Seeing the light of new skin

Posted on July 2nd, 2010 by Michelle

Another day another laser.  When it comes to skin resurfacing, there’s a lot to absorb. And we’re not just talking about the infrared light penetrating your face.

Laser skin resurfacing is a popular way of rejuvenating wrinkled or scarred skin, but the first step in the procedure has to be understanding all the words being tossed around. Ablative. Non-ablative. Fractional. Erbium. CO2. Oy.

According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 500,000 laser resurfacing treatments were done in 2009, and nearly 73 percent were non-ablative, such as Fraxel Restore.  Non-ablative resurfacing means the laser heats the layers of skin below the surface to stimulate collagen and promote new cell turnover.  (Trade names include Fraxel Restore, Laser Genesis, Lux 1540.)

Ablative skin rejuvenation procedures “remove” that top layer of skin, burning it away so it is replaced with fresh new skin.  Another term often used is “vaporize.” If it sounds painful and drastic, it is.  It can take three weeks for the oozing and crusting to subside, and three months for the redness to go away.  (Laser names include Fraxel Repair, Active FX, SmartXide DOT)

Lasers involved will either be CO2 – carbon dioxide – based or erbium-based.  According to, CO2 lasers have been used for many years to treat a variety of skin issues.  This type of laser penetrates more deeply than erbium lasers, and the heat can also affect the surrounding area.  The erbium lasers are recommended for people with darker skin tones because they don’t penetrate as deeply and there is less chance of burning surrounding tissue.

The procedure now referred to as the gold standard is fractional ablative laser resurfacing, which is described as “(drilling) tiny holes deep into the skin” in this video.  Doctors have found that by making a number of smaller penetrations with a CO2 laser over an area of scarred or wrinkled facial tissue, the number of treatments and amount of down time are greatly reduced.

Often, non-ablative laser treatments require several appointments.  Patients opting for fractional ablative resurfacing report results after one treatment.  There is a lower risk of infection and little or no crusting and oozing afterward.  According to reviewers, though, it is still a painful treatment.  And the cost for any laser facial skin resurfacing ranges from $500 to $5,000.

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