Laser resurfacing - Mayo Clinic (2024)


Laser resurfacing is a facial rejuvenation procedure that uses a laser to improve the skin's appearance or treat minor facial flaws. It can be done with:

  • Ablative laser. This type of laser removes the thin outer layer of skin (epidermis) and heats the underlying skin (dermis), which stimulates the growth of collagen — a protein that improves skin firmness and texture. As the epidermis heals and regrows, the treated area appears smoother and tighter. Types of ablative therapy include a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, an erbium laser and combination systems.
  • Nonablative laser or light source. This approach also stimulates collagen growth. It's a less aggressive approach than an ablative laser and has a shorter recovery time. But the results are less noticeable. Types include pulsed-dye laser, erbium (Er:YAG) and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy.

Both methods can be delivered with a fractional laser, which leaves microscopic columns of untreated tissue throughout the treatment area. Fractional lasers were developed to shorten recovery time and reduce the risk of side effects.

Laser resurfacing can lessen the appearance of fine lines in the face. It can also treat loss of skin tone and improve your complexion. Laser resurfacing can't eliminate excessive or sagging skin.

Why it's done

Laser resurfacing can be used to treat:

  • Fine wrinkles
  • Age spots
  • Uneven skin tone or texture
  • Sun-damaged skin
  • Mild to moderate acne scars

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Laser resurfacing can cause side effects. Side effects are milder and less likely with nonablative approaches than with ablative laser resurfacing.

  • Redness, swelling, itching and pain. Treated skin may swell, itch or have a burning sensation. Redness may be intense and might last for several months.
  • Acne. Applying thick creams and bandages to your face after treatment can worsen acne or cause you to temporarily develop tiny white bumps (milia) on treated skin.
  • Infection. Laser resurfacing can lead to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. The most common infection is a flare-up of the herpes virus — the virus that causes cold sores. In most cases, the herpes virus is already present but dormant in the skin.
  • Changes in skin color. Laser resurfacing can cause treated skin to become darker than it was before treatment (hyperpigmentation) or lighter (hypopigmentation). Permanent changes in skin color are more common in people with dark brown or Black skin. Talk with your doctor about which laser resurfacing technique reduces this risk.
  • Scarring. Ablative laser resurfacing poses a slight risk of scarring.

Laser resurfacing isn't for everyone. Your doctor might caution against laser resurfacing if you:

  • Have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Amnesteem) during the past year
  • Have a connective tissue or autoimmune disease or a weak immune system
  • Have a history of keloid scars
  • Have had radiation therapy to the face
  • Have a history of previous laser resurfacing
  • Are prone to cold sores or have had a recent outbreak of cold sores or herpes virus
  • Have darker brown or Black skin or are very tanned
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have a history of an outward-turning eyelid (ectropion)

How you prepare

Before you have laser resurfacing, your doctor will likely:

  • Ask about your medical history. Be prepared to answer questions about current and past medical conditions and any medications you are taking or have taken recently. Your doctor might also ask about previous cosmetic procedures you've had and how you react to sun exposure — for example, do you burn easily? rarely?
  • Do a physical exam. Your doctor will inspect your skin and the area that will be treated. This helps determine what changes can be made and how your physical features — for example, the tone and thickness of your skin — might affect your results.
  • Discuss your expectations. Talk with your doctor about your motivations, expectations and the potential risks. Together, you can decide whether laser resurfacing is right for you and, if so, which approach to use. Make sure you understand how long it'll take to heal and what your results might be.

Before laser resurfacing, you might also need to:

  • Take medication to prevent complications. If you're having ablative laser resurfacing — or nonablative laser resurfacing and you have a history of herpes infections around your mouth — your doctor will prescribe an antiviral medication before and after treatment to prevent a viral infection. Depending on your medical history, your doctor might recommend other medications before your procedure.
  • Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Too much sun up to two months before the procedure can cause permanent irregular pigmentation in treated areas. Discuss sun protection and acceptable sun exposure with your doctor.
  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, try to stop at least two weeks before and after your treatment. This improves your chance of avoiding complications and helps your body heal.
  • Arrange for a ride home. If you're going to be sedated during laser resurfacing, you'll need help getting home after the procedure.

What you can expect

During the procedure

How laser resurfacing is done

Laser resurfacing - Mayo Clinic (1)

How laser resurfacing is done

During ablative laser resurfacing, a laser destroys the outer layer of skin (epidermis). As the wound heals, new skin forms that's smoother and tighter.

Your doctor may do laser resurfacing as an outpatient procedure. Your care team will numb skin with medication. For extensive resurfacing, such as treatment to your whole face, you might be sedated.

During ablative laser resurfacing, an intense beam of light energy (laser) is directed at your skin. The laser beam destroys the outer layer of skin (epidermis). At the same time, the laser heats the underlying skin (dermis), which stimulates collagen production over time, resulting in better skin tone and texture. Ablative laser resurfacing typically takes between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the technique used and the size of the area treated. This approach usually needs only one treatment.

If you're undergoing nonablative laser treatment or fractional Er:YAG laser resurfacing, you'll likely need 1 to 3 treatments scheduled over weeks or months to get the results you're looking for.

After the procedure

After ablative laser resurfacing, the treated skin will be raw, swollen and itchy. Your doctor will apply a thick ointment to the treated skin and might cover the area with an airtight and watertight dressing. You may take a pain reliever and use ice packs. New skin usually covers the area in one or two weeks and full recovery takes at least a month. During this time do not use products that may irritate your face, such as cosmetics. And avoid situations that increase your risk of infection, such as public whirlpools. Always use sun protection following laser resurfacing.

After nonablative laser resurfacing, recovery time is minimal. Your skin might be swollen or inflamed for a few hours. Use ice packs as needed. Typically, you can resume your usual activities and skin routine immediately.


After ablative laser resurfacing, your skin might stay inflamed for up to several months. But once the treatment area begins to heal, you'll notice a difference in your skin quality and appearance. The effects can last for years.

Results after nonablative laser resurfacing tend to be gradual and progressive. You're more likely to notice improvements in skin texture and pigment than in wrinkles.

After laser resurfacing, always use sun protection. As you age, you'll continue to get lines by squinting and smiling. New sun damage also can reverse your results. Every day, use a moisturizer and a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Laser resurfacing - Mayo Clinic (2024)


Is laser resurfacing worth it? ›

Laser resurfacing can lessen the appearance of fine lines in the face. It can also treat loss of skin tone and improve your complexion. Laser resurfacing can't eliminate excessive or sagging skin.

How much does laser resurfacing cost in the US? ›

The price of laser skin resurfacing can fluctuate considerably due to various influencing factors. The average cost of a single treatment session ranges from $500 to $3,000. However, it is crucial to consider that multiple sessions may be required to achieve the desired results.

What is the best laser resurfacing procedure? ›

One of the best lasers for skin resurfacing, Fraxel Repair effectively treats deep lines and wrinkles, sunspots and age spots, uneven skin tone and texture, hyperpigmentation, scarring, and melasma. The laser is also renowned for producing long-lasting results.

Who is not a good candidate for laser resurfacing? ›

Reasons You May Not Be a Good Candidate

You have deep wrinkles. You're on certain medications that might cause more damage to your skin. You have a skin condition that hasn't been properly treated.

What are the disadvantages of laser resurfacing? ›

Mild Itching – The treated skin may be swollen and itchy, typically in cases where a previous skin condition has been aggravated by the treatment. Pigmentation Changes – In some cases, you may experience changes to the pigmentation of the treated area, including the darkening or lightening of the area.

Is 70 too old for laser resurfacing? ›

However, treatments are still highly effective beyond these years, with amazing results, so it's never too late! We will always champion people's right to feel good about themselves and to look their best at ANY age.

How painful is laser resurfacing? ›

For most patients, laser skin resurfacing is not painful or causes very little pain that is manageable. Some people describe the feeling during a laser procedure as a stinging sensation or the feeling of a rubber band being pulled taut and snapped across the skin.

How many sessions does laser resurfacing take? ›

Most patients need 3 to 4 laser skin resurfacing sessions for optimal results. But some patients also need a lot more sessions. You should also opt for maintenance treatments once or twice a year to maintain flawless skin.

Do celebrities get laser resurfacing? ›

Joan Rivers was probably the actress who talked most openly about all the plastic surgeries that she'd undergone. Famous singers and actors who have spoken frankly about receiving laser skin therapy include Cate Blanchett, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Anniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Meryl Streep.

What are two drawbacks of laser therapy? ›

Laser therapy can result in misdirected or excessively intense burns, bleeding from the choriocapillaris, damage to macular and other ocular structures, and breaks in Bruch's membrane.

What is better laser resurfacing or Microneedling? ›

Some skin types and concerns respond better to laser therapy while other benefit more from microneedling. Men and women who want to reduce wrinkles, age spots, blemishes, scarring, large pores, and improve skin tone and texture may benefit from microneedling.

What does your face look like after laser resurfacing? ›

Immediately after treatment, your skin will be red and feel sensitive and sunburned. Redness, swelling, itching or stinging may last for a few days. Depending on the treatment, skin may even appear raw, ooze a yellow liquid and even blister.

What is better than laser resurfacing? ›

MicroLaserPeel is different and much more effective at rejuvenating the skin than microdermabrasion or chemical peels. It is also less invasive than Laser Skin Resurfacing, so the recovery time is significantly less.

How much younger does laser resurfacing make you look? ›

The skin resurfacing laser works by sending a beam through the skin to create tiny columns within it. The skin will naturally go to work to repair those columns by pushing out old skin and replacing it with new skin. The newer and healthier skin can make people look up to ten years younger very quickly.

Can laser resurfacing go wrong? ›

Fortunately, true complications of laser resurfacing are very rare (Table 2). The most severe problem, and one that often results in scarring, is infection. 13,14 Patients may be infected by a variety of agents. Herpes simplex infection may occur after laser treatment (Figure 9).

How long after laser resurfacing do you see results? ›

For most people, this means it may take two to three weeks to see any significant results of this treatment. Many patients opt to take time off of work for at least 10 to 14 days for this reason. You may notice the best results of your resurfacing treatment about 30 days after your appointment.

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