Recovering from Laser Skin Resurfacing: Tips + What to Expect
Laser skin resurfacing (sometimes referred to as a laser peel) is a highly effective non-surgical procedure that can address numerous aging symptoms including wrinkles, sun damage, and acne scars. The treatment uses concentrated laser energy to reinvigorate the outer layers of the skin, minimizing the appearance of wrinkles, pigmentation, and scarring. The process also initiates the production of new collagen and elastin, yielding long lasting improvements to skin quality, texture, and firmness.
While laser skin resurfacing is a fairly routine minimally invasive procedure, there are numerous post-treatment guidelines that should be followed to insure a proper recovery. Here’s what to expect after undergoing laser resurfacing, along with tips on making recovery quick and easy.
Note: The process of recovering from laser resurfacing treatments can differ greatly from individual to individual as each individual differs in terms of their body’s recovery process and pain tolerance. Additionally, the specific type of laser used and the depth of treatment directly affect and recovery time. As such, your recovery could differ from what is outlined within this post.
Non-ablative Laser Resurfacing
Non-ablative laser resurfacing is far less invasive than resurfacing done by an ablative laser. Rather than removing layers of the skin, popular non-ablative lasers like Fraxel Dual and Clear + Brilliant use laser heat the under layers of the skin (dermis) in order to stimulate collagen development. While this results in less dramatic results, it also means little to no side effects and necessary recovery time.
- Directly Following Treatment: Most patients will notice their skin appears slightly red or swollen and feel mildly dry. The period application of a cold compress can help calm the skin. Patients can apply makeup right after treatment and resume their normal daily activities immediately.
- 1 Week Following Treatment: Depending on the laser used, the patient may notice some light flaking and peeling of the skin. This will cease within 5-7 days, at which point the skin is fully healed.
Ablative Laser Resurfacing
Ablative lasers like Fraxel Re:Pair use an intense beam of laser energy to remove (destroy) the outer layers of the skin (epidermis). This controlled wounding literally eviscerates wrinkles, pigmentation, and scarring. The new skin formed in the treatment area is smoother, tighter, and more youthful in appearance. The results of ablative resurfacing are dramatic, but full recovery can take 4-6 weeks.
- Directly Following Treatment: The skin appears highly red, swollen, and scabby. It’s common for patients to feel a moderate amount of pain, but most times this can be managed with an over-the-counter pain reliever and cold compress. The skin may feel itchy but it’s important for patients to refrain from touching or scratching the treatment area.
- 3 to 8 Days Following Treatment: Crusting or scabbing of the skin occurs as the wounds heal and the new skin layer develops. This period of crusting can differ based on the type of laser used and the depth or intensity of treatment. For CO2 lasers, crusting occurs anywhere between 3-8 days following treatment while erbium lasers crusting 3-4 days post post-procedure
- 1-2 Weeks Following Treatment: The new skin should be completely covering the treatment area. However, most patients will still exhibit a redness or pinkness of their skin. Makeup can be worn as soon as the new skin layer is fully established. At the end of this period most patients can return to work and moderate physical activity.
- 1-2 Months Following Treatment: The skin is typically fully healed and the final results of the resurfacing are revealed. Patients can resume intense physical activity.
Tips for a Speedy Recovery
- Make sure to follow all post-treatment instructions from your provider
- A cold compress can be applied to the area to reduce pain and discomfort
- Refrain from touching or scratching the treatment area
- Do not apply makeup until peeling/crusting ceases and the new layer of skin is fully healed
- Harsh skin care products that contain ingredients like retinol or glycolic acid should also be avoided
- Sleep with your head elevated on an extra pillow
- Consider applying Aquaphor daily to protect the treatment area while it heals
- Refrain from picking or peeling the scabs or skin at the treatment area
- Avoid sun exposure for the first 1-2 weeks following treatment
- Always wear a high SPF sunscreen that is formulated for sensitive skin to protect new skin from UV rays
- Use moisturizer on the new skin as directed by your provider
- Stay properly hydrated by drinking lots of water