Your guide to laser skin resurfacing: Reducing facial scars, wrinkles and blemishes

Is your skin damaging your confidence and holding you back? It is not uncommon for people to struggle...

Is your skin damaging your confidence and holding you back? It is not uncommon for people to struggle with a less than even complexion, but if you have tried creams, gels and medicated soaps without getting the results you're looking for, more advanced skin-perfecting methods are probably the answer.

Technology today allows consumers access to a variety of options for rejuvenating our appearances. Laser skin resurfacing is growing by the day in popularity because of its targeted approach and proven results. Plastic surgeons and dermatologists are able to dramatically improve the skin's appearance though the outpatient procedure that uses concentrated pulsating beams of light on irregular skin. In as little as 30 minutes, professionals can remove targeted areas of epidermis (outer layer of skin) while stimulating new growth of collagen fibers. After the treated area has had time to heal, patients are typically left with a visibly smoother, firmer complexion. Before contacting a plastic surgeon near you, here are a few things you should know.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, skin resurfacing can improve facial conditions such as the following:

  • Wrinkles and fine lines
  • Sun damaged skin/premature aging
  • Scars from injury or illness (chickenpox)
  • Skin that did not respond to a facelift
  • Yellow or grey skin tones
  • Birthmarks
  • Warts or moles
  • Large pores (on your nose)

What happens during the procedure?

Your doctor will numb the treatment area with local anesthetic, or for more extensive treatments general anesthesia could be used for the comfort of the patient. Eyes are covered with protective eyewear, and then the physician will use one of two types of lasers to vaporize skin cells: carbon dioxide (CO2) or erbium. The main difference in the two is that CO2 lasers penetrate into deeper layers of the skin than erbium, which only breaks through the first three layers.

For patients with deeper scars or more pronounced pigmentation, the CO2 has its advantages; however, the heeling period is longer and more intense than that of erbium laser treated skin. Patients often report feeling varying degrees of heat throughout the procedure, and may feel like they have a sunburn afterwards. You can expect to be in the chair for 30 minutes to several hours depending on the technique used and size of the treatment area. Initially, you will have bandages applied over the skin and changed out during the first week. To aid the healing process, ointment application could also be directed by your doctor.

Will it hurt?

Skin resurfacing through laser technology is essentially removing layers of your skin filled with tiny nerve endings, making it a potentially painful process. That is why your doctor will numb the area and possibly prescribe a sedative to help you relax before and throughout the treatment. Painkillers post-procedure are also typically prescribed to help keep you comfortable as your face regenerates new skin cells. You may also want to use an ice pack and keep your head elevated. Redness, swelling, itching or stinging are often reported. Your doctor will go over all the risks before beginning a laser skin resurfacing procedure, which may include infection, irregular pigmentation or texture, and scaring. If you are known to get cold sores, you should tell your doctor because this procedure can trigger further breakouts. The decision to have cosmetic procedures is a very personal one, and you should do your own research and ask questions before deciding on an action plan.

What kind of results should I expect?

The dramatic skin improvement is surprising for many people. Fresh new skin and newly generated collagen make you look young and renewed after this relatively simple treatment.

Ask your doctor about special makeup for minimizing redness the first month or two after resurfacing. Patients should take steps to protect their new skin from future damage by wearing sunscreen and maintaining a healthy skin care routine of cleaning and applying moisturizer. Avoid smoking as it can prolong healing time.

How much will this treatment cost me?

Depending on the type of treatment, how big the treatment area is, the doctor and where you live, laser treatment costs anywhere from several hundred dollars to $5,000. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates that in 2009 in the U.S., the average fees were $1,167 to $2,193 for just the surgeon, plus additional fees. According to online review postings, Atlanta-area offices generally charge around $2,000 to $2,500 for the program start to finish. This may include physician fees, facility costs, anesthesia, medications and testing. Remember to speak with your insurance company before you sign up for anything, and ask your doctor's office about financing options. You should get several estimates before signing on; that way you know will feel more confident in your choice not only from a cost perspective, but also in getting to know the professional who will be helping to transform your skin.

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