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Laser Skin Treatments

Written by: Alice Hart-Davis

Updated by: Becki Murray

Medically reviewed by: Dr John Quinn

Last Updated: 12 January 2024

Laser treatment is popular for skin rejuvenation because it can effectively improve the appearance of a whole bunch of skin concerns, including fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, acne scarring, and even acne for both the face and body. Lasers help the skin by clearing unwanted pigmentation marks, or by resurfacing the skin, ie damaging the skin cells to provoke a wound-healing response.

The word ‘damage’ sounds alarming, but that’s what stimulates the production of new collagen, helping to improve the appearance of these signs of ageing, and as always energy-based tweakments, the intensity of the treatment and the resulting damage that it creates in the skin is all about how big a dose of energy you’re receiving in one go. That means laser treatment can range from gentle laser facials all the way to full-scale skin-resurfacing ablation. What does that all mean?  Scroll down for more info and all the FAQs about laser skin rejuvenation.

CATEGORY

Energy Devices

EXPECT TO PAY

£ 500

TWEAKMENT TIME

30 - 60 minutes

LONGEVITY

1 year

ANAESTHESIA

Numbing cream

DOWNTIME

Yes - redness, tightness, dryness

Find a Practitioner

Postcode

Here’s how laser treatments work for skin rejuvenation:

Lasers and light based treatments are possibly the fastest evolving of all the ‘tweakments’. The basic principle is based on the physics (who knew that physics would come in useful some day!) of selective photothermolysis: selective treatment of specific targets, known as ‘chromophores’, depending on the properties  of laser/light used. The energy is preferentially absorbed by these targets, while the rest of the skin is left unaffected.

The main chromophores within the skin are:

Red: selectively heating haemoglobin within the blood will improve vascular concerns such as rosacea, thread veins, birth marks, scars/stretch marks (particularly if red) and Campbell de Morgan spots.

Brown: targeting melanin is useful when aiming for permanent hair reduction and benign pigmented lesions such as age spots

Water: heating the skin promotes regeneration and improves skin quality. In this way we can soften pores, remodel scars and treat fine lines & wrinkles. Lasers may be ablative, when the energy is absorbed quickly enough to vaporise: these include CO2 and Erbium lasers, used to produce profound results in a single session. They are non-ablative when absorption is not as fast, leading to more gentle heating and gradual remodelling of the skins surface. These lasers generally require multiple sessions to achieve results and while they are very effective at improving skin tone and texture, they will not be as effective at improving wrinkles as the more ‘aggressive’ ablative wavelengths. The old phrase of ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’ may be valid here. 

This classification is of course a simplification: there are other targets, such as tattoo ink and sebaceous glands (some exciting developments here for acne)

Most technologies will also target more than one chromophore, depending on how the energy is delivered. Intense Pulsed Light or IPL is not a laser as such but works on the same principle. Often described as ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ it can be useful to treat several skin concerns in one treatment, when delivered by a skilled practitioner.

Depending on the wavelengths being used, and the intensity of the treatment, laser skin treatments can take the form of an advanced facial, right the way up to a full-scale skin resurfacing, and everything in between.

laser facial lasergenesis

laser 1

What concerns can laser skin treatments be used to treat?

Laser skin treatments can be used to address a variety of concerns on both the face and body. That includes wrinkles and fine lines, acne lesions, and pigmentation issues, as well as rosacea, broken blood vessels and spider veins. It can also help minimise the appearance of scars, stretch marks and help tighten loose or sagging skin on your body.

How long does laser skin rejuvenation last?

The effects of laser skin rejuvenation can last one to three years. The better you look after your skin, the longer you can make the effects last. Wearing SPF50 every day is particularly crucial after laser treatment, and adopting good lifestyle habits – a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, exercise, good skin care – will help the longevity of any tweakment.

What should I expect after laser skin rejuvenation?

The skin that has been treated is likely to be red after treatment, and to feel warm or hot; with more aggressive laser skin rejuvenation treatments, the skin may feel as though it has sunburn and may itch. After 24 hours, the skin may develop a freckled look as flecks of lasered pigment become darker – temporarily.  These symptoms typically disappear after three days to a week, depending on the size of the treatment area and the depth of the lasering.

After having laser skin rejuvenation treatment, you will need to protect the treated area from sun exposure.

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Where can I get laser skin rejuvenation?

You can use the Find a Practitioner tool on this website to find a practitioner who offers laser skin rejuvenation. You will need to ask exactly which treatments they offer, as laser is such a broad tweakment category.   

When looking for a practitioner, bear in mind that practitioners who use cosmetic lasers in the UK don’t have to be regulated; nor do their clinics: Anyone who can buy (or rent) a laser can use it for cosmetic purposes (as opposed to medical purposes, for which lasers are regulated). So it’s vital you make sure that your chosen practitioner is well trained and highly skilled with the laser they will be using and has demonstrated they can get the type of results you’re looking for.

You want your laser treatment to be carried out by a highly trained specialist, preferably in a clinical setting. When laser treatments go wrong, it tends to be because the device was used or inappropriately, rather than being faulty.

How much does laser skin rejuvenation cost?

Laser skin rejuvenation costs from £500 upward, depending on the area you’re having treated and the clinic performing the treatment.

How long does laser skin rejuvenation take?

Laser skin rejuvenation usually takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the treatment area.

If you need to have anaesthetic cream before the treatment, that will add another 30 minutes.

Are there any side effects to laser skin rejuvenation?

Laser can have various side effects. Most of the side effects stem from lasers’ potential for heating and damaging the skin. 

  • Your skin is likely to be red after treatment. The redness may persist for day, a week or a month or two, depending on the intensity of the treatment. This is normal, as the skin heals and recovers from treatment.
  • Swelling is another possible side-effect, and again it depends on the intensity of your treatment, and how you react to it.
  • Hyperpigmentation is when your skin develops darker patches, because the melanocytes (the cells that make pigment in the skin) have gone into overdrive. This is common after laser treatment. It should settle in time but your practitioner may prescribe you skin products with hydroquinone to reduce the hyperpigmentation more quickly.
  • Hypopigmentation – which means ‘too little pigmentation’, which can result if over-treatment with laser destroys melanocytes, the cells that product pigment, and it shows up as white patches on the skin. It’s a side effect you absolutely don’t want as once melanocytes have been destroyed, they can’t be revived.

Menopause

FAQ ABOUT Laser Skin Treatments


Is laser skin rejuvenation safe?

Yes. Laser skin rejuvenation is safe provided that the practitioner is experienced and skilled with the laser.

What’s the difference between ablative and non-ablative lasers

Ablative lasers basically scorch away the surface layers of the skin. Many ablative lasers are carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers – very effective, but pretty drastic as treatments go and depending on the intensity of the treatment, you may need a lot of recovery time after treatment. You might wonder what the point of ablative lasers is, given that there are other lasers that can improve the skin in less aggressive ways, but practitioners who like them point out that the deeper a treatment goes, the greater results it can give – as long as the patient is up for some lengthy downtime.

Non-ablative lasers heat up the lower layers of the skin to kick-start the production of new collagen – without destroying the surface of the skin. Non-ablative laser treatment may still mean four days of downtime, and you’ll need more than one treatment to get the best results.

What is a fractional laser?

Laser resurfacing has evolved over many years. The first such devices were CO2 lasers, which were used to fully remove the surface of the skin. While these were very effective, the considerable downtime, lasting several weeks, along with troublesome side effects such as permanent pigmentation change, meant that they were never acceptable for the general population of patients.

Fractional lasers, as the name suggests, only treat a fraction of the skin, leaving areas of untreated skin intact. This allows for much quicker healing times, while still having a significant effect on the skin. Depending on what the practitioner is treating, only a tiny fraction may be treated, such as with scars. In the case of resurfacing the top layer of the skin, a larger fraction will be treated.

As with all fields of medicine, laser resurfacing continues to evolve and there has been a resurgence in popularity of ‘full field’ ablation, particularly with erbium lasers. For patients seeking very profound improvement in wrinkles, this remains the most effective option. It just isn’t for the faint hearted and requires careful planning!

Does laser skin rejuvenation work?

Yes. Laser skin rejuvenation is a reliably effective treatment as long as you are in the right hands.

Does laser skin rejuvenation hurt?

Whether laser skin rejuvenation hurts depends on exactly which treatment you have and how sensitive you are to pain. Some laser treatments make the area being treated feel hot, but not uncomfortably so. In other treatments, the laser feels somewhat like having a rubber band pinged against your skin.

Normally, the clinic will offer to apply an anaesthetic cream to the treatment area if the laser is likely to cause you discomfort.

What are pico lasers and what are they good for?

Pico lasers are relative newcomers and their pulses of energy are so quick that each lasts only a trillionth of a second – which is a picosecond, hence the name. Those energy pulses create sound waves as the laser energy is absorbed into the skin, rather than heat (it’s called a ‘photo-acoustic’ effect) and why that’s interesting is because those sound waves can safely treat sun damage in darker skins without causing hyper-pigmentation or hypo-pigmentation.

Pico lasers also shatter pigment more finely than other lasers, so they’re brilliant for tattoo removal. Here’s an analogy: if you think of a pigment molecule as a rock, and a normal pigment-busting laser shatters that rock into pieces of gravel, a pico laser will turn that pigment into sand.

Can laser be used to treat uneven pigmentation in darker skin tones?

Yes. The answer used to be ‘No’, because the potential for complications like hyper- or hypopigmentation was just too high, but with the arrival of pico lasers, it is now much easier to treat pigmentation successfully in darker skin tones. Most doctors will still medically manage conditions such as melasma first though. Hydroquinone, remains the first line treatment, with lasers being an adjunct. Uneven pigmentation is also a recurrent condition and sadly is not completely curable. 

Can lasers help acne scarring?

Yes, laser treatment is great for improving the appearance of acne scarring, by resurfacing the skin and encouraging the creation of new, smoother skin. This can be done with ablative lasers, or fractional ablative lasers (hardcore, but great results), or non-ablative lasers (less tough; possibly lesser results), so discuss carefully with your chosen practitioner how much of an improvement the laser treatment that they are offering is likely to achieve.

Can lasers help acne?

Most lasers help acne scarring rather than active acne, but a new type of laser has been developed that works by targeting the sebaceous glands in the skin. The AviClear from Cutera works by reducing the activity of those oil-producing glands and it is FDA cleared for mild to severe acne  –  in clinical trials it has been shown to be as effective as the pharmaceutical acne treatment, Roaccutane.  The laser launched in the USA in 2022 and will be launched in the UK in 2023.

How red will my skin be after laser skin treatment?

Your skin is likely to be redder if you have a stronger treatment, and that redness may last for a few hours, a few days or a few weeks as your skin heals.

How long is the downtime after laser treatment?

How long you need in ‘social downtime’ after treatment with a laser completely depends on the intensity and the extent of the treatment. If you have a light ‘pass’ of laser energy during a laser facial, you will hardly know it; if you have a more heavy-duty treatment, your face may be red for days, or weeks.

Does laser skin treatment hurt?

That all depends on the intensity of the treatment, and the strategies that practitioners can take to reduce the discomfort. A zap of laser can feel like a lightweight prickling sensation or a very sharp nip, and you will usually be given a dose of numbing cream before treatment. Many newer lasers have sophisticated cooling devices built in so that they chill the skin to reduce the sensation of heat during the treatment. What that adds up to is that treatment is not exactly pleasant, but it’s not too bad either.

What is the best time of year for laser skin treatment?

It’s best to have laser treatment during the winter because any laser treatment leaves the skin more sensitive to UV light and more susceptible to damage. It’s much easier to minimise your exposure to UV light during the winter.

 

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