Laser Skin Resurfacing – How Does It Work

Are you frustrated with sun- and age-damaged skin that makes you look years older than you feel? If you’re looking for a long-term solution to wrinkles, acne scars, pigmentation issues, and other skin concerns, you may want to look into laser skin resurfacing (LSR).

Also known as “fractional resurfacing,” laser skin resurfacing is a precise surgery that actually removes thin layers of skin to erase sun damage, wrinkles, scars, and other blemishes.

Keep reading to learn more about this cosmetic surgery and if LSR is right for you.

What is LSR & what is it good for?

LSR is an invasive cosmetic surgery that removes the top, damaged layers of the skin. The new cells that form during the recovery period can give the skin a younger, tighter appearance.

LSR isn’t a miracle treatment, and it’s important to note that your skin won’t be perfect after the procedure. In addition, wrinkles caused by the natural movement of your face will eventually come back.

LSR is considered surgery and will require extended recovery time and a specific pretreatment plan. The procedure is most often used to treat skin problems on the face, but can also be used on the neck, hands, and chest.

Who should consider it & who should avoid it?

You are an ideal candidate if you have:

  • Blotches or pigmentation problems
  • Sun damage
  • Wrinkles around the mouth and eyes
  • Loose skin in the eyelid area
  • Scars that affect the texture of your skin
  • Certain precancerous skin growths

You should avoid LSR if you:

  • Cannot commit to the pretreatment program
  • Aren’t willing to shell out at least $1,300
  • Are unable to quit smoking for at least four weeks
  • Want a quick solution
  • Have thin/sensitive skin

What does LSR treat/achieve?

opti-skin-2LSR treats skin that has been damaged by sun exposure, acne, and age. It is a long-term solution for scars, blotches, lines, and wrinkles. The treatment can provide tighter skin along with a more even, less textured complexion that will make you look healthier and younger

LSR utilizes three different types of lasers. The laser(s) your doctor uses will depend on your goals and the severity of skin damage. In some cases, the doctor will recommend combination treatment using multiple types of lasers.

Ablative Laser

Ablative lasers utilize quick pulses of high-intensity light to remove the upper layers of the skin. This laser is used to erase wrinkles and scars, correct pigmentation issues, and tighten the skin.

Ablative lasers cause uniform injury to the skin, and are more akin to dermabrasion or a chemical peel.

Non-ablative Laser

Non-ablative lasers are less invasive and do not physically wound the patient. This type of laser stimulates collagen growth (which tightens the skin), but does not actually remove layers of skin.

These lasers are used mainly to treat fine lines and wrinkles. Results may take months to appear.

Fractional Lasers

Fractional” lasers, which can be non-ablative or ablative, drill tiny holes into the skin. Your skin heals by “connecting the dots,” so to speak, which results in tighter skin.

The fractional laser causes less surface damages but greater depth injury. It is used to treat sun damage, deep winkles, melasma, and acne scarring.

Potential Risks/Side Effects

Significant complications are rare, but here are some of the potential risks associated with LSR:

  • Scarring
  • Burns (from the laser)
  • Changes in pigmentation (lighter or darker)
  • Bacterial infection (during healing process)
  • Triggering herpes cold sores
  • Hematoma or seroma (which may have to be removed)
  • Changes in sensation
  • Allergic reaction

Who is qualified to perform laser skin resurfacing?

LSR is performed by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. When choosing a doctor, you should look for the following:

  • Education/training
  • Certification
  • Past experience with LSR
  • Your comfort level with her/him

How much does it cost?

The cost of LSR varies by person (severity of treatment), by doctor, and by region, but expect to spend between $1,300 and $2,300. LSR is a “cosmetic” surgery, so most insurance companies will not pay for it.


You should always consult with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon before making the decision to undergo LSR.

You will always have an initial consultation before the surgery. During this meeting, you will discuss your concerns and goals with the surgeon. He or she will then evaluate you and explain in realistic terms what he or she can do for your skin.

Be prepared to discuss your full medical history when you schedule your consultation and make sure to tell the specialist if you:

  • Have had X-ray treatments on your face
  • Have undergone a chemical peeling procedure
  • Use or have used Accutane/ Retin-A

Do not take any supplements or medications that can affect blood clotting for ten days before the procedure; this includes ibuprofen, aspirin, and vitamin E.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics before the treatment to prevent any bacterial infections that may occur as a result of the surgery. LSR has been known to trigger fever blisters/cold sores. If you are prone to these maladies, your doctor may also prescribe an antiviral medication.

Unprotected sun exposure up to two months before the surgery can cause irregularities in treated areas, so make sure to wear sunscreen and stay out of direct sunlight whenever possible.

Smoking cigarettes can inhibit the healing process, so it’s important to avoid smoking two weeks before and two weeks after the surgery.

Remember, the success of your pretreatment plan depends on you.

What to expect during treatment

optimized-screenshot-2016-11-28-19-57-08LSR is an outpatient procedure, which means you will be able to return home the same day.

Before the surgery, the doctor will provide you with eye shields to protect your retinas from the light of the laser.

During the process, the doctor will use a laser-emitting wand to damage the upper layers of the skin. Depending on your skin condition(s), the specialist may treat the skin around your mouth, forehead, or eyes. In same cases, he or she will treat the entire face.

Your doctor will use local anesthesia for small areas or general anesthesia for the entire face. In some cases, the doctor will sedate the patient.

The length of the treatment ranges from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the amount of the face being treated. Most LSR procedures last at least 60 minutes.

For your safety, monitors will track your pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels during the surgery. You will be housed in a recovery area directly after the procedure, where you will be monitored until the doctor deems you fit to leave the facility/hospital.

You should plan ahead to have someone drive you home after the surgery and stay with you overnight in case of complications.

What to expect after treatment

opti-skinAll treated areas will be bandaged after the surgery. During the days immediately following the surgery, you will need to clean all treated areas 4-5 times per day and apply ointment to prevent scabs.

You may experience pain, swelling, stinging, and itching after the procedure, and your doctor may even prescribe steroids to treat swelling around the eyes.

Your skin will begin to peel about one week after treatment, but the healing process takes between 10 and 21 days. After this time period patients can wear oil-free makeup.

Redness will persist for 2-3 months, but most patients agree that the results are worth the wait.

You’ll notice that treated areas will be lighter in color after the procedure. It’s vital that you use broad-spectrum sunscreen for at least one month after the procedure and that you stay out of the sun while your skin is healing.

Look for facial sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If other areas of the body were treated, cover them with clothing when you go outside.

Your “new skin” must be kept moisturized. If you use glycolic acid or Retin-A products, you must wait about six weeks after the procedure to start using them again.

Drink plenty of water before and after treatment to stay hydrated.

Alternatives: cheaper, less invasive, and DIY

personalLSR can be considered “invasive” in that is a surgery and that a full recovery can take up to three months. If you don’t want to undergo actual surgery, take time off from work, or have to commit to a rigorous pretreatment and post-treatment plan, consider the following options:

Microdermabrasion: do it yourself with an at-home device (like the one pictured at left) or visit a spa for this refreshing and rejuvenating treatment. The average cost for a single microdermabrasion treatment is $122.

Dermabrasion: similar to LSR but less invasive, dermabrasion can be thought of as “sanding” the skin to remove the upper layer of damaged skin. Dermabrasion treatments are similar in cost to LSR treatments.

Exfoliation: scrub away dead skin each morning with an effective yet inexpensive exfoliant.

Chemical peel: like LSR, this treatment removes the top, damaged layer of skin; chemical peels are performed by professionals and require some recovery time.

Click here to learn more about the “red carpet facial.” 


Laser skin resurfacing is a long-term solution for individuals with serious skin concerns. If you’re looking to treat fine lines or small pigmentation issues, I would recommend microdermabrasion.

Remember, LSR is a surgery and should not be undergone without serious consideration. Always speak with a dermatologist or doctor before choosing cosmetic surgery.

Click here to learn more about anti-aging products and solutions.

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