What is a laser treatment?

Laser cosmetic surgery treatments — also called laser skin resurfacing or laser peels — use beams or pulses of light energy to treat skin irregularities. Experts also refer to laser-based procedures as laser vaporization or lasabrasion. Laser therapies apply concentrated light and heat to remove damaged skin layers. Your doctor can direct precisely focused light to target specific layers and problems such as discoloration, roughness, lines, scars and blemishes.

At The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, our board certified plastic surgeons perform many types of laser procedures using the latest skin-resurfacing technologies. Treatment approaches vary depending on your skin condition and the areas you want to improve.

Plastic surgeons at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center can advise you on the most appropriate and effective laser skin rejuvenation treatment or other cosmetic procedures. Skin-enhancing options include nonsurgical skin rejuvenation and skincare products and therapies available at Ohio State’s spa services.

Why use laser treatments?

Changes in the outer layers of skin can add up over time. For example, as you age, you may see the effects of sun damage, skin conditions, wrinkles, lines or spots. Eventually, your face, arms or legs may lose the smoothness it once had. Whatever the cause of dull or damaged skin, laser treatments could be an answer. 

There are many types of laser procedures and technologies. They work by applying light beam energy to renew and resurface your skin. The light beam removes the outer layer of damaged skin (epidermis). At the same time, the beam heats the skin beneath (dermis). The laser energy prompts your body to produce more collagen, the fibrous connective tissue that rejuvenates your skin. As your skin heals, you’ll develop a new layer of firmer, smoother skin.

Ohio State plastic surgeons use laser procedures to treat these and other skin conditions: 

  • Acne and other scarring 
  • Age spots and age-related damage 
  • Birthmarks
  • Dull or discolored complexion 
  • Enlarged facial pores
  • Facial lines and wrinkles
  • Skin blemishes
  • Sun-damaged skin
  • Warts

Darker skin absorbs more light, which can cause hyperpigmentation (darkening of skin tone). Depending on your skin type and condition, your doctor may recommend milder laser options or alternatives to laser therapy.

Laser therapy may not be right for you if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, taking certain medications or have: 

  • A tendency to scar easily or abnormally 
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Cold sores or past cold sores
  • Deep lines and wrinkles
  • Excess or sagging skin
  • Severe or active acne
  • Very dark skin tone

Types of laser treatments

Ohio State plastic surgeons stay ahead of the curve, offering the latest clinically tested procedures and technologies to help your skin look its best. Your plastic surgeon customizes your treatment to meet your goals. Treatment options may include: 

Broadband light therapy (BBL) — This laser therapy delivers stronger, broad-spectrum light. Doctors can target this light on different areas such as age spots, sun damage, spider veins and rosacea. BBL may be used to treat the face, neck and chest. Doctors also use it to improve blemished skin on the hands and arms.

Deep resurfacing — This laser therapy can reduce persistent lines and deep-set wrinkles. It rejuvenates your skin, treating furrows, nose-to-mouth lines and lip lines. Deep resurfacing can also revitalize your skin’s tone and texture, reducing sun damage and scarring. 

Fractional laser — This therapy breaks light down into thousands of tiny pinpoint or fractional beams. Doctors may use it to smooth fine lines, wrinkles and scars. In addition, a fractional laser can treat a highly specific portion of your skin and promote collagen growth in surrounding untreated tissue for increased firmness.

Laser hair removal — If you’re tired of waxing, shaving and plucking unwanted hair, laser hair removal can give you a long-term break. It damages your hair follicles, so hairs begin to shed. This process requires a series of treatments and touch-ups over time. Doctors treat unwanted hair on your face, chest, arms, back, bikini line and legs. 

MicroLaserPeel® — Doctors use this technology to remove the outer layer of sun- or age-damaged skin and reach deeper, damaged layers. A MicroLaserPeel can give you a smooth, healthy complexion. It effectively addresses specific concerns such as discoloration, skin texture problems and other common signs of aging.

How to prepare for laser treatments

During office consultations, your doctor will review the areas you’d like to treat and discuss the results you’d like to achieve. Together, you’ll evaluate your health and examine your skin’s condition. The doctor may also photograph your treatment areas to help measure results.

At least six weeks before your treatment, your doctor starts you on advanced skin preparation treatments. These treatments are tailored to your procedure, skin type and condition. They help your doctor achieve the best possible results while also helping you reduce the risk of complications.

What to expect during a laser treatment

Your doctor may schedule your laser procedure at an Ohio State outpatient clinic in Columbus or another convenient location. Before treatment, you can talk with your doctor about oral or topical anesthetic options or medication to keep you as comfortable as possible.

The steps for laser treatments vary. Your doctor will let you know what to expect during and after your procedure. Generally, laser skin resurfacing steps include: 

  • Your plastic surgeon customizes laser settings to your skin type and the areas targeted for treatment.
  • Your skin is cleansed and prepared for treatment. 
  • Your doctor may provide a sedative to help you relax.
  • Depending on the type and location of your laser treatment, you may get protective eyewear during your procedure. 
  • Your doctor may give you a local or general anesthetic for deeper procedures or laser treatments combined with other cosmetic procedures. 
  • Your doctor directs a beam of light to each treatment area. You may notice flashes of light and feel a warm sensation. 
  • As your doctor continues treatment, you may feel mild discomfort for a few seconds – a sensation similar to the snap of a rubber band. The level of discomfort can depend on the area and depth of treatment, the type of laser and other variables.
  • Laser treatments can take half an hour or up to two hours, depending on the procedure, skin condition and areas treated. 

After laser treatment

After your laser procedure is complete, your skin may feel warm and appear red in treated areas. In addition, some people report a mild itching or stinging sensation. Your doctor can recommend over-the-counter medication or prescribe topical or oral medication to ease any discomfort. You may also get a cooling compress or ice pack to ease inflammation.

Also, after your procedure: 

Your doctor may apply a topical solution and cover treated areas with gauze.

Your skin may be raw and even blistered, crusted or peeling. Deeper or combined treatments have longer recovery times. However, some procedures, such as broadband light therapy (BBL) and fractional laser treatments, have little or no downtime. 

For up to a week after laser treatment, your skin will continue to peel. The new skin is pink at first, and over time, the pinkness fades as healing continues. This fading can take two months or longer, especially for individuals with fair hair and lighter complexions. 

You’ll need to avoid products such as glycolic acid and Retin-A for as long as six weeks after your treatment, as directed by your doctor. 

Generally, you’ll see results as soon as redness and swelling subside. Then, as new collagen forms, increasingly smooth skin will emerge.

Skincare after laser treatment

It’s important not to touch or scrape the treated area to allow healing and avoid scarring or infection. To care for your skin after a laser skin treatment, follow your doctor’s instructions, including these general steps:

Clean your laser-treated skin often, using only doctor-recommended, high-quality skin care products.

Change any skin coverings and reapply topical therapies as instructed. These protect your skin from infection and encourage healing.

Avoid sun exposure while your skin is recovering. After your skin heals, use a doctor-recommended sunscreen.

Results of laser skin treatments can last for years, especially if you make healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle choices. As always, taking good care of your overall health will keep you looking and feeling your best.

Your Ohio State plastic surgeon can recommend medical-grade sunscreen, healing soothing moisturizers and other healthy skin care therapies from Ohio State’s spa services. Our plastic surgeons specialize in helping you achieve skin that looks, feels and stays healthy.

Risks of laser treatments

Laser procedure risks vary depending on your skin type and condition, the areas treated, the type of laser treatment used and other factors. Your Ohio State plastic surgeon will discuss potential risks with you as you consider the most effective procedure. After an individual evaluation, your doctor may recommend other alternatives more suited to your condition and skincare goals. 

Potential risks of laser procedures include:

  • Blisters and crusting
  • Discoloration – especially in darker skin tones
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Skin texture changes
  • Swelling, redness and skin irritation

In sensitive areas, such as the skin under your eyes, there’s a rare possibility of defects as a result of laser procedures. Your Ohio State plastic surgeon will provide an individualized review of all potential risks before recommending any skin rejuvenation procedure. 

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