Laser skin resurfacing uses intense beams of light energy to remove the upper layers of skin, stimulating new skin growth to replace it. The theory is that the new skin will look younger and fresher and contain fewer blemishes, wrinkles or fine lines. The lasers also boost the production of collagen, which gives the new skin a firmer, plumper look, creating a smooth surface free of wrinkles.
Precise targeting of laser skin resurfacing can be used to remove specific blemishes, such as birthmarks, port wine stains or tattoos, or to treat problem areas such as ‘crows feet’ around the eyes and other signs of aging. Alternatively, the whole of the face can be resurfaced, achieving some of the benefits of a face-lift, but without the risks associated with invasive surgery.
How does laser treatment work?
During laser skin resurfacing, a skilled surgeon controls the depth of the laser precisely to regulate the depth of skin that is treated. Generally the laser only removes the top layers of skin, called the epidermis, although some treatments penetrate to the deeper level of the dermis.
Several types of laser skin resurfacing are available; each used to treat different skin conditions and produce different results. Your dermatologist will advise on the most suitable treatment for you. The different procedures include:
- Ablative lasers – these vaporise the upper layer of skin and encourage new cell growth in the layers below to replace it. Usually, only one ablative treatment is required to produce a significant improvement, although it may take several months for the full effect to be seen. The healing time is longer than with non-ablative lasers, as the dead skin will initially form scabs that need to fall away before the new skin is revealed.
- Non-ablative lasers – these work on the layers of skin beneath the surface, stimulating the growth of collagen to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, marks and blemishes. The skin heals much more quickly with non-ablative laser resurfacing.
- Fractionated lasers – these produce lots of smaller bursts of laser energy, creating hundreds of hot spots, rather than destroying large areas of the skin surface. This technique is good for blemishes, but may require several treatments for complete success.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) – while not strictly a laser treatment, IPL uses intense light energy to destroy pigments and thread veins. IPL treatment can be fine-tuned to specific pigments for effective tattoo removal. IPL also stimulates collagen production and so can be used to decrease pore size and reduce fine wrinkles.
Is my skin suitable for this procedure?
Laser skin resurfacing is not suitable for everyone, especially people with naturally darker skin, as the new skin layers may not initially match the colour of the surrounding skin and the skin tone can take many months to even out.
Laser skin resurfacing is also unsuitable for people who are prone to keloid or overgrown scarring, people with some skin disorders, or people who are taking some medications. Your dermatologist will assess your suitability for laser skin resurfacing.
The laser skin resurfacing procedure
Laser skin resurfacing is usually performed under local anaesthetic, and you may also be given a sedative to relax you during the treatment. More extensive treatments can be carried out under general anaesthetic.
Before laser skin resurfacing treatment begins, your skin will be cleaned very thoroughly. The surgeon will then pass the laser beam over the skin carefully controlling the intensity and depth of the laser. The procedure can take anything from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on how much skin is being treated.
Immediately after the laser skin resurfacing, your treated skin will be covered with an antiseptic cream and may also be dressed to prevent infection. Naturally, you will need someone to escort you home and it is advisable to have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours, especially if you have had sedation or a general anaesthetic. Any pain or discomfort from laser skin resurfacing can usually be dealt with by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.
To achieve the best results from laser skin resurfacing, and to avoid infections and scarring, you will need to follow the advice of your dermatologist and keep to a strict skincare regime for at least six months. The better you care for your skin, the better the long-term results of laser skin resurfacing.
Initially, you will need to carefully clean your skin and apply antibiotic cream several times a day, along with moisturisers to prevent drying and cracking. As the healing progresses, this regime becomes easier, although you will need to avoid sunlight for up to six months, and apply a high factor sunscreen whenever you go out. The new skin from laser skin resurfacing will be particularly susceptible to burning.
It can take many months for the pinkness or redness of laser skin resurfacing to completely fade, although you should be able to return to work and normal activities within 2-3 weeks of your treatment.
Does it work?
In most cases, laser skin resurfacing proves very effective, although naturally the results will vary from person to person depending on your individual circumstances. Laser skin resurfacing will permanently remove tattoos, birthmarks and other blemishes, but you should bear in mind that it will not provide a permanent solution to the signs of aging. Your new skin will certainly turn back the clock, but it will then be prone to aging in the same way as your original skin, and so fine lines and wrinkles will inevitably reappear.