What Lasers Can Do For You

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Different lasers are used to tackle different concerns. “Everyone wants the best results with the shortest healing period, but that isn’t always possible,” says Valencia, CA, dermatologist Bernard I. Raskin, MD. “The lighter the laser, the easier the recovery, but the less extreme your results will be.”

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Lighter lasers that refine and minimize pores and fine lines

What It Is: Diode nonablative fractional laser (brand name: Clear + Brilliant)

How It Works: The least invasive type of fractional resurfacing available, miniscule holes are made in skin to reveal fresher, smoother skin as it heals.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $250

When to Do It: A day or two before a big event

The Recovery: Next to none, but the 30-minute treatment can leave you a little red for about one hour (you can put makeup on right away).

The End Result: Smoother skin that boasts a healthy glow. “Some patients like the results so much that they are having a Clear + Brilliant laser treatment quarterly or once a month instead of having a facial,” says Washington, D.C., dermatologist Tina Alster, MD.

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Lighter lasers that lighten pink and red pigment in the skin

What It Is: Pulsed-dye laser (brand names: Vbeam, Cynergy)

How It Works: Uses pulsed-dye energy to selectively pick up the red and pink pigment in broken capillaries, scars, redness and ruddy complexions to even out the skin, making it more uniform in color.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $250

When to Do It: Anytime

The Recovery: None, although some patients may notice slight bruising.

The End Result: Less redness in the skin. You can see that broken blood vessels are diminished right away.

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Lighter lasers that get rid of hair for good

What It Is: Nd:YAG, diode and alexandrite lasers (brand names: LightSheer Duet, GentleLase)

How It Works: Transmits a beam of energy to the skin that is absorbed by the melanin in the hair follicle, stopping the cycle of hair production. If your hair is gray or very light blond, laser hair removal may not work since it will not pick up the color in the hair.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $50

When to Do It: In the winter when your skin isn’t tan (a tan can hinder results and cause hyperpigmentation).

The Recovery: Not much other than some redness and bumpiness around the follicle.

The End Result: Fuzz-free, smooth skin after a series of treatments. Annual touch-ups may be necessary.

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Lighter lasers that fght stubborn acne

The Tanda ZAP Power ($79) boasts a triple-threat of technologies—blue LED light, sonic vibration and gentle warming—that help clear and fade acne breakouts within 24 hours without pain, irritation or dryness.

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Medium-strength lasers that retexturizes skin and evens out mild acne scars, wrinkles and discoloration

What It Is: Nonablative fractional laser (brand names: Fraxel Dual, Harmony XL)

How It Works: This dermatologist favorite works by, “Damaging only small columns of skin, leaving normal skin in between each of the columns,” says Chestnut Hill, MA, dermatologist Jeffrey S. Dover, MD. Because the skin is safely injured, it doesn’t become damaged overall and heals faster. It’s also good for the hands, chest and neck.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $350

When to Do It: In the middle of the winter. You don’t want to be in the sun at all after this laser, which can increase the risk of permanent pigmentation.

The Recovery: Your skin may be pink or red and will feel rough (like sandpaper) for two to three days afterward. “There will be some pain, redness and a raw feeling to the skin,” says Prospect, KY, dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD. “I recommend that patients stay home for about three days to make sure you get absolutely no sun exposure or an infection. If you’re spending all this money, you must follow the letter of the law with recovery.” Make sure to keep the area moist as the skin begins to flake off and no matter what, don’t pick at it or pull it.

The End Result: After a series of treatments (three to six) you’ll notice softer skin that is less red. Brown spots will lighten up and scars will flatten out.

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Medium-strength lasers that erase unwanted tattoos

What It Is: Picosecond, alexandrite and Q-switched ND:YAG (brand names: PicoSure, RevLite, Accolade, TriVantage)

How It Works: The laser hones in on tattoo pigment in the skin to lift up the color and lighten it. The darker the tattoo dye, the easier it is to treat. Although the traditional tattoo-removing laser is effective, the newest technology is said to be picosecond lasers, which deliver short pulses of energy in a trillionth of a second for better pigment removal, fewer treatments and less damage to surrounding tissue. A course of treatments is necessary.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $300

When to Do It: Anytime

The Recovery: A little crusting and swelling that jlasts three to seven days

The End Result: Drastically lighter or completely erased tattoos

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Heavy-duty lasers that eliminate severe lines, wrinkles, sun damage, deep acne and traumatic scars

What It Is: Ablative fractional CO2 or erbium lasers (brand names: Fraxel re:pair SST, Pixel CO2)

How It Works: Ablative lasers employ the same technology as nonablative versions just in a more amped up version. Because of its superlong wavelength, ablative fractional lasers (specifically CO2 versions) go further into the skin. As long as the settings are adjusted accordingly, fractional CO2 lasers can be used on the eyelids, around the mouth, on the neck, chest, hands and on darker skin. Fractional CO2 lasers remodel collagen, which is why they produce such drastic results.

What It Costs: Starts at approximately $500

When to Do It: “It’s best to plan for a major laser procedure in the winter because there is less sun exposure and people typically have more time for healing,” says Dr. Alster. “Never undergo a laser treatment on a tan because that increases the risk of blisters and pigment changes.”

The Recovery: Typically takes seven to 10 days, but if your doctor dials down the energy, recovery will be shortened four to five days. With standard ablative laser, skin will be extremely red, swollen and oozy (this starts immediately and will continue for three to seven days). Skin is also “open,” (or exposed) so a mild cleanser and healing ointment is generally recommended, followed by a zinc-based sunscreen.  

The End Result: Skin will be a bit tighter and brighter overall and wrinkles will be considerably improved. “The skin is remodeling itself, so as time passes you’ll look better. It can take almost one year to see the final end result,” says Dr. Cassis.

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