Performed by a skincare professional, non-ablative laser treatments emit heat into the lower layers of the skin without impacting the skin’s surface. This triggers a wound-healing response that stimulates cellular renewal and collagen production for improvement in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, depressed scars, or skin tone and texture.
Laser resurfacing treatments are categorized as ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers, such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Erbium (ER: YAG), work by vaporizing the top layer of the skin to help trigger tissue repair and stimulate collagen production. Non-ablative lasers, such as Clear + Brilliant, CoolTouch Fraxel Restore and N-Lite, generate heat below the skin to induce controlled injury in the dermis without injuring the skin’s surface.
Non-ablative lasers are less invasive than their ablative counterparts, thereby yielding more moderate results. However, downtime is significantly lower and the potential for side effects is greatly reduced. It is generally recommended that a series of 4-6 treatments is completed to see optimal results.
Non-ablative laser treatments are ideal for individuals with light to olive complexions looking to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, soften acne scarring, and improve skin tone.
Candidates with Fitzpatrick skin types IV and above should be very cautious when considering laser resurfacing. Although non-ablative lasers are not as invasive as ablative lasers, the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring still exists. If considering this procedure, it is essential that you look for an experienced skincare professional with extensive knowledge and a proven track record in treating patients with deeper skin tones. Additionally, it is especially important that all pre- and post-procedure instructions are followed diligently, especially the use of a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Regardless of your skin type, it is also important that you discuss with your skincare professional any medications that you may be taking, as some medication such as Accutane might make your skin more sensitive to UV light.
Non-ablative lasers work by delivering a single wavelength of light to produce a controlled injury to the skin, which promotes cellular renewal. The energy that is emitted from the laser heats the lower layers of the skin in a targeted, controlled manner. This heat-induced damage triggers a skin repair response and stimulates the production of collagen, a structural protein responsible for skin elasticity, integrity, and firmness. All of this occurs without damaging the surface of the skin.
There are different ways of delivering the light of a non-ablative laser. One method is non-fractionated, meaning that the laser acts on an entire area of the skin. The second approach is fractionated, in which case the laser targets only a portion of the skin at a time. This latter approach emits heat using thousands of microscopic columns, known as microthermal treatment zones. Since the use of a fractionated laser distributes the effects of laser, multiple treatments may be required to achieve the desired results. However, this approach promotes quicker healing of the skin, reduces recovery time, and helps mitigate potential risks, making it ideal for patients seeking minimal downtime.
Prior to the treatment, your skincare professional will prep the area to be treated by cleansing your skin. You will also be given a protective pair of goggles to cover your eyes. Since non-ablative laser treatments are not as invasive as ablative lasers, a topical numbing cream or local anesthetic may not be required. However, if you have any concerns, it is recommended that you discuss with your skincare professional prior to treatment. If deemed necessary, you may be provided with a numbing cream to be applied one to two hours before the treatment.
During a non-ablative laser treatment, your skincare professional may use an air-cooling device with or without the addition of a water-based gel to cool and protect the skin’s surface. The laser will gently pass through your skin without affecting the surrounding skin surface. The sensation is often described as a rubber band snapping on skin. This procedure can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending upon the area to be treated.
Once finished, your skin will feel warm, similar to a mild sunburn, for up to 24-hours depending on the treatment. Sometimes, cooling the skin with an ice pack is necessary. Overall, the rate of recovery depends on the treatment type and how the skin reacts. Redness will often resolve within a few days, but can last longer depending on the type of laser used and the area being treated.
Although non-ablative laser treatments require little to no recovery, your skin will experience increased sensitivity to UV light. As a result, it is best to undergo this treatment during periods of reduced sun exposure, such as late fall or winter. If you live in a warmer climate or choose to have the procedure during warmer months, it is imperative that you avoid sun exposure as much as possible.
However, regardless of when you decide to receive your treatment, it is important that you apply a broad spectrum sunscreen daily and diligently. Not only will this help protect the results of your treatment, but it can help prevent future signs of skin aging. For the most comprehensive protection, your skincare professional may recommend using at-home skincare products such as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. Tested safe after non-ablative laser, this powerful vitamin c serum provides advanced environmental protection while helping improve visible signs of aging.
As with nearly any procedure, there are risks associated with non-ablative lasers. These include infection, changes in skin color, redness, swelling, or blisters. To avoid any unnecessary side effects and to maximize results, look for a licensed skincare professional with documented training and extensive experience in laser resurfacing. Your skincare professional will work with you to determine the most effective treatment plan based on your skin type, concerns, and desired results.
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It is recommended to incorporate an at-home skincare regimen after receiving a non-ablative laser treatment; always consult with your physician for individual at-home advice.