What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Ablative laser resurfacing is an outpatient procedure typically done in an ambulatory surgery facility. Before the procedure, your face will be cleaned and your eyes will be covered. Your doctor will numb your skin with local anesthetics. For extensive resurfacing, such as treatment to your whole face, you may be sedated.

During ablative laser resurfacing, an intense beam of light energy (laser) is directed at your skin. The laser beam destroys the outer layer of skin (epidermis). At the same time the laser heats the underlying skin (dermis), which causes collagen fibers to shrink. As the wound heals, new skin forms that's smoother and tighter. Ablative laser resurfacing typically takes between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the technique used and the size of the area treated.

Nonablative laser resurfacing can be done in your doctor's office. The treatment area will be cleaned, and your eyes will be covered. Your doctor might numb your skin one to two hours before treatment. To protect the outer layer of your skin during nonablative laser resurfacing, your doctor will apply a cryogen spray, a water-based gel or cool air to the treatment area before pulsing the laser. The laser damages collagen beneath your skin and stimulates the growth of new collagen, tightening underlying skin and improving skin tone and appearance. No skin is removed. Nonablative laser resurfacing typically takes between 15 minutes and one and a half hours, depending on the technique used and size of the area treated. To achieve target results, a series of treatments is typically scheduled over the course of weeks or months.

After the procedure

After ablative laser resurfacing, the treated skin will be raw, swollen and itchy. The yellowish liquid that oozes from treated areas may form crusts. To help avoid scarring, don't pick at crusts or pieces of skin.

Your doctor will apply a thick ointment to the treated skin and might cover the area with an airtight and watertight dressing. To relieve pain after the procedure, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), and apply ice packs. Your doctor might recommend keeping your head elevated at night.

While you're recovering from ablative laser resurfacing, regularly clean the treated area with water, saline or acetic acid and apply thick, protective ointments, such as petroleum jelly. You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing, and your doctor might recommend avoiding strenuous activities. Once new skin completely covers the treated area — usually after one or two weeks — you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness.

After nonablative laser resurfacing, your skin might be temporarily red or swollen. Use ice packs as needed. You can apply makeup and resume your normal activities immediately.

May. 21, 2011