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Ablative Laser Resurfacing

With advances in laser technology, it is now possible to significantly improve aged or sun-damaged skin. Ablative laser skin resurfacing is one of the most effective cosmetic procedures for improving aging skin.

The procedure works by delivering an intense wavelength of light to the skin, which removes the outer layers of aged or sun damaged skin. In addition, the laser stimulates the underlying skin, resulting in collagen formation and an improvement in wrinkles. As the lasered skin heals following the procedure, new skin forms that is smoother and tighter.

Ablative lasers are used to treat:

  • Fine to moderate wrinkles
  • Liver spots or age spots
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Sun-damaged skin
  • Acne or chickenpox scars

It is important to note that laser resurfacing cannot remove deep wrinkles or excessive or sagging skin. In addition, the effects aren't permanent because as you age, you continue to develop wrinkles. Repeated treatments may be necessary.

Preparation

If you are considering ablative laser resurfacing, you will first meet with a dermatologic surgeon to discuss your cosmetic goals. You will also discuss your medical history, including previous surgeries, present and past health problems, medications, as well as nutritional and herbal supplements you are taking or have taken at some time. Your dermatologic surgeon will examine your skin to determine if ablative laser resurfacing is the right treatment for you.

Your dermatologic surgeon will give you specific instructions to follow before the procedure. These may include:

  • Take an antiviral medication to prevent a herpes virus infection (common virus that causes cold sores).
  • Minimize excessive sun exposure both before and after laser resurfacing. Too much sun may cause permanent irregular coloration in your facial skin.
  • Depending on the extent of the procedure, make arrangements for the day of surgery. For the first 24 hours after sedation, you may not feel like your usual self. Arrange for someone to drive you home following a laser resurfacing procedure.

Procedure

Ablative laser resurfacing is usually performed in your dermatologic surgeon's office. Before the procedure, your face will be thoroughly cleaned. The areas to be treated will be numbed with a local anesthetic to help reduce pain. You may also be given a sedative to help you relax.

You will wear protective eye shields during the procedure to protect your eyes. Your doctor will hold your skin taut while the laser is fired. The intense heat from the laser causes just the right amount of controlled damage to the small targeted area of skin. This removes aged or sun-damaged skin and at the same time, encourages healthy collagen to grow in its place.

Ablative laser resurfacing typically takes between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the technique used and the size of the area treated.

Recovery

After laser resurfacing, an ointment and dressing will be applied to your skin. Your face will be covered with a mask bandage for a few days.

Your skin will look and feel as though it is severely sunburned. It may be raw, oozing and have significant drainage for up to two weeks following laser resurfacing. You will be instructed on how to care for your skin during the initial healing process. It is important not to pick or scratch at the skin while it is healing.

You may experience pain, tingling, burning and itching. You may use pain medicine and ice packs to relieve your pain.

Remain at home and avoid strenuous activity. It is important to complete the antiviral medication that the doctor has given you to reduce the chance of infection. You will need to have multiple follow-up appointments so your doctor can monitor your recovery.

It typically takes two to four weeks for your skin to completely heal. After about two weeks, new skin grows and covers the wounds. The skin can remain pink and red for many months after the procedures; however most patients can use makeup to cover the skin color after about two weeks.

It is critical to minimize excessive direct sun exposure and use proper sun protection following laser resurfacing. Too much sun may cause permanent irregular coloration in your facial skin.

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Dermatology

Dermatologic Surgery and Laser Center
1701 Divisadero St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 353–7878
Fax: (415) 353–7838

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