Looking for the next big thing in anti-aging? For those who don’t have the patience for a serum, cream, or at-home peel, there’s another option that’s growing in popularity: lasers. While it may not involve a knife, it’s still a serious medical procedure and shouldn’t be taken lightly. To start your research we asked two experts for an overview on the subject: Dr. Ronald L. Moy, Los Angeles cosmetic and plastic surgeon, board-certified dermatologist, and member of the American Academy of Plastic Surgery; and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, New York cosmetic dermatologist.
What can a laser do for me?
Lasers are used for a variety of things: they treat sun damage, plump up wrinkles, fade scars from acne or minor injuries, improve the texture and color of skin, and even shrink pores, Dr. Frank says. (And, of course, hair removal!)
What is a laser actually doing to my skin?
To put it simply, a laser works by damaging the surface of skin, prompting your body to regenerate. “It’s like tricking the body into stimulating the things that were damaged,” Dr. Frank says. “Unlike many organs in your body, you get a whole new set of skin cells every 30 days, which makes it easier to get results.”
What kinds of lasers are there?
The main two types are fractional erbium lasers and carbon dioxide lasers. Here is your quickie guide!
Fractional Erbium Lasers
Best for: Light wrinkles, mild scars, pigment, shrinking pores, and improving skin’s texture
Cost: Approximately $900-$1500 per treatment
Downtime: Three to four days. Expect mild puffiness and a sunburn-like reaction that can be covered with makeup.
Best known brand: Fraxel Dual
Carbon Dioxide Lasers:
Best for: Deeper scars and wrinkles
Cost: Approximately $1000-$5000 per treatment
Downtime: It depends.
If done lightly, downtime can be just a few days, but for most treatments the side effects will be more intense, requiring hiding out for a week at home.
Best-known brand(s): Fraxel Repair, Matrix, Pixel
What about IPL? Isn’t that a laser too?
There is mixed information out there on intense pulsed light treatments, but contrary to popular belief, IPL is not a true laser, says Dr. Frank. “IPL is a broad-spectrum pulsed light of many wavelengths,” he says. “Whereas a laser has a specific wavelength to target a specific thing in the skin, like pigment, water, or blood vessels.” Not ready for a laser yet?
While the results of fractional resurfacing far surpass IPL, this treatment can be a good option to treat mild issues like brown spots and broken capillaries. IPL is much less expensive (expect a few hundred per treatment) and the downtime is less severe. Depending on the severity of the procedure, you can expect redness, swelling, and minor discoloration that lasts from a few hours to a few days.
What’s a good age to start using lasers?
When it comes to resurfacing, Dr. Moy doesn’t recommend anyone under the age of 35 go under a laser, but Dr. Frank doesn’t see anything wrong with treating mild signs of aging—like brown spots and freckles—in your 20s.
Why choose lasers?
In one word: precision. “With lasers we can target the one area we want to treat and not disrupt the surrounding skin,” Dr. Frank says. “Chemical peels and dermabrasion bulldoze everything in their path, but when we target what we want, you get quicker results with less downtime.” Another upside is incredibly natural-looking results on wrinkles, compared to Botox and fillers, Dr. Moy says. Dr. Frank warns, however, that a laser may seem like a magic wand, but it’s still a medical procedure that should be taken very seriously.
Do your research on your doctor of choice and be prepared to pay several hundred dollars per treatment. (Which, depending on how much you’re paying for anti-aging serums and moisturizers, might not be as expensive as it sounds.) Dr. Frank’s top tip? “Make sure your doctor has several different types of lasers,” he says. “Many doctors have only one type—so it’s almost like, all they have is a hammer, so they think everything looks like a nail.”
Is it painful?
“Most find laser completely tolerable,” Dr. Franks says.
“While others are helped with a topical anaesthetic.” Translation: it really just depends on your pain tolerance.