Your guide to facial lasers

By: Grace Toby

Getty Images Author: Grace Toby


Your guide to facial lasers

By: Grace Toby
Imagine zapping away a skin imperfection in the blink of an eye. Today, with modern laser technology, you can improve acne scars, age spots and rough skin in a flash. Bonus: You can come out from under that Instagram filter. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, women’s use of laser resurfacing jumped 217 percent from 2000 to 2014.

What is laser resurfacing?
Laser resurfacing is a noninvasive anti-aging treatment that heats up skin cells, resulting in damaged skin cells being vaporized or sloughed off (depending on the type of laser). This results in stimulated collagen production and improved appearance of age spots, wrinkles, skin laxity and scars. The laser, by wounding the skin through heat, stimulates collagen production.

What are the options?
A dermal resurfacing procedure can use either a nonfractional laser—which covers the skin like a blanket, targeting all skin cells—or a more gentle fractional laser that only targets a small percentage of the skin at a time. This is why fractional laser treatments require more than one visit for an area to be completely treated. Fractional lasers “create thousands of microscopic circular columns of skin that are surrounded by intact skin,” says Dr. Sonya Cook, a Toronto dermatologist. “This results in rapid healing, as the rim of unaffected skin quickly migrates and heals the treated areas.” In both cases, superficial sun-damaged, pigmented cells are removed either through vaporization (nonfractional) or heat (fractional), both of which contribute to the promotion of collagen production.

Fractional laser treatments fall under two broad categories: ablative and nonablative. Ablative lasers burn or wound the targeted skin cells, while nonablative lasers are less invasive and gently heat up the cells. “Ablative laser treatments are more effective than nonablative, but they also typically require more recovery time and have a slightly higher risk of infection,” says Dr. Cook. Bottom line: Where one heats the skin (nonablative), the other burns it (ablative).

How effective is a treatment?
Laser resurfacing can produce dramatic changes in skin pigmentation, texture and laxity, though how quickly you see results depends on the type of laser treatment you select. For optimal results from a fractional laser resurfacing treatment, the pros recommend three to five visits. Results vary depending on depth (how deep into the epidermis the laser penetrates) and density (how many columns of skin are removed). “More aggressive treatments require a longer recovery time but also deliver superior results,” says Dr. Cook.

Is it permanent?
In a word—no. Maintenance is required to maintain results. “Laser resurfacing can really help turn back the clock, but then the clock starts to run again,” says Dr. Cook. She recommends maintenance therapy of one or two treatments per year to sustain and improve your results.

Are you a good candidate?
“Laser resurfacing can be tailored to treat all skin types. However, more aggressive procedures are best suited to those with fairer skin,” says Dr. Cook. This is because people with darker skin tones are at an increased risk of pigmentary change. Women of colour are still candidates for many laser procedures, as the risks can be mitigated with sun protection, use of appropriate lasers and pretreatment with hydroquinone. Your dermatologist or skin-care provider can determine which procedure is best for you based on your initial skin assessment.

Is it painful?
Most patients find that topical anesthesia allows resurfacing procedures to be quite comfortable. “Superficial nonablative fractional resurfacing can often be performed without anesthesia,” says Dr. Cook. “A cooling device also helps improve the comfort of the procedure.”

What are the side-effects?
Serious side-effects are rare with proper medical care, but there can be some minor ones. “Swelling, redness and peeling are common following the procedure,” says Dr. Cook, “and patients need to be monitored closely for signs of infection following procedures.” A change in increased pigmentation is the most common delayed side-effect, and that risk increases with darker skin and with sun exposure following treatment.

What does it cost?
Laser treatments can range from approximately $800 to more than $2,000 per treatment. The fee can increase, depending on depth and density, and is typically higher for ablative procedures.

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Your guide to facial lasers