Risks

Ablative laser resurfacing can cause various side effects, including:

  • Redness, swelling and itching. After ablative laser resurfacing, treated skin will be itchy, swollen and red. Redness — the degree of which is related to the depth of resurfacing done — can be intense and might last for several months. The aggravation of a previously existing skin condition, such as rosacea, can contribute to redness.
  • Acne. Applying thick creams and bandages to your face after treatment can worsen acne or cause you to temporarily develop tiny white bumps (milia) on treated skin.
  • Infection. Ablative laser resurfacing can lead to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. The most common infection is a flare-up of the herpes virus — the virus that causes cold sores. In most cases, the herpes virus is already present but dormant in the skin.
  • Changes in skin color. Ablative laser resurfacing can cause treated skin to become darker than normal (hyperpigmentation) or lighter than normal (hypopigmentation). Hyperpigmentation is more common in people who have darker skin. Topical retinoic acid or glycolic acid can help treat hyperpigmentation after the treated area has healed. Use of sunscreen during the healing process also is important. Nonablative fractional photothermolysis might help improve hypopigmentation.
  • Scarring. Ablative laser resurfacing poses a slight risk of scarring.
  • Turning of the eyelid (ectropion). Rarely, ablative laser resurfacing near the lower eyelid can cause the eyelid to turn out and expose the inner surface. Surgery is needed to correct the problem.

Nonablative laser resurfacing also can cause side effects, including:

  • Infection. Nonablative laser resurfacing can cause a flare-up of the herpes virus.
  • Changes in skin color. If you have tanned or darker skin, nonablative laser resurfacing can cause your skin to become temporarily darker (hyperpigmentation).
  • Mild swelling and redness. Swelling and redness typically last only hours or days.
  • Blistering and scarring. Rarely, nonablative laser resurfacing can cause blistering and scarring.

Laser resurfacing isn't for everyone. Your doctor might caution against laser resurfacing if you:

  • Have active acne
  • Have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis) during the previous year
  • Have an autoimmune disease or a weak immune system
  • Have a tendency to form scars
  • Have very dark skin
  • Have unrealistic expectations