The Surgeon Minute

Resurfacing Sun Damaged Skin with Lasers

Resurfacing Sun Damaged Skin with Lasers

Has your summer tan faded, revealing new brown spots, deepening lines and dull skin? The transition into the fall and winter months is a great time to consider laser skin treatments to reverse sun damage and revitalize your skin.

What are Lasers?

A laser is a device that delivers a short, concentrated beam of light into specific layers of the skin. “Laser is energy that is delivered to the skin. We’re stimulating the skin,” explains board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Sean Doherty. “The skin will come back thicker, stronger, more revitalized and younger.”

While the anti-aging results of lasers can be great in the hands of an expert, Doherty advises anyone considering laser skin treatments to carefully consider the credentials of the doctor overseeing treatment, as there can also be significant risks involved. “It’s very important for a patient to speak to a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist who understands and uses laser a lot,” emphasizes Doherty. “Bad things can happen with laser, but also very good things can happen.”

Types of Lasers

Dr. Doherty offers his patients a wide variety of laser treatments; there is no one-size-fits-all laser. Skin type, the amount of sun damage and the flexibility for downtime in a patient’s schedule all play a role in determining which laser is right for which patient.

Further, different lasers target different layers of the skin. Some lasers target the outer layers of the skin, while others target only the deeper layers, where the heat of the laser stimulates new collagen growth. While there are hundreds of different brand names of lasers on the market, Dr. Doherty categorizes laser skin treatments into two main categories: ablative and non-ablative.

Ablative Lasers

Ablative lasers, which include erbium lasers and CO2 lasers, deliver a controlled burn to the surface of the skin. “Ablative is aggressive,” shares Doherty. “It takes away a portion of the surface of the skin and it’s important for patients to know that ablative procedures typically have a lot of downtime.”

After treatment, the skin appears raw for the first four to five days. Patients typically experience what feels like a sunburn and may experience oozing and blistering of the skin.

Once the old, damaged layers of skin have shed, the newly revealed skin typically appears pink and swollen for about a week to ten days after treatment. Patients need to minimize exposure to sunlight in the months following ablative laser treatment, as their skin is extra sensitive.

Ablative lasers are extremely effective for reversing significant sun damage. The outer, damaged layers are removed and the deeper layers are stimulated, resulting in younger looking skin both immediately after recovery as well as continued visible improvement for months and possibly years to come.

Ablative  Lasers    

  • Aggressive
  • Surface of the skin is removed
  • Significant downtime
  • Significant results with single treatment
  • Types: Erbium or CO2

Non-Ablative Lasers

Non-ablative lasers are less aggressive. These lasers target only the deeper layers of the skin, leaving the outer surface intact. A commonly known brand name of non-ablative lasers is Fraxel. Fraxel, like other 1540 nanometer lasers, providse anti-aging benefits with minimal downtime.

Non-ablative laser resurfacing.

These less aggressive lasers are often done in a series of treatments, with the patient returning once a month for three or four months for repeat treatments. Post-treatment with a non-ablative laser, the skin will remain red or pink for about 24 or 36 hours. During recovery, the skin will not blister or slough. Doherty describes the resulting improvement as “slow and steady.”

Non-Ablative Lasers

  • Less Aggressive
  • Surface of the skin remains
  • Less downtime
  • Requires multiple treatments
  • Types: Fraxel, 1540 Nanometer

Skin Type & Laser Selection

People with lighter skin tones tend to be more prone to sun damage. The good news is that they also tend to handle heavier lasers better than people with darker skin tones.

“Someone who has darker skin can still have a laser treatment, but it’s important for the plastic surgeon to realize that he or she needs to slow down the laser,” says Doherty.  “It needs to be programmed and determined appropriately.”

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