Laser Skin Resurfacing

If aging, acne, or too much time in the sun has left your face with blotches, scars, wrinkles, or lines, laser skin resurfacing may help your skin look younger and healthier.

Laser skin resurfacing removes skin layer by layer with precision. The new skin cells that form during healing give the skin a tighter, younger looking surface. The procedure can be done alone or with other cosmetic surgeries on the face.

Preparing for Laser Resurfacing

Start by consulting a plastic surgeon or dermatologist to find out if you're a good candidate.

Tell your doctor if you get cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth. Laser skin resurfacing can trigger breakouts in people who are at risk.

If you decide to go ahead with laser skin resurfacing, your doctor will ask you to not take any medications or supplements -- such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or vitamin E -- that can affect clotting for 10 days before surgery.

If you smoke, you should stop for two weeks before and after the procedure. Smoking can prolong healing.

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic medication beforehand to prevent bacterial infections and also an antiviral medication if you are prone to cold sores or fever blisters.

What to Expect During and After the Procedure

Laser resurfacing is done by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist. It's an outpatient procedure, meaning you'll not have to stay overnight.

The doctor may treat wrinkles around your eyes, mouth, or forehead individually or treat your entire face. For small areas, the doctor will numb the areas to be treated with a local anesthetic and may also sedate you. You may require general anesthesia if your whole face is being treated.

Treating just parts of the face takes about 30 to 45 minutes. A full-face treatment takes up to two hours.

Following the laser procedure, the doctor will bandage the treated areas. After 24 hours, you will need to clean the treated areas four to five times a day and then apply an ointment such as petroleum jelly to prevent scabs from forming.

Swelling after laser skin resurfacing is normal. Your doctor may prescribe steroids to manage swelling around your eyes. Sleeping on an extra pillow at night can also ease swelling.

Continued

You may feel itching or stinging for 12 to 72 hours after the procedure. Five to seven days after laser resurfacing, your skin will become dry and peel.

Depending on the problem that was treated, healing typically takes 10 to 21 days. Once the skin heals, you can wear oil-free makeup to minimize redness, which usually fades in two to three months.

You will also probably notice that your skin is lighter for a while after surgery. It is particularly important that you use a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen, which screens ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A rays, to protect your skin during that time. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one specially formulated for use on the face with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.

It is also important to keep your new skin well moisturized. If you use Retin A or glycolic acid products, you should be able to start using them again after about six weeks or when the doctor says you can.

Benefits and Risks of Laser Resurfacing

Although skin resurfacing cannot produce perfect skin, it can improve the appearance of your skin. Potential risks of the procedure include:

  • Burns or other injuries from the laser's heat
  • Scarring
  • Changes in the skin's pigmentation, including areas of darker or lighter skin
  • Reactivating herpes cold sores
  • Bacterial infection

Cost of Laser Skin Resurfacing

The average cost for laser skin resurfacing was about $2,300 in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. However, costs vary widely depending on where the procedure is being done.

Because laser skin resurfacing is considered a cosmetic procedure, most medical insurance companies will not cover it. There may be an exception if you get the procedure to modify scars or remove precancerous growths on your skin.

Talk with your doctor and your insurance company before the procedure about what the costs will be and what, if anything, insurance will pay for. Most doctors offer financing options.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 28, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Laser Skin Resurfacing."

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: "Skin Resurfacing."

University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center: "Laser Facial Resurfacing."

American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: "Facial Peels And Laser Surgery."

Penn Medicine: "Laser Skin Resurfacing."

Cosmeticsurgery.com: "Laser Skin Resurfacing."

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