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Laser 101

Back in the '90s, blasting wrinkles meant horror-flick-like oozing and months of redness as "ablative" lasers burned off the skin's surface and a younger-looking version grew in.

THE TREATMENT: Ablative Carbon Dioxide Resurfacing (i.e., the original '90s procedure)

What It's For: Still the most aggressive fix for hard-core lines and acne scars; can also tighten loose skin but is safe only for fair skin types (olive tones and women of color risk permanent pigment loss).

How It Works: By blasting away the skin's top layer, this aggressive single treatment bulldozes wrinkles.

How It Feels: During, like needles across the face (it's sometimes performed under general anesthesia). Recovery-wise, think burn victim on day one as open wounds ooze and bleed, followed by five to 10 days of rawness while your obliterated epidermis regenerates (sorry, no makeup for up to two weeks). Overall pinkness persists for two to four months.

Price: Approximately $4000 to $8000, depending on size of area treated

THE TREATMENT: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

What It's For: Eliminating brown spots and other sun-induced discoloration and spot-treating broken capillaries. When performed with nonablative fractional treatments, can amplify skin-tone-evening benefits--but it has no effect on wrinkles.

How It Works: While not a "laser" per se, IPL devices work similarly. Short pulses of bright white light pinpoint brown pigment cells and redness, which are damaged when they absorb the light and the heat it creates. Safe for most skin types, but a doctor may dial down intensity for darker skin tones to avoid slim risk of de-pigmentation.

How It Feels: Sunburn-like. Patients experience slight swelling and pinkness the day of the procedure, but there's no downtime, which is why it's often categorized as a "lunchtime" treatment.

Price: $400 to $600 per treatment.

Originally published on May 21, 2009

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