere between black and Caucasian skin—Arabs or Hispanics with darker skin—you have to be very careful.” The laser itself can cause acne breakouts on treated skin, so people who have active cases of acne should talk with their doctor about their options.
The Myth: Laser resurfacing is all the same. “Many people think that there’s no difference between the machines or techniques,” Korman says.
The Truth: Laser resurfacing technology and techniques vary. Lasers perform different tasks, depending on how they’re created and used. “There are many different types of lasers,” Korman says. “A laser is any device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons.” The lasers used in laser resurfacing are really best used on the face. “A CO2 laser treatment on the face will absolutely heal, but on the arms, legs and chest there aren’t enough sebaceous glands to guarantee that you’re going to heal, and you’ll likely burn,” Cherup says. And using an ablative laser like a CO2 laser is a much more involved procedure that requires at least a week off of work for healing and recovery as opposed to a non-ablative laser, which treats small areas of skin and requires little to no down time for recovery.
The Myth: Laser resurfacing is noninvasive. Because it’s an outpatient procedure, and one that in some cases can be done by nurses without a doctor present, many people think it’s no big deal to get it done.
The Truth: Laser resurfacing still comes with risks and complications. This is a serious procedure, which can result in a number of serious side effects. “There’s always a risk of scarring with a laser if the injury goes too deep, or of deforming coloration,” says Charup.