Thanks to huge advancements in technologies, lasers can now zap everything, including sun damage, acne scars, and tattoos. Which laser is best for your skin type and issue? Here's a comprehensive guide to laser skin resurfacing:
Anti-redness lasers, also known as vascular lasers, treat redness associated with rosacea, sun damage, spider veins, red moles, fresh stretch marks, port wine stains, and superficial bruises. They work by targeting hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells -- more specifically, vascular lasers heat and destroy blood vessels all while sparing the surrounding tissue.
Most patients describe vascular lasers as mildly painful, and there is little-to-no downtime involved. Skin usually returns to normal after a few hours. Best of all, there's also little risk involved. While burns and scarring can occur, this is rare when vascular lasers are used appropriately.
Pigment-pulverizing lasers usually comprise Q-switched and picosecond lasers. Q-switched lasers release energy in short nanosecond bursts without cooling the skin's surface. Because Q-switch lasers come in a variety of wavelengths, they have safe options for nearly all skin tones. Q-switch lasers can remove tattoo inks, sunspots, and age spots.
Most Q-switch lasers feel like a rubber-band snapping against the skin, but numbing cream and lidocaine can be used before treatment. While there is some downtime associated with Q-switch lasers, it is only for a few days.
Nonablative resurfacing lasers
Nonablative lasers, such as fractional and picosecond lasers, treat moderate sun damage, melasma, and minor scars. They mainly refresh and rejuvenate the skin by increasing collagen production, helping to smooth the skin and eliminate some of the pigment that results from sun damage.
There are lots of different nonablative resurfacing lasers on the market. Baby fractional lasers, such as Clear + Brilliant, produce only subtle textural improvements, whereas picosecond lasers go deeper and have more of an effect on fine lines, wrinkles, and scarring. Stronger fractional lasers, like the Fraxel Dual, is ideal for correcting significant UV damage on the face, neck, chest, arms, and hands.
Depending on the type of fractional laser, you may need a full hour of topical numbing plus ibuprofen beforehand. Downtime can last up to a week as well.
Ablative resurfacing lasers
Ablative resurfacing lasers include Fraxel Re:pair and Sciton Profractional. These lasers are designed to treat deep wrinkles, severe sun aging, and prominent scars. Unlike nonablative resurfacing lasers, ablative lasers create purposeful wounds on the skin's surface to stimulate more generous collagen renewal to produce noticeable results.
Before treatment with an ablative resurfacing laser, you'll most likely receive numbing cream, lidocaine injections, and Valium. You'll need to take at least one week off to recover, and you can expect to feel and look swollen and scabby all over.