As we age, we encounter increasingly visible signs of that aging. It manifests differently in everyone, depending on genetics, diet, environment, and more. You might even be noticing some of it yourself. Have you looked in the mirror recently and seen:
- Dark, light, or reddish blotches that don't seem to fade.
- Scarring, from acne or from sun damage.
- Wrinkles, from crow's feet to larger creases.
- Darker spots, like moles or liver spots.
If so, you're probably concerned about your appearance. Some people are fine with aging gracefully, while others find themselves struggling with self-esteem issues. There's nothing wrong with wanting a better appearance, and there are dozens of modern treatments (ranging from health supplements to cosmetic surgery) to help.
One such treatment is a resurfacing. What is it, what does it do, and how long does it take your skin to recover?
What Is a Laser Resurfacing and How Does it Work?
If you're not aware of laser skin resurfacing treatments, please read this section to know what you're getting into. If you've already read up on them, feel free to skip down to the answer to the question that brought you here.
Laser skin resurfacing is a topical procedure (meaning, it doesn't cut you open or work inside your body), and it uses laser to alter the skin. It's outpatient, meaning that you can go to an office, get it done, and go home shortly afterward. It can be a partial resurfacing (to target specific areas, such as a specific scar or splotchy area), or it can be a full-face procedure.
Here's how it works:
Before going in for your procedure, your dermatologist will ask you to take steps to prepare. These steps include:
- Stop smoking for at least 14 days before your procedure. Smoking delays healing and recovery.
- Avoid certain drugs, including aspirin, vitamin E, and ibuprofen, which can affect clotting and healing, for at least 10 days before your procedure.
- Complete a risk factor assessment. If you have had Herpes, if you get cold sores or blisters, or if you have sensitive skin, laser resurfacing may not be a good idea.
- Prepare by picking up prescriptions for antibacterials or antivirals if your dermatologist prescribes them.
Once done, you will be ready for your procedure.
First, the dermatologist will numb your skin in a given area. If you're getting your whole face resurfaced, they may fully sedate you. This dramatically increases the length of time of the procedure and recovery, but minimizes discomfort while it happens.
Next, they will then use a high-power laser to, essentially, burn away the outer layer of skin with extreme precision. There are two kinds of lasers:
- Nonablative, which is much lighter on the skin and essentially heats your dermis to stimulate collagen production. This is most commonly used for small wrinkles and minor blotching, but can't treat larger skin issues.
- Ablative, which is a more powerful laser that strips away the outer layers of skin. Think of it like a very intense chemical peel or exfoliation procedure, aimed with precision, so you don't take off too much skin.
Ablative lasers are stronger but more effective. They also require a longer recovery period.
The procedure will take anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes, depending on whether you're getting a small area or your whole face treated. If you had general anesthesia, you may require several additional hours to wake up and recover enough to leave, and will need a driver to take you home.
Once you're done with the procedure (and you wake up from sedation, if you were sedated), you will be sent home with recovery instructions. These instructions range from pain relief and skincare to what complications to watch for.
Laser treatments do two things to help your skin.
- They burn away surface-level scars, blotches, and other issues, so your skin as a whole can re-grow smoother and tighter.
- They stimulate collagen production in the lower layers of skin to help fill out and restore elasticity.
If you've read any of our other posts about collagen, you know that your body produces it naturally, but production declines as you age. Thus, forcing your body to produce more can be beneficial to a youthful appearance, at least for a while. After all, nothing can fully prevent the effects of aging.
Ablative lasers are also programmed to leave tiny micro-columns of skin alone all across the treated area. These microscopic columns are invisible to the human eye, but they help form a scaffold that encourages your skin to heal faster from the procedure.
What is the Healing Process Like?
Ablative laser skin resurfacing is, quite literally, burning away the surface level of your skin to remove blemishes and force your body to heal it back smoother and "younger" in appearance. It's like a deep, rough exfoliation, but done with precision to avoid damaging your under-layers of skin. As such, it requires significant recovery time.
The area that was resurfaced will be bandaged for at least 24 hours. After that time, you will need to apply an ointment, typically a petroleum jelly-based skin cream that helps moisturize, protect, and heal your skin while preventing scabbing. If you are prone to swelling, you may be prescribed steroids like prednisone to reduce it.
Your skin will itch for 12 to 72 hours. Avoid scratching, so you don't damage the healing skin.
Somewhere around a week (5-7 days) after your procedure, your skin will peel in the area. This will be similar to a moderate sunburn because, in essence, that's what it is.
Once past the peeling stage, your skin will be fresh and new. New skin will be lighter, tighter, more elastic, and will likely have at least some of the blemishes you wanted to be removed taken care of.
The full healing process will take around 10-21 days, depending on your natural health and how well you take care of your skin. The older you get and the more surface area you cover, the longer it will take to fully heal.
You may have sensitive skin for up to three months after the procedure, along with redness and sensitivity to sunlight. You absolutely must wear sunscreen to avoid damaging your vulnerable skin and breaking down the collagen beneath.
How Long Does Collagen Take to Rebuild?
Collagen is the scaffold upon which your skin is built. When your skin is injured, whether it's a cut, scrape, or burn – and regardless of whether it was accidental or intentional, like exfoliation or resurfacing – your body produces more collagen to heal.
How long does it take your body to rebuild that collagen? The answer varies depending on many factors, but in general, it will take between seven and 21 days.
What factors influence this healing time? A lot goes into it.
- Your diet. In order for your body to rebuild collagen, you need to have the building blocks in your diet, which means plenty of protein, if not direct collagen supplements.
- Your health. If you have any health issues, ranging from chronic problems like diabetes to acute issues like a cold, your body will be operating far below its peak, and healing will take longer.
- Your age. Unfortunately, the older you get, the longer it takes for your body to heal. Moreover, collagen production slows dramatically as you age.
- Your genetics. Some people simply heal faster than others. There's nothing you can do to change this.
- Any preexisting conditions that affect healing. There are many possible issues that could get in the way of collagen production or healing; talk to your dermatologist about your concerns.
- Any drugs you took that could suppress healing. For example, ibuprofen and aspirin both affect clotting and blood flow, which can inhibit healing.
- Complications like infection or damage. If your skin is infected or otherwise damaged after the procedure, it can take longer for it to heal.
- Exposure to further sunlight after the procedure. The time immediately after your procedure is a time when your skin is extremely sensitive to sunlight, and you need to take care not to burn it more with exposure.
Some of this can be minimized through your behavior, while some can't be changed.
If you want to speed up healing and enhance collagen production, we recommend taking collagen supplements. Providing your body with the building blocks it needs to produce collagen is the best way to encourage healing. You should also consider supplemental vitamin C, which is used in collagen synthesis.
How Long Does Collagen Stimulation Last?
Another question you might have is how long this enhanced collagen production can last. In other words, how long will you see the effects of the procedure?
The answer here depends on the reason you wanted to have your skin resurfaced in the first place.
If you were spot-treating liver spots, acne scars, or other blemishes, you would see the results right away, and they would be long-lasting. A surface-level blemish can be dramatically reduced, lightened, or entirely burned away by a laser resurfacing treatment. In some cases, larger or deeper blemishes might require several treatments before they are fully removed.
In many cases, these blemishes will not return. In some instances, they are too deep to fully remove, but will be lightened and reduced in size quite dramatically. Again, these effects are long-term and long-lasting.
On the other hand, what about wrinkles? Many people receive laser resurfacing in an attempt to tighten up the skin and reduce small wrinkles, like crow's feet.
This is where collagen production comes in. Wrinkles are caused by a reduction in collagen, sort of like how a window screen or a net will sag and break down when parts of the lattice are broken. Collagen production repairs that net and helps it restore function and form.
Laser resurfacing stimulates your body into producing more collagen in the area. Evidence suggests that this boosted collagen production lasts around six months, and sometimes up to a year.
Unfortunately, there's only so much a resurfacing can do. Eventually, your collagen production will drop back down, and it will continue to drop over time. You can get another resurfacing done, to boost collagen production again but chances are it won't be boosted quite as much. Essentially, you can delay the inevitable, but you can't prevent it.
Bear in mind, as well, that these effects may vary depending on your personal health, medical circumstances, environmental exposure, and more.
Is Laser Resurfacing Right for You?
The truth is, while it's not a surgical or invasive procedure, a laser resurfacing is still damaging to your skin in the long term, and only has short-term results. It's a lot of pain and hassle to go through for results that only last 6-12 months.
A laser resurfacing can be great for spot treatments. A full-face, wrinkle-defying resurfacing, however, might not be the miracle treatment you want.
Bear in mind, as well, that a laser resurfacing can have side effects. If you have darker spots on your skin, a resurfacing can make them more visible by lightening the area around them. A resurfacing can also cause scarring. On top of that, there's always the risk of infection.
Our recommendation is to consider resurfacing if you have specific spots you want to address. If you want to treat wrinkles and reduce the overall signs of aging, however, you're going to want to try other options. Collagen supplements can work wonders, and combined with a healthy diet, plenty of water, and the right vitamins, they can bolster your collagen production significantly. You don't need to subject yourself to pain, irritation, and weeks or months of healing just to see the effects.
In other words, laser resurfacing – especially a whole-face laser resurfacing – should be an option of last resort. It's simply too extreme of a treatment to manage too minimal of a problem. Instead, try collagen supplements, therapy, and healthier living.
Have you ever undergone a resurfacing procedure before? What were your thoughts on it? Did it meet your expectations? Was the healing process relatively easy? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and stories in the comments section down below! We'd love to hear what you all think about it!