Laser skin whitening, also known as laser skin resurfacing, is a procedure whereby short pulses of concentrated light are directed onto a person’s skin to eliminate scars caused by acne, birthmarks, hyperpigmentation, blemishes, rosacea, wrinkles, and other conditions. One of the most common questions patients have is whether or not the laser skin whitening process is painful.
Yes, some patients feel pain during their laser skin lightening procedures, but this will depend on various factors. Most people will feel a slight sting or pop at the site where the laser meets their skin and may experience slight bruising or swelling afterward, while some are more sensitive and experience more pronounced side effects. Dermatologists will typically use a numbing cream on the skin area in question to minimize discomfort during the procedure.
To understand what a patient might expect when it comes to this procedure, let’s take a closer look at the various laser skin whitening techniques in common use. In addition to detailing their benefits and side effects, we’ll also explore ways to minimize the amount of discomfort experienced during these procedures.
Let’s get right to it.
Laser Skin Lightening Methods
There are four categories of laser skin lightening treatments available to us today. The choice of which to use will usually depend on the severity of the patient’s condition and their type of skin. Deciding which option will work best for you is a decision best made in consultation with your dermatologist. They are as follows:
Ablative Laser Skin Lightening
This is considered the most effective method of laser skin whitening available to us today, using pulsing beams of concentrated light (laser beams) to effectively vaporize the top layer and part of the underlying layers of the affected skin area. The result of this action will be the stimulation of new skin cell growth or turnover. These new skin cells will be healthier, more luminous, and lighter in tone than the previously blemished or heavily pigmented skin.
The procedure takes place in a dermatological surgeon’s premises and will start with a thorough cleaning of the area of skin to be treated, whether this is the face or elsewhere on the patient’s body. A local anesthetic might be administered to numb the target area and minimize the discomfort or pain that the procedure might cause. In instances where patients suffer from stress or anxiety related to the procedure, they might have a mild sedative to relax and calm them.
Ablative skin resurfacing procedures may last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more. However, this may vary depending on the severity of the patient’s condition, the particular technique applied by the dermatologist, and the size of the area to be treated.
Modern dermatological surgeons use two types of lasers to carry out this procedure:
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Laser – This is a gas-based laser directed onto the target skin surface to vaporize it. When the eliminated tissues begin to regenerate and grow, collagen and elastin tissue which have the positive effect of reducing wrinkles, fine lines, and any blemishes such as those resulting from hyperpigmentation, will appear.
Er: YAG (Erbium YAG) Laser – Erbium-doped solid-state lasers will also be applied to the treatment area following up after the first laser to mitigate or minimize potential scarring in the treatment area.
Non-Ablative Laser Skin Lightening
In this type of procedure, the laser treatment does not destroy or damage the top layer of the skin as ablative treatment does. Here, the laser will end heat into the skin without harming the dermis in the form of thousands of microthermal treatment zones or columns that will target the epidermal pigmented cells that have aged. The heat will destroy these pigmented cells while simultaneously stimulating the regeneration or growth of collagen and elastin, which play a vital role in keeping skin free of wrinkles or sagging.
While this skin whitening procedure will not occasion a recovery period lasting as long as the ablative treatment does, the downside is that multiple treatment sessions might be required to achieve the desired effect. Depending on the type of skin a patient presents with, non-ablative laser skin lightening procedures will either employ Fraxel restore lasers or Fraxel repair lasers.
Fractional Laser Skin Resurfacing
Here, a dermatological surgeon will employ a combination of ablative and non-ablative laser skin whitening to achieve more significant results in the treatment area.
The advantage of this approach is its relatively lower risk of complications and a much faster recovery time for the patient. While factional and non-ablative laser resurfacing methods might not have the power or effectiveness of ablative skin whitening procedures, they are still highly effective in delivering satisfactory results for a wide variety of conditions.
IPL Laser Skin Lightening
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. Here, multiple light wavelengths of laser light are deployed onto the treatment area targeting deep skin cells. The capability of changing the intensity of the laser used in this procedure differentiates it from the other methods mentioned above. The benefit of this is that dermatologists will target multiple layers of affected skin and different types of skin.
The Pros and Cons of Laser Skin Resurfacing
There are three main benefits that one may enjoy should they choose to undergo laser skin lightening:
- Laser skin lightening brings about relatively quick results compared to other methods currently available.
- These methods have significantly higher rates of effectiveness in comparison with other techniques.
- These treatments will only be carried out by fully trained and qualified dermatologists or surgeons, meaning that patients may have confidence that their health is not being put at unnecessary risk.
There are a few downsides when it comes to these procedures. These are mainly associated with the side effects many patients experience either during or for some time after their procedures.
Such effects might include scabbing, blistering, undesired pigment changes, acne formation, cold sore development, photosensitivity, prolonged swelling, skin tightness, infection, and scarring. In some cases, the cells responsible for the coloring pigmentation (melanin) in human skin might be inadvertently affected, leading to conditions such as hyperpigmentation (too much melanin) or hypopigmentation (too little melanin).
Of course, how people react to these procedures and the side effects they experience will be different from case to case depending on various factors such as the type of procedure used, the patient’s initial condition, and how well they take care of their skin before, during, and after the procedure. Note that people with blonde or red hair will generally experience relatively more persistent side effects.
Before undergoing laser skin resurfacing treatment, patients are advised to drink plenty of water daily (keeps skin hydrated), stop smoking at least two weeks before the date of the procedure (smoking tightens and dries out the skin), and stop taking alcohol at least six weeks before going in for the treatment.
Dermatologists will take various measures to maximize patient comfort during laser skin lightening procedures, such as the application of numbing cream or sedative administration. During the recovery period, patients should take special care of their skin by minimizing exposure to direct sunlight, wearing sunscreen outdoors, avoiding scratching or picking at their skin, and so on, as instructed by their dermatologist.
Skin Whitening Alternatives
There are other methods to achieve lighter, healthier, more radiant skin if they have any reservations regarding laser treatments. In consultation with your dermatologist, patients might consider any of the following techniques:
Microdermabrasion: Utilizes microscopic materials applied to the skin to mechanically abrade it. Some techniques will use diamond-tipped devices to exfoliate any discolored or dead skin cells from the targeted surface.
Dermabrasion: A mechanical device will be applied to the target skin surface to vigorously exfoliate dead skin.
Lightening Creams and Serums: There are plenty of specially formulated skin lightening creams available on the market that are capable of safely and effectively helping patients eliminate blemishes, achieve healthier skin, and lighten their skin tone.
Chemical Peels: There are acidic substances that may be safely applied to a person’s skin to chemically eliminate the upper layers of the skin to expose a healthier, lighter, and more radiant lower layer.
Natural Remedies: Should you wish to keep things entirely free of mechanical or chemical intervention, there are completely natural solutions out there that will help you achieve the desired whitening results for your skin.
Whichever method you choose to make use of, it is always a good idea to do your research and consult with your healthcare provider in advance, especially if you have any previous skin conditions, allergies, are pregnant, or are currently taking any medication.
Laser skin whitening solutions can be highly effective methods of attaining lighter, more radiant skin. Even though they produce good results, many people continue to seek alternative solutions due to the associated risks, side effects, and high costs involved in the procedures. The most prudent approach will be to consult a professional and have them explore the options available to you to find out what will work best for your particular circumstances and objectives.