When it comes to skin resurfacing treatments (another term for skin laser procedures), there are literally hundreds to choose from. The various names and terms are enough to drive anyone without a science or medical degree crazy. Want to hear more about my personal experience? Check out my post on MicroLaser Peel by Sciton. In any case, let me start with the most important thing first.
How to find the right provider?
You have to find a good clinician. A great provider will navigate all the science for you and select the right treatment plan based on your specific wants, present issues, your skin type and your lifestyle. For a list of cosmetic surgeons who undergo extensive training in cosmetic surgery as well as laser skin resurfacing, consult the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.
At what age should you consider a laser skin treatment?
There is such a variety of laser types and treatments available on the market. This list does not even include any of the light-based treatments as those are in their own category and aren’t technically a laser at all. On that later.
Anyways, it’s not like you turn 30 and off you go to make your appointment at the nearest skin clinic. Oh, and here’s a gift card as a birthday present with that (wouldn’t that be awesome!?)
There are laser procedures to address blood birthmarks in infant and treatments for acne in children and teens. For superficial wrinkles and sun damage, 20s and 30s can be a perfect age to start. It really depends on the skin type, the issues you want to address, and your lifestyle.
When should you get a skin laser rejuvenation treatment?
Since with some of these you are literally destroying the protective layers of your skin, it is best to undergo these procedures in the Fall and Winter months. During this time your skin is least likely to suffer additional damage from sun exposure during its most vulnerable state.
Who should NOT consider a skin laser rejuvenation treatment?
This is where an experienced and qualified provider is extremely important. For some individuals, certain types of laser and light therapy are more suitable than others. For others, skin rejuvenation procedures are not recommended at all. To evaluate if you are a good candidate, reach out to a trusted provider near you for a personal consultation. These should be free!
But now on to the more technical aspects of this.
As I said earlier, there are literally hundreds of options out there. Generally these fall into one of two categories: ablative and non-ablative. And that’s mostly what you need to understand before scheduling an appointment. So read on…
Let’s Get Technical
What is an ablative skin laser?
Ablative skin laser treatments damage the upper layers of skin and typically require some down-time. How painful they are generally directly correlates to how deep you want to treat your skin (how far into your epidermis do you want the laser to work).
They do this by burning off or evaporating your top skin layers.
With these treatments you can select the depth into the epidermis, but it is a fixed depth for the full surface. Ablative skin laser treatments are great at quickly improving the appearance of deeper wrinkles, minimizing pores, skin texture, and sun damage. Sometimes a series of these is recommended, but often a single treatment can provide vast improvements. Because these laser treatments to damage the top layers of your skin, they do require some downtime. How much really depends on how your skin reacts to the particular treatment and what type of laser and at what depth is used. Your provider is the best to assess your skin and provide targeted recommendations along with down-time expectations.
There are generally two types of ablative lasers, carbon dioxide (CO2) and Erbium (or YAG) lasers.
What is a non-ablative skin laser?
Non-ablative skin laser treatments actually target the deeper layers of your skin without damaging the upper layers. They typically work by heating up the targeted tissue. By doing so, these lasers stimulate the production of collagen from within. This can reduce the appearance fine lines and wrinkles over time.
Because this procedures does not damage the outer layers of your skin, the recovery time is minimal.
Many are able to get one of these over lunch and return immediately to work. The effects are not as immediate and can take from several weeks up to several months to appear fully. They also typically require a series of several treatments to see dramatic results. Non-ablative skin laser examples include CoolTouch, Fraxel Restore, and N-lite.
One thing all lasers have in common is that they are generally single wavelength (so they emit a single color). This can be limiting if you are aiming to target specific discoloration on your skin (like sun spots or rosacea). This is were light therapy comes in.
What the difference between skin lasers, BBL, and IPL technology?
Although many providers jumble laser skin treatments and BBL (BroadBand Light) / IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) and other light therapy treatments into one category, they are quite different. BBL and IPL are technically not lasers at all.
BBL and IPL target the specific pigments in the skin at all layers and they do this by gently heating up the targeted area only without touching the surrounding skin cells. The target absorbs the heat energy and is then destroyed.
This process initiates a healing response within by stimulating collagen and elastin production. Meanwhile, the damaged skin cells are gently and gradually eliminated over time. Because of the light based technology, BBL and IPL can target very different skin concerns very specifically. These range from skin tone and texture, pigmentation, rosacea, broken capillaries, hair removal, and even acne.
More on BBL vs. IPL
There is actually research out of Stanford that shows regular BBL treatments will not only prevent aging of skin, but can reverse. Subjects actually ended up looking more than 10 years younger after a long term study (linked here).
BBL is technically a much more advanced and better version of IPL technology.
While I’ve personally never tried an IPL treatment, I have noticed that a lot of salons are now offering this technology. After doing more research, I noted that the machines used in many cases are inferior and treatments vary vastly. Because BBL is a much more precise technology, there is a lesser chance of negative side-effects; it also tends to be a lot more effective at providing clinical results.
And just cause it stands to be repeated…
The most important decision you will make when choosing a skin resurfacing / skin rejuvenation method is the choice of your practitioner! A skilled, certified, and experienced provider will make all the difference. I can’t stress this enough!