What is laser skin resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing treats superficial facial scars, wrinkles, skin discoloration, and other minor blemishes. Laser skin resurfacing uses an intense, pulsating beam of light to penetrate into the deep layers of the skin. This damages the superficial skin layers, which peel off to reveal fresher, smoother skin.  

Laser skin resurfacing is only one method to treat minor facial blemishes and aging skin. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Why is laser skin resurfacing performed?

Your doctor may recommend laser skin resurfacing to correct or reduce the appearance of the following minor conditions:

  • Birthmarks 
  • Enlarged oil glands on the nose
  • Frown lines, crow’s feet, and other fine lines or wrinkles around your eyes, forehead or mouth
  • Precancerous skin growths. Only certain types of precancerous lesions are treatable with laser skin resurfacing.
  • Skin discoloration due to liver spots, age spots, blotchy skin, and sun damage
  • Superficial scaring from acne, chickenpox, surgery or injury
  • Warts
  • Yellowish or grayish skin tones

Who performs laser skin resurfacing?

A plastic surgeon or dermatologist performs laser skin resurfacing. Plastic surgeons specialize in correcting physical defects that affect a person's appearance or ability to function. Dermatologists specialize in the medical and surgical care of the skin, hair and nails. 

You should choose a plastic surgeon or dermatologist with training and experience in laser skin resurfacing to perform the procedure.

How is laser skin resurfacing performed?

Your laser skin resurfacing will be performed in a doctor’s office or outpatient medical clinic. Laser skin resurfacing usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the type and extent of your procedure. It  generally includes the following steps:

  1. Your doctor will complete a medical history and physical exam to determine if you are a good candidate for laser skin resurfacing and which procedure is best for you. This includes examining your skin and asking about your expectations.  
  2. Your doctor will develop a personalized treatment plan and discuss it with you.
  3. Your doctor may prescribe special skin treatments, which minimize complications and maximize results. These treatments may begin six weeks or more before your scheduled procedure.
  4. On the day of your laser skin resurfacing, a care team member will clean your skin and provide eye protection
  5. Your doctor will apply a local anesthetic, such as a numbing cream, to the treatment area. You may also receive a mild sedative help you relax. Sometimes, general anesthesia is necessary for a large procedure or if you have other procedures at the same time.
  6. Your doctor will direct the laser to the treatment area. 
  7. Your care team will apply special dressings to protect the treatment area.

Will I feel pain with laser skin resurfacing?

Your comfort and relaxation is important to you and your care team. Laser skin resurfacing can be painful, but the local anesthetic and sedative should keep you comfortable during the procedure. Your doctor will also prescribe pain medication to use during the healing process. 

Tell your doctor if you are uncomfortable during the procedure or if your pain medication is not keeping you comfortable during the healing process. 

What are the risks and potential complications of laser skin resurfacing?

Any medical procedure involves risks and potential complications. Complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery.

Risks, side effects, and potential complications of laser skin resurfacing include: 

  • Acne breakouts
  • Darkening or lightening of skin color
  • Herpes and cold sore outbreaks near your mouth
  • Infection
  • Redness and pink coloring of the skin. Pink coloring can last up to a year in blonde-haired people and redheads. 
  • Scarring (rare)
  • Skin irritation, itching, stinging or blistering
  • Small white bumps, called milia, which you can generally treat with gentle cleansing 
  • Swelling, especially around the eyes