A Primer on Lasers In Skincare

For the uninitiated, the concept of the 10-minute laser facial can seem daunting—sort of like that one-way trip to Mars too many people applied for. First of all, try free-associating the word ‘laser.’ Sci-fi might be the first word you come up with—or maybe something about newfangled weaponry. Laser hair removal might be in there somewhere if you happen to have experienced that, but skin resurfacing probably wasn’t among the first dozen reference points. After all, lasers are a big topic. But seeing as this is a beauty site, today we’ll tackle lasers as they relate to skincare—which can cover everything from a 10 second zap to take care of slight skin discoloration to the latest in nonsurgical facelifts.

The easiest way to understand what’s treatable is to understand what technologies are at your disposal. But before delving too deep, there are a few important clarifications. Mainly: Not everything in this article is technically a laser. “People lump everything under that umbrella—but that’s just one specific wavelength of light,” Dr. Patricia Wexler (of recent Top Shelf fame) clarifies. As the technology has evolved, there are now many tools to transfer energy through the skin, and in effect, injure it so that it heals stronger and more youthful looking. We’ll start with lasers though, since it’s the name of the game:


A definition: Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Within that, there are ablative lasers and non-ablative lasers. Both can treat color issues in the skin and stimulate collagen regrowth in the skin. The former has a greater capability of targeting the surface of the skin, all the way down to the sub-dermis, whereas non-ablative lasers can target the dermis without addressing the epidermis. “Ablating means you’re actually punching holes in the skin,” Dr. Neal Schultz explains. “With non-ablative, you’re just transferring the energy through it,” These days, non-ablative treatments tend to be more popular—they’re considered less invasive, and there’s significantly less downtime after the procedure. However, effects of an ablative laser tend to be longer lasting, depending on the area of the face targeted (lip lines and other problem areas caused by excessive movement are going to come back no matter what you zap them with). The downside is the downtime—lasers like a CO2 or Erbium are going to leave the skin “black and blue for a few weeks,” Dr. Schultz said. “But they’ll get rid of the spot or the line the first time, every time,” An Erbium can also treat benign moles and warts.

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