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Laser dermabrasion, also known as laser resurfacing, is a cosmetic procedure used to smooth out irregularities of the skin. Unlike other forms of dermabrasion, which rely on rough wires or stone wheels to smooth the skin, laser dermabrasion uses a beam of focused light to perform the same task. The procedure can be used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, scars, and pockmarks, correct skin discoloration, and remove unwanted tattoos.
There are two types of lasers used in laser dermabrasion: an ablative and a nonablative laser. An ablative, or wounding, laser removes thin layers of the skin. A nonablative, or nonwounding, laser works by stimulating collagen growth and tightening the skin. While the nonablative laser is less invasive and requires a shorter recovery time, its use is generally not as effective as that of procedures using ablative lasers.
The procedure for laser dermabrasion depends on the type of laser being used. Nonablative laser dermabrasion can typically be performed right in the doctor’s office with minimal sedation or anesthesia. The laser damages the collagen beneath the surface of the skin, which stimulates production of new collagen. The procedure usually takes less than one and a half hours. Ablative laser procedures destroy the outer layer, leaving a wound that reveals smoother skin as it heals. The procedure takes between 30 minutes and two hours, and typically requires either local or general anesthesia.
Nonablative laser dermabrasion has a significantly shorter recovery time and causes less discomfort than an ablative procedure. Skin may be swollen and red immediately after the procedure, but ice packs are usually enough to alleviate the discomfort. After an ablative laser procedure, the treated skin is typically swollen, itchy and raw. A crust forms over the area and may ooze a yellowish liquid. The dermatologist will treat the area with a thick ointment and cover it with a watertight dressing, and over-the-counter pain medication may be needed to alleviate discomfort.
Both ablative and nonablative laser dermabrasion can cause complications after the procedure. Ablative laser procedures may cause permanent scarring, changes in skin color, and infection. The ointments and bandages used to cover the wounds can also cause acne flare-ups. In rare cases, treating areas close to the eyes can cause the eyelid to turn outwards, requiring surgery to repair the problem. Nonablative lasers have fewer risks, but may cause a flare-up of the herpes virus in patients with the infection. In rare cases, blisters and scarring can occur even with nonablative lasers.
Patients who have taken certain acne medications during the previous year or those with diabetes or immune system disorders are generally not good candidates for laser dermabrasion. The procedure should not be performed on pregnant women. A dermatologist can help determine if the procedure is right for any patient.