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Laser Resurfacing

Table of Contents

Treatment Overview

Laser resurfacing uses brief pulses of light to improve the look of the skin. It can remove the surface layer of skin and heat up deeper tissue to stimulate the growth of collagen. This is also called ablative skin resurfacing. Or it may injure the surface layer of skin without removing it to tighten the skin. This is also called non-ablative skin resurfacing.

Carbon dioxide lasers and erbium lasers are often used for skin resurfacing.

The laser is passed over the skin several times. The pulses from the laser may sting or burn slightly. You may feel a snapping feeling against your skin. When the treatment is done, the area may be covered with a skin cream or a special dressing.

In most cases, laser resurfacing is very precise and causes little damage to the surrounding skin and tissue. It is done most often on the face. But it may be done on skin in other areas of the body, such as the hands, neck, and chest.

Types of laser resurfacing

Types of laser skin resurfacing include:

What To Expect

The time needed to heal and recover after laser resurfacing depends on how big and deep the treated area is. Someone who has their full face resurfaced, for example, will take longer to recover than someone who has only a small area of skin treated.

In most cases, the wounded area will be pink, tender, and swollen for at least several days. Cold packs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen) may help reduce swelling and pain. After the skin grows back, the skin will stay red for several weeks.

If you are getting treatment around your mouth, you may get an antiviral drug called acyclovir to prevent infection. Tell your doctor if you've had cold sores in the past.

You may have follow-up visits with your doctor to watch for signs of infection or other problems.

What you can do

Why It Is Done

Laser resurfacing may be used to remove or improve the look of:

How Well It Works

There are many things that can affect the short-term and long-term results of laser resurfacing. These include your skin type, the health of your skin, how much experience your doctor has, the type of laser used, and your lifestyle after the treatment. Some types of skin problems or defects respond better to laser resurfacing than others. People with lighter skin who limit their time in the sun after treatment tend to have better results than those with darker skin and those who keep spending lots of time in the sun.

In general, laser resurfacing tends to have good results with fairly low risks.

The long-term results of laser treatment may not be seen for several months.


Side effects and risks of laser resurfacing may include:

Credits for Laser Resurfacing

Current as of: August 3, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Keith A. Denkler MD - Plastic Surgery

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