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About Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing, also known as skin resurfacing and fractional resurfacing.

Laser skin resurfacing is a minimally invasive treatment designed to reverse the effects of sun damage, aging and lifestyle on your skin. There are two types of resurfacing lasers currently available, either ablative or non-ablative. Ablative lasers act to tighten your skin, helping to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and pigmentation by removing the damaged upper layers of your skin with laser-light beams. Non-ablative lasers are considered to be less invasive and act instead by kick starting the growth of new collagen and tightening the underlying skin.

Laser skin resurfacing is an outpatient procedure and must be performed by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. You may decide to only have treatment on small areas of the skin, such as around the mouth or eyes, or you may have the entire face treated.

How is it performed?

During the procedure, your practitioner will use a ‘wand’ to direct brief pulses of high-intensity laser light into your skin. This damages the upper layers of your skin, forcing it to begin the healing process. As your skin begins to heal, new and healthier tissue will emerge.

There are a wide variety of devices used for laser skin resurfacing that are classified into three main groups:

Ablative lasers

  • Ablative lasers remove the skin by creating an injury similar to the effect of a deep chemical peel or dermabrasion. Each pass of the wand removes layers from the skin’s surface in a uniform way, which is one of the reasons many surgeons claim ablative lasers allow much more control over the results than chemical peels. Ablative lasers are used for skin tightening, acne scars and wrinkle reduction.

Non-ablative lasers

  • These devices will not remove any of your skin. Instead, the laser will only mildly burn the skin as it is passed over, causing a degree of heat damage to the upper layers. These lasers can remove some signs of fine lines and wrinkles, but results will sometimes not be noticeable until several months after treatment.

Fractional lasers

  • These devices can be either ablative or non-ablative. Fractional lasers create minuscule holes in the deeper layers of the skin, which forces the skin to tighten to ‘fill the gaps”. While there is considerably less surface injury with the use of these lasers, the injury is actually deeper. These devices are most commonly used to treat fine lines, sun damage, deeper wrinkles, acne scarring and brown spots.

Your surgeon may recommend a variety of treatments, depending on your skin type and the extent of the problems you want addressed. Some people opt to have laser skin resurfacing performed at the same time as other cosmetic procedures such as a facelift.

What result can I expect?

Resurfaced skin can often appear pink for several months after the treatment, which means that it can sometimes take this long before you can see the results of your treatment properly. Most people find that although they take time, the results are worth waiting for and are relatively long-lasting. For more superficial resurfacing procedures you may need to have repeat treatments in order to maintain your results.

Remember that after the treatment your skin will still continue to age naturally, which will cause wrinkles to eventually reappear, some faster than others. You can expect any improvements in skin quality and texture to give you fresher looking skin for years. Remember that it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon’s office for follow up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you notice any changes in your skin that has been treated.



  • Provides skin smoothing as well as skin tightening
  • Relatively long-lasting improvements in skin quality and texture can be achieved
  • Some devices allow treatment of facial skin as well as skin on the neck, chest and hands


  • Abnormal healing with scarring and pigment changes is possible.
  • Can exacerbate skin disorders including allergic reactions or cold sores.
  • The wrinkles caused by movement of your facial muscles will eventually reappear


After your treatment the resurfaced skin will be covered with a protective ointment like petroleum jelly and in some cases dressings may be applied. Once the anaesthetic wears off, you will probably experience some minor pain, accompanied by some light bruising, swelling and redness in the treated area.

Recovery Time 
The time it takes you to recover will depend on the equipment used and the technique of treatment. Superficial treatments tend to require much less downtime. Your surgeon will give you advice about how to cleanse your skin and which lotions or creams to apply. Shaving over the resurfaced area should be avoided for a while; the same goes for waxing. It is essential for your health and well-being that you follow all patient care instructions given to you by your doctor.

These instructions will include information about how to spot any symptoms of complications. It is important to realize everyone has a unique physiology and so the amount recovery time will vary between individuals.

The first two weeks
Depending on the aftercare treatments your surgeon has advised, scabbing may appear over the area and any initial redness or swelling should have subsided, but your skin may still be a little pink.

Week two to eight
Your skin may still be pink even after a couple of months and remember to ask your surgeon when it is safe to use light make up to cover this. Depending on the method of treatment and your surgeon, it should be safe to expose your skin to direct sunlight, although you should always remember to wear an appropriate SPF cream or lotion.

Limits & Risks

Fortunately, significant complications from laser skin resurfacing are infrequent. Your specific risks for laser skin resurfacing will be discussed during your consultation. All surgical procedures have some degree of risk.

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