Laser Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing is an outpatient cosmetic procedure used to treat minor facial flaws. This relatively new treatment can reduce wrinkles, skin discoloration and scarring, but laser skin care isn’t right for everyone.

Why Consider Laser Resurfacing?

Laser facial resurfacing can treat a range of skin problems, including:

  • Acne/chickenpox scars
  • Damage from sun exposure
  • Liver spots
  • Fine lines and moderate wrinkles
  • Skin discoloration
  • Wrinkles around the mouth and eyes.

If you have extremely dark skin or acne, laser skin resurfacing is not an option for you. Laser resurfacing also won’t help with very deep wrinkles or sagging skin.

Types of Lasers

Both carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium lasers are used for laser skin care. Doctors have used CO2 laser resurfacing for years to treat skin conditions. Newer CO2 lasers allow doctors to precisely deliver treatment. The procedure has a recovery time of up to two weeks.

Erbium laser resurfacing minimizes injury to the surrounding tissue and reduces side effects. Erbium lasers may work better for people with dark skin tones. This treatment has a recovery time of about one week.

Your doctor can decide which laser is best for you by evaluating your medical history, current physical condition and the results you want.

The Laser Resurfacing Procedure

Laser facial resurfacing is an outpatient procedure requiring local anesthetic and a sedative. The doctor directs a high-energy laser with short, concentrated pulsating beams of light at your skin. Laser skin resurfacing removes skin, layer by layer, in a precise manner. As outer layers of skin are removed, the laser also heats the underlying skin, which stimulates the production of collagen.

Depending on the area treated and the severity of the skin condition, the laser resurfacing process takes between 30 minutes and a few hours. Your doctor will place a local anesthetic on your skin and may give you a sedative as well.

After the procedure, your doctor applies an ointment and a nonstick dressing, which you leave on for 24 hours. Then you clean the treated area with a solution of saline or diluted vinegar several times a day, and apply an ointment as recommended by your doctor. This post-laser skin care helps prevent scabs.

Skin treated with laser resurfacing can react in various ways. Many people feel like they have a slight to severe sunburn. Minor swelling and redness may occur, sometimes with itching or stinging, for 12 to 72 hours after the procedure. About a week after laser resurfacing, your skin will turn dry and begin to peel, and new skin starts to form. This skin will look pink and can take up to a year to return to its normal color.

Laser Resurfacing Side Effects

The potential side effects of laser skin resurfacing include:

  • Acne outbreaks
  • Herpes virus infection
  • Hyperpigmentation (dark patches of skin)
  • Hypopigmentation (lighter areas of skin)
  • Infection with bacteria
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Scarring
  • Swelling.

You skin may be sensitive to the sun for about six months after laser facial resurfacing. During this time, it’s important to avoid excessive sun exposure and to use sunscreen in order to prevent damage to the new skin.


American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. (2010). Laser resurfacing information. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Laser resurfacing. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from

Cleveland Clinic. (2007). Laser resurfacing information. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from