Laser Skin Resurfacing and its Side Effects

Laser skin resurfacing is one of the minimally invasive skin rejuvenation treatments. With this therapy, you are able to improve skin texture, remove blemishes, reduce signs of aging, in short, you can enhance the overall quality of your skin. Laser skin resurfacing involves removal of external layer of the skin which helps in the growth of fresh, healthy and blemish-free skin.

What is Laser Skin Resurfacing?

In simple terms, laser skin resurfacing is a peel performed with a laser device. Just like a chemical peel, which removes the top most layer of the skin with the help of a chemical, laser removes the layers (more than one layer if required, in case of certain patients) of the skin. This procedure is also referred to as laser peel, laser vaporization laserdermabrasion, laserabrasion and lasabrasion.


How is Laser Skin Resurfacing done?

The skin layers are removed by passing the laser rays. Pulsating beams of light are passed directly into the uneven and damaged skin. The light from the laser device precisely removes the external layer of the skin, gradually.

  • After anaesthetizing the area of the skin which needs resurfacing treatment, the cosmetic surgeon vaporizes the skin cells with the laser.
  • With the help of computers, the carbon dioxide laser (CO2 ) and erbium laser remove the outer layers of your damaged skin. High-tech lasers are used to do the skin resurfacing with precision.
  • To vaporize the skin, laser releases high energy which is capable of heating the cells.
  • It removes very fine layers and doesn’t cause any major damage (especially thermal damage to the nearby layers of skin).
  • Usually, one session is all you need, sometimes, for getting the desired result, it may require to pass laser over the area 2 or 3 times during the same session.

Benefits of Laser Skin Resurfacing

The benefit of laser therapy is that your skin gets toned and looks younger with less noticeable signs of aging and blemishes etc. While the skin doesn’t get picture perfect, the new skin cells that form during healing process after laser treatment, give your skin a tighter, younger looking surface.

Who should do laser skin resurfacing?

Literally, anyone with damaged skin, regardless of the skin damage can be called an ideal candidate for laser skin resurfacing therapy. However, laser skin resurfacing is done usually to treat surface problems of the skin like wrinkles, seborrheic keratoses, solar elastosis, certain scars and pigmentations.

Laser resurfacing is not just limited to facial resurfacing. It is also administered on arms and legs, back and torso. Following are a few skin problems that can be improved with laser skin resurfacing.

  • Acne and acne scars
  • Uneven skin tone and texture
  • Aging signs like wrinkles, crow feet, etc.
  • Dull skin
  • Excessive oily skin
  • Skin with sluggish collagen production
  • Skin suffered from sun damage, pores, dark spots, etc.

Types of Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing is a popular therapy used to treat damaged skin. There are different types of laser skin resurfacing methods available.

Laser skin resurfacing can be broadly classified into two types, ablative therapy and non-ablative therapy.

  • Ablative laser therapy– Also called wounding laser, it removes the outer layers of the skin. It is an invasive skin procedure.
  • Non-ablative laser therapy– Often referred to as non-wounding laser, it stimulates the skin to produce collagen. This makes the skin healthy and younger. It is a non-invasive therapy and the recovery time is less. However, it is not suitable to treat deep wrinkles, dark spots, etc.

Risks and Side-effects of Laser Skin Resurfacing

Thousands of people are treated successfully with laser skin resurfacing procedures, without experiencing any major side effects. However, it doesn’t mean that the laser skin resurfacing procedures are free of risks. The major thing is, those who opt for laser skin resurfacing should understand the benefits and risks involved. Although preferred widely, the side effects of the laser resurfacing should not be overlooked.

Side Effects of Ablative Laser Skin Resurfacing

It is nearly impossible to avoid the side effects caused by the laser therapy. You should follow a lot of pre and post care recommendations to prevent the skin getting damaged. This is one of the major drawbacks of the laser therapy. When it comes to ablative laser skin resurfacing, the side effects are intense.

Following are the common side effects you may experience after getting an ablative laser resurfacing therapy.

Aggravation of acne

One of the worst nightmares of woman is to get acne. Acne is one of the skin problems treated by laser resurfacing. The irony is, ablative laser resurfacing sometimes may aggravate acne. Since the multiple layers of skin are removed, the skin is covered with thick bandages and creams. It can worsen the acne in your face and may cause small white bumps on the skin. Since the skin is treated with laser and outer layers are removed, you cannot do anything to get rid of the acne bumps.

Irritation, redness, swelling and itching

This is something unavoidable and always accompanies laser skin resurfacing therapy. When your skin is treated with an ablative laser and resurfaced, you obviously develop itchy, red and swollen skin. Just think about this! Scratching your skin is something irritating, isn’t it? What happens when your skin is peeled? Although the swelling and itchy skin will subside in a few days, you may feel some kind of irritation. Besides, the skin remains red and inflamed for a few weeks and even months until you develop fresh skin.

How long you experience the redness, swelling and itchiness of the skin depends upon the depth of the skin resurfacing. When the resurfacing is done intensely, you may need several months to recover.

Above all these, if you suffer from any pre-existing skin conditions like dermatitis or rosacea, it might aggravate after resurfacing treatment.

Risk of infection is high

Outer layer of the skin acts as a protective layer. Ablative laser resurfacing removes the outermost layer and additional layers of skin. So, it increases the risk of infection. It may lead to bacterial, viral as well as fungal infection. It also activates the dormant herpes virus present in the skin. So, the therapists and surgeons recommend individuals to take anti-viral shots or pills to avoid infection.

Permanent skin pigmentation

Laser resurfacing makes the skin prone to pigmentation. The treated skin may become darker or lighter than the normal skin tone.

Treated skin turning darker is termed as hyper-pigmentation and the skin turning lighter is termed as hypo-pigmentation. Skin pigmentation undoubtedly affects your appearance and many a times, it becomes permanent. Hyper pigmentation occurs commonly in a lot of dark skinned people who get their skin resurfaced with laser. Although hyper pigmentation can be treated, it makes you look different after getting the resurfacing therapy. Hypo pigmentation is very difficult to treat and you might appear extremely pale, if hypo pigmentation persists.


Similar to pigmentation, scarring also happens in many cases. The bitter truth, in a few cases is, scarring cannot be removed and it stays permanently.

Prolonged healing time

Skin doesn’t heal for several weeks. You should not expose the skin to sun light and prefer staying indoors. The healing time varies in direct proportion to depth of the treatment, as mentioned earlier too. Until the skin is healed, you should take a break from all your duties and even cannot move out.


This condition refers to turning of the eyelids. Laser skin resurfacing involves removal of wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes. Accidentally, the ablative laser may affect the eyelid and make the eyelid turn out. It exposes the inner surface of the eye. It is one of the risky conditions and need an eyelid surgery to treat.

Remember, these are the side effects that happen normally after getting laser skin resurfacing, regardless of precautions you take to protect your skin. The extent of the side-effects and recovery period depends on how you care for your skin before and after laser resurfacing.

Side Effects of Non-Ablative Laser Skin Resurfacing

The side effects of non-ablative laser resurfacing procedure are somewhat minimal when compared with ablative lasers.

Acne flare-ups

One of the unavoidable side effects of laser skin resurfacing is acne flare-ups. Since the pulse lights are passed through the skin to stimulate collagen production, it may cause flare-ups on the skin. However, it is temporary and will subside on its own in a couple of weeks.


Herpes viral infection is another major side-effect of non-ablative laser skin resurfacing therapy.


If you have sensitive skin, you are more likely to develop blisters on the skin, which can end up in scarring.

Redness and Swelling

Redness and swelling are two common side effects that accompany almost all types of laser therapies. You cannot prevent it when you resurface the skin.

Restrictions on Laser Skin Resurfacing

Who should not go for laser skin resurfacing treatment?

Although you may be a right candidate for this therapy, there are certain restrictions. Even if you have skin damages that can be treated with laser skin resurfacing, if you fall into any of the below category, laser skin resurfacing is not for you. It might aggravate the side effects and create a lot of health complications.

Stay away from laser skin resurfacing therapy,

  • If you have taken acne medications in the past one year
  • If you have poor immune system, prone to infections, diabetic or suffer from any auto immune condition that can affect the immunity
  • If you have connective tissue problem
  • If you have undergone any cosmetic surgery or any other laser therapy in the past one year
  • If you have undergone any eye surgery
  • If you have a history of scars developed by overgrowth of the scar tissues
  • If you are pregnant, planning for pregnancy or breastfeeding

Can you reduce the side-effects or risk of laser skin resurfacing therapy?

The current scenario about laser skin resurfacing is, getting the most of it but with minimal down time. Everyone is busy and definitely do not want to stay at home for several days until full recovery.

The percentage of risk of infections and side-effects are inversely proportional to the down time. If you wish for a minimal down time, you are prone to high risk and vice versa. Seeking the right surgeon or aesthetician is the best practice to reduce the extent of side effects. In most cases, poor care, getting treated by an inexperienced therapist, wrong diagnosis, failed to follow the precautions etc aggravates the side effects.

How to minimize the side effects of laser skin resurfacing

  • Review your health records or medical history.
  • Let a dermatologist analyze your skin to decide whether you really need a skin resurfacing procedure.
  • Discuss what you want from the resurfacing therapy. If you have high expectations, you may not be satisfied.
  • Ask questions and clarify all your doubts about the infections, side-effects and complications.
  • Take an oral antibiotic or an antibiotic shot before the therapy to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Completely avoid sun exposure at least for 2 months after the treatment; otherwise it may lead to pigmentation.
  • Follow the post care requirements as advised by the physician.

Laser skin resurfacing is undoubtedly preferred by many, regardless of the fact that it involves some potential side effects. Infections or delayed healing or scarring are not infrequent in laser skin resurfacing, but also occur with many other skin treatments.

Literally, all laser therapies and procedures come with a certain degree of risk. The subject of risks and side-effects as well as potential complications is best discussed with the physician.

And if you didn’t know, there are certain anti aging creams in the market that claim to give similar effect as that of skin laser treatments! Check for yourself some of these laser skin creams

One Response

  1. Parul February 12, 2016

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