The Lowdown on Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser skin resurfacing has become a popular skin care treatment, especially in the area of skin rejuvenation. Many have looked to laser skin resurfacing to improve their skin and help remove the signs of aging skin.

Continue reading to learn more about laser skin resurfacing, which lasers are used, and possible complications.

The CO2 laser is used as a resurfacing instrument, as well as for laser peels. The healthcare provider can adjust the amount of energy in the laser beam, thus controlling the penetration depth. Resurfacing is the most common application of the CO2 laser. It will reduce wrinkles by a considerable amount. reduce acne scarring, tighten the skin, stimulate new collagen formation in the dermis, tighten the existing collagen fibers, and remove 70% to 80% of sun damage. The

Other lasers have been developed to address more specific skin concerns, including the Erbium YAG and fractional lasers, among others.

Varicose laser treatment on female legs in clinic
Tatyana Sokolova / E+ / Getty Images

What Is Laser Skin Resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing uses different wavelengths of lasers to treat the skin. They accomplish this by heating up and vaporizing the areas of concern.

Skin lasers target both the superficial and deep layers of the skin. These wounds made by the lasers can help encourage collagen production as they heal.

Types of Resurfacing Lasers

The two most commonly used lasers to improve the skin's surface are carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium. These lasers commonly treat scars, uneven pigment, and deep wrinkles.

The CO2 and erbium lasers are called ablative lasers. This means that they penetrate deeper layers of the skin, and are more aggressive lasers than those that only treat the skin's surface. This can make the recovery process longer than a superficial laser, but this also means the results can be better than another type of laser.

Candidacy and Contraindications

Lasers can successfully treat most skin types, though certain lasers may have some limitations, and laser surgery may not be the best choice for everyone.

You may not be a good candidate for laser resurfacing if you:

  • Have an active skin infection
  • Take certain medications (including Accutane and some steroids)
  • Are prone to keloid or hypertrophic scars
  • Have a compromised immune system

It's important to talk with your healthcare provider about your specific needs to ensure you receive the most suitable treatment with the most suitable type of laser.

Purpose of Laser Resurfacing

Those who can benefit from a skin resurfacing procedure include those who wish to:

  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
  • Tighten loose skin
  • Improve scars (including acne scars), vascular lesions (like broken capillaries or spider veins), enlarged pores, rough skin texture, dark spots (hyperpigmentation) on the skin, or unwanted tattoos, hair, or birthmarks. Even pre-cancerous lesions on the skin can be effectively removed with laser resurfacing.

Other Cosmetic Uses

Lasers have become a staple in the world of aesthetic improvement and anti-aging procedures. In addition to skin resurfacing, they are also used for:


Anesthesia is given. Depending on the type and depth of the procedure, skin resurfacing may be performed using a topical anesthetic to numb the skin. For deeper treatments, the area may be injected with a local anesthetic. Some people may require an oral sedative to help them relax. In rare cases, or when other procedures are being performed in conjunction with resurfacing, IV sedation, or even general anesthesia may be used.

The skin and surrounding areas are prepared. The skin is thoroughly cleansed, and any areas that will not be treated may be marked or draped to protect them. Usually, the patient will have some sort of barrier put in place to protect the eyes during the procedure. The procedure is performed on dry skin.

The laser procedure is performed. The laser is then applied to the skin in the designated areas to be treated.

Protective skin barriers are applied. Your surgeon will apply a protective barrier to the skin. They may also apply other ointments or topical treatments as necessary.

Post-Operative Care

Skin resurfacing is usually performed on an outpatient basis. Following the laser treatment, your surgeon will provide instructions for how to care for the skin. Your skin may become dry and start to peel. Do not pick at the skin, as this can lead to infection and scarring.

You can also expect some swelling and discomfort. Over-the-counter medications are often sufficient to manage pain, or you may be given prescriptions for pain medication and/or antibiotics.

Recovery and Downtime

It is generally recommended that the patient rest indoors for at least 7 to 10 days, except in the case of a very light peel. However, some people prefer to remain unseen by others until the worst of the redness and peeling subsides. This time period can be from two weeks to two months, depending on the depth of your peel.

Potential Risks

Risks and complications associated with the procedure are extremely rare.

Possible short-term risks and complications include:

  • Prolonged redness of the skin
  • Tenderness or a burning sensation
  • Itching, increased sensitivity to light, and easy flushing. In rare cases, the procedure can trigger the re-appearance of an existing dormant virus or infection. You may also experience skin irritation caused by sensitivity to the post-procedure healing cream. This usually resolves on its own.

More long-term problems can include changes in skin color, like hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. It is also possible for a surgeon to go too deep during the procedure, resulting in scarring.


The average total cost for a laser skin resurfacing procedure varies between $800 to $8,000, depending on the geographical area, the depth of the procedure, the number of treatment sessions required, and the size of the area(s) being treated. The U.S. average is around $2,500, which includes not only the surgeon’s fee but also pre- and post-operative care and medications.

Skin resurfacing is usually not covered by insurance unless it is being performed to treat precancerous skin conditions or improve scars from a previous reconstructive procedure or trauma


Laser skin resurfacing is a popular procedure to treat the signs of aging, as well as other skin conditions such as scarring or uneven pigment. Lasers can even be used to treat other conditions, such as hair removal, and lighten stretch marks.

Each surgeon will have specific instructions to follow depending upon the areas treated with the laser and the depth of the skin that is treated.

Side effects of the procedure can include redness and swelling to the treated areas, as well as skin peeling.

A Word From Verywell

Having skin resurfacing with a laser can be an effective treatment for many skin conditions. It is so important to follow all of the instructions provided by the surgeon-before and after the procedure- to be sure you heal without complications and get the best results possible. Don't forget the sunscreen!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does laser resurfacing results last?

    It may take up to a year to see the full results of laser skin resurfacing, and the results can last for many years, as long as the skin is cared for properly. Follow the directions provided by the surgeon to get the best benefit. It is important to remember that the skin will continue to age, and wearing sunscreen is a must.

  • What does your face look like after laser resurfacing?

    Immediately following the procedure, the skin may be red and possibly swollen. Over the next few days, the redness will likely continue, and eventually the skin will start to peel off, revealing the new skin underneath.

  • What is the best facial resurfacing procedure?

    The best facial resurfacing procedure is not a one size fits all. Each individual may have different needs for their skin, and different skin types and colors. The exact treatment for you will be determined after consultation with the provider

  • Is microneedling more effective than laser?

    This answer depends upon the person being treated. Individualized treatments are best discussed with your healthcare provider. Microneedling (the insertion of many tiny needles into the skin) can be used to boost collagen production and help with wrinkles. It may not be the best choice for everyone though, depending upon their skin needs.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Heidari Beigvand H, Razzaghi M, Rostami-Nejad M, et al. Assessment of laser effects on skin rejuvenationJ Lasers Med Sci. 2020;11(2):212-219. doi:10.34172/jlms.2020.35

  2. Pirakitikulr N, Martin JJ, Wester ST. Laser resurfacing for the management of periorbital scarring. Plast Aesthet Res. 2020;7. doi:10.20517/2347-9264.2020.77

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin conditions that lasers can treat.

  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Laser skin resurfacing: what are the steps of a laser skin resurfacing procedure?

  5. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What should I expect during my laser skin resurfacing recovery?

  6. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Laser skin resurfacing: what results should I expect after laser skin resurfacing?

Additional Reading
  • Skin Resurfacing, Consumer Information Sheet. American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

  • Facial Peels And Laser Surgery, Consumer Information Sheet. American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

  • Goldberg DJ. Lasers for Facial Rejuvenation. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2003;4(4):225-234.

  • Skin Rejuvenation and Resurfacing, Consumer Information Sheet. American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by Natalie Kita