Procedure, Complications & Recovery Time of Laser Resurfacing

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Laser resurfacing is one of the most advanced treatments available for skin resurfacing or exfoliation. It is mainly used in the treatment and prevention of skin wrinkles and blemishes. The procedure is used to remove poorly formed tissue and uneven skin, stimulate the production of new skin cells, collagen and elastin.

The outcome of any type of resurfacing technique will depend upon the skill level of the dermatologist, cosmetic or plastic surgeon performing the procedure, the depth of the resurfacing required and the ability of the resurfacing technique to reach this desired depth. Laser resurfacing requires a long period of healing afterwards. During this period the skin remains reddened and sensitive. There is a risk of infection setting in during this time and proper care for the resurfaced skin is essential to prevent any untoward complications.

Before deciding to opt for laser resurfacing, you should discuss alternate treatment options with your doctor. Usually, for younger people, chemical peels, fat or collagen implants may be more suitable. Plastic surgeons usually recommend laser resurfacing treatments for those above the age of 50 or those with special needs. At times, a combination of these procedures may be recommended.

Other factors that will need to be considered include:

  • The success rate and safety record of the procedure
  • The length of the recovery period
  • The risk of complications - such as skin infection

There are many different types of laser resurfacing techniques available. These are by far the most effective tool for the elimination of wrinkles and blemishes due to their ability to tighten up the skin. A successful procedure can often make a person appear decades younger.

Effectiveness of Laser Resurfacing

The effectiveness of the procedure will vary depending on the area to be treated and the type of laser used. Laser resurfacing is generally used to correct facial blemishes because it is there that it is the most effective.

However, by itself, laser resurfacing cannot eliminate acne, broken blood vessels or dark circles under the eyes.

The standard laser resurfacing techniques are considered to be too jarring for areas where the skin layers aren’t thick - such as the neck. However, newer techniques have been developed which can stimulate the growth of collagen without taking off any layers of skin.

This is how laser resurfacing works

  • The laser pulse penetrates the skin and vaporizes the water and layers right on the surface of skin. Deeper layers of skin are left untouched which facilitates the rapid growth of new surface skin.
  • The heat generated by the laser helps to shorten collagen fibers and restores elasticity to the skin.

Types of Lasers

There are different types of lasers that are used depending on the area to be treated, depending on the type of skin and how severe the skin condition really is. The common types in use today include:

  • The Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Laser - A powerful laser that is commonly used to treat deep wrinkles and skin blemishes, the CO2 laser acts by vaporizing water molecules within the cells. This stimulates the skin to produce more collagen which in turn fills up the wrinkles. Research has shown that this laser is safer and more effective over the long term. It should not be used by those who have had silicone injections.
  • The Erbium:YAG (Er:YAG) Laser - Gentler on the skin than the CO2 laser, this laser is commonly used to remove milder wrinkles and provides for a smoother skin texture afterwards. The recovery time is also shorter with fewer side effects. Some experts claim that it is also effective in treating deep wrinkles providing of course that it is used to a sufficient depth.
  • Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL) - This laser uses yellow light, making it easily absorbable by the hemoglobin in the blood. It is usually used in the treatment of skin blemishes caused by abnormalities in the blood vessels.

A gentler treatment known as non-ablative laser resurfacing (NLite) or photo-rejuvenation has been introduced to treat all types of wrinkles. The treatment involves the use of light to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, keeping the skin tissue intact. This procedure may not be as effective as laser resurfacing, but can be used in those areas where the skin is thin.


While laser resurfacing is in itself a painless procedure, a person may experience redness and inflammation during the recovery period. The face usually looks swollen and reddened for about 7 to 10 days after the procedure and requires moisturizing. This will eventually lessen over time, but can stick around for a period of up to 4 months after the procedure.