If you’re looking for a skin refresh that spans from a light pick-me-up to full-fledged resurfacing, consider a laser. Praised for its ability to zap away unwanted pigment, improve uneven texture and tone, lessen the signs of aging, and so much more, laser treatments provide dramatic results, but there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of one. Lasers go to work the minute the energy wavelength comes into contact with the skin, but it doesn’t stop there. “Post-laser care is important in achieving the best results and avoiding complications,” says New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD.
Baton Rouge, LA, dermatologist Ann Zedlitz, MD says a good routine preps the skin before your appointment. “Physical sunscreen is important because it ensures that the skin will be ready for a laser. I also have patients use a vitamin C serum, which helps with elasticity and collagen production and healing,” she says. “Higher Fitzpatrick types benefit from a skin-lightening product, like hydroquinone, for two weeks before a laser to lessen the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.” Using topical retinoids, growth factors and peptides in the months leading up to a laser jumpstarts collagen production for better results.
On the flip side, there are products and treatments to steer clear of (anywhere from 48 hours to one week before, depending on the laser) like retinol, which can cause sensitivities, NSAIDS and supplements as both increase bruising and self-tanning and sunburns, which can hinder the result. For Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) patients, New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD, takes inventory of all medications to lessen the risk of sensitivity to the sun.
Keep it Calm
In the world of ablative, semi-ablative and nonablative lasers, using safe, gentle and calming ingredients is imperative. “Nonablative lasers require a gentle moisturizer, whereas ablative treatments may command a complex skin-care program. Semi-ablative treatments fall somewhere in between,” says Spokane, WA dermatologist Wm. Philip Werschler, MD. Less aggressive lasers need a mild routine for about 48 hours; more aggressive lasers necessitate a one to two-week break from regular skincare products. “Until the skin forms a new top layer (from ablative lasers), it is vulnerable, and antiviral and antibacterial care is important,” explains Dr. Russak. “With nonablative lasers, growth factors, peptides and nutrients help as the skin is at its optimal penetration potential.” Inflammation-reducing antioxidants are beneficial, too. Follow your doctor’s instructions and don’t use just any product in your beauty cabinet. “The skin is compromised, and it needs to be treated with products that won’t irritate or aggravate it,” adds Dr. Peredo.
To cleanse freshly lasered skin, use a gentle sulfate-free cleanser—no hot water, cleansing devices, or rough washcloths, which can aggravate the skin. If PRP is combined with a fractionated laser, wait 24 hours to cleanse to preserve the PRP. Dr. Zedlitz advises post-laser skin to bypass products with fragrances and/or alcohols, which are drying. Other ingredients on the do-not-use list include retinol and tretinoin, which make the skin sensitive to the sun, vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, which can over-exfoliate the skin, and essential oils, which can be irritating.
Hydration is essential as it is typical to experience transepidermal water loss (water evaporating through the skin). Most dermatologists recommend occlusive products for ablative lasers and emollients for nonablative treatments. “The more occlusive the product, the more likely breakouts will occur,” says Dr. Werschler, which can be problematic for acne-scar patients seeking corrective treatment. “There is the potential to breakout post-laser because the skin is dehydrated during the treatment,” says Dr. Russak. “If the skin is oilier, this prompts the skin to produce oil. Unfortunately, skin does not produce water in this manner, and the excess oil causes breakouts.” To prevent post-treatment breakouts, ask your dermatologist for a prescription antibiotic.
Sunscreen is non-negotiable, and nonirritating physical versions with SPF of 30 to 50 are best to use. “The sun breaks down collagen and elastin and lasers stimulate collagen, so wearing sunscreen protects your investment,” says Dr. Zedlitz.
Every expert interviewed for this story agrees that doing a laser—especially those for pigment—during the summer isn’t ideal because of increased sun exposure. “Fall and winter are better. In the fall, the sun is less strong, so we can treat the summer damage,” says Dr. Russak. If you’re investing the time and money into your skin, you want it to glow!
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