Laser Resurfacing Side Effects & Risks

By PMUHub Editorial Team| Last updated on July 12, 2023

Before trying out laser skin resurfacing for the first time, it’s important you have all the facts. So, here’s everything you need to know about laser resurfacing side effects and risks!

laser resurfacing side effects

Image source: Freepik

Although laser resurfacing is a safe and effective method for improving different skin conditions and imperfections, there are still things that can go wrong.

In this guide, we’ll cover the normal side effects that happen to almost everyone & can easily be treated (or will even go away on their own), but we’ll also issue a warning regarding some more unfortunate and more permanent risks.

So, let’s get started!

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What Is Considered a Side Effect of Laser Resurfacing?

The laser skin resurfacing procedure comes with a certain level of risk and can lead to several side effects. Here’s a list of the complications you should be aware of:

  • Prolonged redness
  • Swelling
  • Scarring (rare, but possible)
  • Milia
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Hypopigmentation (less likely)
  • Cold sore flare-up
  • Acne flare-up
  • Bacterial infection

Whether you might experience any of these side effects boils down to skin type and sensitivity, so the best thing to do is to consult with your provider before booking the appointment.

The good news is that you can alleviate most of these laser resurfacing side effects by using ice packs or ice rollers, hydrating and SPF products, and prescribed medication. Take a look at some of our product picks:

Fractional & CO2 Laser Side Effects

A CO2 laser is the most frequently used one and for good reason. It’s been proven to be a very effective solution for wrinkles, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, and a myriad of other, similar blemishes.

Similarly, a fractional laser is also a pretty popular choice among professionals, also due to its effectiveness.

In terms of laser resurfacing side effects these popular laser options can cause, there’s really not a lot to worry about. Although some of these can be unpleasant, they’re all easily treatable.

During your healing process, you may experience milia, which look like small white bumps. You can get rid of them at home by regularly using a gentle cleanser and a washcloth, but if you’re impatient, a dermatologist can remove them instantly with a scalpel.

Similarly, you may also see an acne flare-up, which will go away on its own but can also be treated with conventional acne products & medication (but we don’t recommend you buy those without consulting a doctor first).

Another possibility is that you’ll see some hyper- or hypopigmentation on the treated areas. Hyperpigmentation can be resolved with bleaching cream, but hypopigmentation will require a professional to intervene.

A CO2 laser may reactivate herpes simplex cold sores, especially if the treatment is done on or around the lips. To prevent this, consult with a doctor about taking antiviral medication before and after the treatment. The same can be done to prevent bacterial infections.

Finally, some more common and much more manageable CO2 and fractional laser side effects include swelling, redness, irritation, and dryness, which can be reduced by keeping an ice pack and moisturizer at hand.


Image source: Instagram @melissamade

Cool Peel Laser Side Effects

This type of laser skin resurfacing has the least amount of side effects for you to worry about, thanks to its lack of heat usage (hence the name).

You will almost certainly feel slight discomfort immediately following the procedure, but it won’t be anything to stress about – no worse than a sunburn. This will go away in the first 12-24h after the treatment and can be eased with some ice or a cooling product.

Other than that, you may experience a bit of redness for a few days, and your skin will feel drier than usual. To combat this, simply use a lightweight moisturizer.


Image source: Facebook JL Plastic Surgery

Erbium Laser Side Effects

Erbium lasers work thanks to their affinity toward the water in our skin. Once it comes into contact with the skin, an erbium laser essentially vaporizes the outermost layer, leaving the skin clearer and removing any blemish that wasn’t too deep.

Although it uses heat, an erbium laser doesn’t have a lot of penetrative power. This means that any side effects that occur will be present only on the surface level and shouldn’t cause too much trouble.

The entire recovery process usually won’t take longer than 1-2 weeks in total. At first, you’ll experience redness and some swelling. After that, a crust-like film will appear over the treated area – which is completely normal and shouldn’t cause any harm or permanent marks as long as you don’t pick at it.

In some rarer cases, the redness may persist for even up to 2 months, but this depends on the severity of the treatment you had done. If you feel like these initial side effects are taking far too long to heal, it’s best you consult with your therapy provider or dermatologist about your next steps.

A more serious concern is an infection, which can be either bacterial or viral. Even if you go to a trusted professional for the treatment, your skin is pretty raw after laser resurfacing and therefore more prone to infection.

You can avoid this by using medication before and after the erbium laser treatment, but, of course, only upon consulting with a medical professional.

As with the other types of lasers, there’s also a small risk of changes to the skin pigment. This cannot be avoided, although it can be treated with cosmetic products. It’s good to keep in mind that people with darker skin tones are more likely to experience this side effect.

The rarest side effects of an erbium laser treatment are acne eruptions and scarring. The acne should go away on its own, whereas scarring will certainly require a professional to remove it.

Laser Resurfacing Risks

Now that we’ve covered the common, treatable side effect of different types of lasers, it’s time to take on a more serious tone and discuss the things that can go wrong more permanently with any kind of laser.

Let’s take a look at the most common risks of laser resurfacing:

Acne

So far, we’ve only talked about acne flare-ups, which are typically short-lived and can disappear even without the need for your intervention. However, getting a more persistent case is also an unfortunate possibility.

Acne, in general, can be treated with topical or oral medicine. So, if you feel that the post-laser flare-up isn’t really a flare-up but something more serious, contact your dermatologist and they’ll provide you with the best treatment options.

Hypopigmentation

Changes in the pigment of your skin are completely normal with laser resurfacing.

Hyperpigmentation, as we’ve already said, can be easily done away with through the use of bleaching products. But, sadly, that is not the case with hypopigmentation.

These lighter patches on your skin don’t have to be forever, either. There is plenty of medicine out there that can help you deal with it, but again, you’ll need to consult with your dermatologist first.

Just a quick reminder – darker skin is more prone to this risk than lighter one.

Scarring

Depending on the type of treatment you get as well as the type of laser used, you could wind up with some scarring on the treated area. It most commonly appears when an erbium laser is used, whereas cool peels are the safest choice.

The good news is that scarring is pretty rare with laser treatments, and can be easily avoided. The best thing you can do to help it is to go to a trusted professional who you’re certain is experienced in working with your conditions and skin color.

Laser Resurfacing Side Effects & Risks – Main Takeaways

After walking you through all these negative sides to laser skin resurfacing, you’re probably feeling a little shaky in your decision to undergo this treatment. Let us reassure you that there’s no need for that!

Most of the side effects we talked about are very temporary or can be dealt with easily with over-the-counter remedies or even plain ice. The more dangerous risks are, thankfully, very rare and can be prevented.

Just remember to do your research and book an experienced, licensed professional to minimize any possible laser resurfacing side effects and risks.

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