Cosmetic Procedures
Laser Skin Rejuvenation: What to Expect Before, During, and After

Lasers are used to treat a number of aging-skin concerns. The following explains what happens before, during, and after laser skin rejuvenation.

What to Expect Before Laser Skin Rejuvenation
While people of any age who are in good health may be a candidate for laser skin rejuvenation, a consultation is essential before the procedure. During this consultation, a dermatologist will gather your medical history. Be sure to tell your dermatologist if you have:

  • Had unusual or prolonged wound healing

  • Any blood-clotting problems

  • A tendency to scar (keloid or raised scar)

  • An infectious disease such as hepatitis or HIV

  • Had a cosmetic procedure, especially a filler, surgical facelift, or eyelid lift

  • Taken isotretinoin (a medication used to treat severe acne)

These will not necessarily preclude laser skin rejuvenation but may affect how the dermatologist proceeds.

During the consultation, your dermatologist will closely examine your skin. The success of any cosmetic procedure depends on effectively diagnosing what is causing the aging-skin concern and knowing how deeply the concern penetrates the skin.

If laser skin rejuvenation will diminish the signs of aging that concern you and is appropriate for you, your dermatologist will tell you what can be expected, the number of treatments needed, and potential side effects.

Between the consultation and the procedure, it is important to protect your skin from the sun and not tan. Lasers skin rejuvenation is not performed on skin that is tan or sunburned.

If deep resurfacing is recommended, you will be given a skin care plan to follow before the procedure. Your dermatologist may prescribe a variety of topical (applied to the skin) and/or oral medications. What is prescribed depends on the type of laser to be used and the signs of aging to be treated.

What to Expect During Laser Skin Rejuvenation
While what happens during this procedure varies greatly with the type of laser or light therapy used, there are some similarities. These procedures are generally performed in a room set up specifically for laser or light therapy. Before the procedure, the skin is cleansed to remove oils and makeup. The patient is given eye protection, and topical anesthesia may be given.

If photodynamic therapy (PDT) will be performed, a substance that makes the skin more sensitive to light, a photosensitizer, will be applied and left on the skin for 30 minutes or longer.

The actual procedure involves the dermatologist using a wand-like laser or other handheld device that emits light. As the device is fired, it releases energy. Some people say this feels as if a rubber band is being snapped against the skin. After the treatment, ice packs may be applied to reduce the swelling and discomfort.

This 68-year-old woman did not like the deep lines around her mouth.


Two months after undergoing an ablative laser procedure

(Photos used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)

What to Expect After Laser Skin Rejuvenation
What you see after the procedure depends on the type of laser or other light therapy used. After a procedure with a non-ablative laser or IPL, you will not have a visible wound. But the treated skin will likely be red and puffy. These effects last a few hours and can be covered up with makeup. There is generally no downtime.

After photodynamic therapy (PDT) or treatment with a fractional laser, the downtime is generally 1 to 3 days. Before leaving your dermatologist’s office, you will be given post-treatment instructions. After PDT, emphasis will be placed on how to protect your skin from the sun and other bright light. Sun exposure after PDT can be very painful and result in a severe sunburn and blistering.

Downtime ranging from 3 days to 3 weeks is necessary after an ablative laser procedure because your skin will have a visible wound. While this wound will heal quickly, redness can last for 1 to 4 months — or even longer after some laser treatments. For about 1 year, you may experience visible flushing whenever you exert yourself.

At-home care following an ablative laser procedure includes wound care. For a specified number of days, you will need to use soaks and apply ointment. You may need to take an antibiotic and an antiviral to help prevent infection.

It is important to follow all instructions given after the procedure. Not following your dermatologist’s instructions regarding sun protection and wound care can cause side effects. These include scarring, long-lasting redness, and the appearance of spider veins. Following your dermatologist’s instructions also will help you see the best possible results.

Alexiades-Armenakas MR, Dover JS, Arndt KA. “Laser Therapy.” In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Rapini RP et al, editors. Dermatology. 2nd edition. Spain, Mosby Elsevier; 2008. p. 2099, 2111-6.

Tope WD and Bhardwaj SS. “Photodynamic Therapy.” In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Rapini RP et al, editors. Dermatology. 2nd edition. Spain, Mosby Elsevier; 2008. p. 2083-5.

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Cosmetic Procedures: Laser Skin Rejuvenation





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Page last updated 11/13/08

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