Laser Resurfacing Recovery - when Can I Go Back to Work?

what should i expect after a laser skin resurfacing?  how long is healing? are there tips for recovering from the laser treatment faster?

Doctor Answers 18

Recovery Time for Laser Resurfacing

The time frame to return to work is determined by the laser type and how aggressively the laser is being used. Nothing seems to greatly expedite recovery substantially, but good skin care before and after laser treatment is important to avoid complications. Moisture is necessary for newly lasered skin. Make sure a thick ointment (i.e. Aquaphor) is applied for several days. Usually, patients treated with the Erbium laser can return to work in 1 week and those treated with CO2 laser require 3 weeks to recover. Less aggressive lasers may only require a day or 2 to recover, but such laser treatment typically needs to be performed numerous times.
I hope you find this helpful. Good luck!

New York Oculoplastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 134 reviews

Laser Resurfacing Back to Work-Erbium 1 week-CO2 2 Weeks

Thank you for your question.

You will not want to go back to work after Ablative Laser Resurfacing until your skin has healed and the redness can be covered with makeup.

It depends on how aggressive and deep the Laser Resurfacing treatment has been done.

Generally speaking you will heal faster after Erbium Laser Resurfacing than with CO2 Laser Resurfacing.

New Combined Erbium laser Resurfacing patients usually heal within 5-7 days. CO2 takes longer.

Plan a week out of work for Erbium and two weeks after CO2

Recovery time from laser depends on specific treatment

Non-ablative laser resurfacing procedures typically have between 0-3 days of downtime, during which time you may look a bit bizarre but you are able to function without any real impairment. Ablative laser resurfacing can sometimes entail 7-10 days of downtime with the earliest you can return to work around 5-7 days. The most important thing to do to speed recovery is to follow the post-operative care instructions provided by your laser surgeon and to follow up regularly during the first few days to make sure everything is on track.

Douglas Wu, MD
San Diego Dermatologist
4.9 out of 5 stars 43 reviews

Recovery for fractional CO2 laser

The answer to how long recovery from laser resurfacing will vary from surgeon to device to patient.  I use a fractional CO2 laser which is what is now most commonly being performed, so my answer will be based on this. My average patient will need 7 days off for the skin to peel and recover.  Aquaphor or similar ointment is needed for 5 days and makeup may be applied at day 7 to help hide the pinkness.  Sun exposure should be minimized for a month after the procedure.

Raymond E. Lee, MD
Orange County Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 84 reviews

Laser recovery

Like many things in life, your return or results are directly proportional to your investment, or in this case downtime. More aggressive treatments will give you better results, but they will also come with more downtime.

That being said, you need to define what downtime means to you. The feeling of warmth, weeping, and peeling are usually done within a week with even the more aggressive settings, and it can decrease proportionally from there with less aggressive treatments.

Redness can persist well beyond the original week of downtime, and although persistent erythema has been considered a "complication" of ablative lasers like the CO2, it can easily be covered with make up or even just a lightly tinted sunscreen, which you should be wearing afterwards anyway.

Of note, the new fractionated technologies allow more aggressive settings with a decreased downtime than you would otherwise have to endure to achieve similar results. 

Fractionation simply means that the laser treats small micro thermal zones covering varying densities depending on how your physician sets it instead of ablating the entire top surface of your skin. With just these micro thermal zones being ablated, the normal islands of skin in between allow a more rapid healing.

To discuss your needs and likely downtime, seek out a dermatologic surgeon, oculoplastic surgeon, facial plastic surgeon or plastic surgeon who is board certified and fellowship trained in one of these "core four" cosmetic specialties.

Cameron Chesnut, MD, FAAD, FACMS
Spokane Dermatologic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 100 reviews

Recovery Time of Laser Resurfacing

Returning to work after laser resurfacing depends on the degree/intensity of the treatment performed. It depends on how deep the Laser Resurfacing treatment has been done. Ablative laser treatments require a week or more of downtime, but don't usually require more than 1 treatment. Non-ablative treatments have minimal to no downtime, but you need to return for multiple treatments. It's also very important to stay out of direct sunlight.

Hardik Soni, MD
Summit Emergency Medicine Physician
5.0 out of 5 stars 43 reviews

Depends on the Intensity

Ablative laser treatments require a week or more of downtime, but don't usually require more than 1 treatment. Non-ablative treatments have minimal to no downtime, but you need to return for multiple treatments. One of the reasons I typically use the Halo hybrid fractional laser at my practice is because its customizable technology doesn't require patients to choose between increased downtime or more treatments. With the Halo laser, the specialist can adjust the intensity and depth throughout the treatment. No matter which procedure type you choose, creams, lotions, and serums can help promote quicker healing. It's also very important to stay out of direct sunlight.

Otto Weiglein, FRCSC
Burlington Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Laser Resurfacing Recovery - when Can I Go Back to Work?

After laser treatment the older skin will become dry and peel off, during this time there are steps that can be
taken to speed up the recovery:

  • The type of laser and surgical technique, needs to be tailored to the individual the extent of the skin ageing, ethnicity and skin pigmentation. Generally fractionated CO2 lasers offer an effective skin rejuvenation while minimizing the potential side effects and offer a fast recovery. Modern day lasers offer faster recovery by treating only a proportion of the skin (termed fractionated), older lasers treated all of the skin surface (termed ablative lasers) were associated with higher risks and longer recovery.
  • After laser treatment the skin tends to dry out, apply Vaseline or similar lubricating ointment regularly while the skin is crusting and peeling. Keeping the skin moist and regularly cleaned will help a speedy recovery.
  • Wash your face regularly with a cetaphil skin soap (simple skin soap with few preservatives) to clean the skin from skin debris and body secretions. Cleansing gently with gauze sponges to clean the skin every 3-4 hours is recommended.

Depending on the type of laser resurfacing the downtime can vary, most patients are able to return to work with in 7-10 days. 

Julian De Silva, MD
London Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 133 reviews

When can I go back to work after laser resurfacing?

Thank you for the important question. Returning to work after laser resurfacing depends on the degree/intensity of the treatment performed. For Fractional CO2 resurfacing, most people can be out in public in about 1 week. Working from home is a great option during this time, if need be. Attention to pre- and post-treatment care, including application of hydrating creams and gentle cleaning will maximize both results and recovery. Best of luck!

Evan Ransom, MD
Bay Area Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 109 reviews

Laser resurfacing and returning to work

   I usually tell patients to plan on about a week off before returning to work after a fractionated laser treatment.  I use fairly aggressive setings.  A nice thing about fractionated lasers, is that you can power down and get the patient back to work sooner, although the end result may not be as good as higher settings/more downtime.

   You can expect to be red and swollen for the first few days. A checkerboard pattern may appear and peeling usually starts on the 3rd day.  It is very important not to pick at this stage.  Your skin may still be pink, but make up can usually be worn at 1 week, upon return to work.

   You should certainly follow your doctors skin care program: antibiotics, antivirals, moisturizers. With good care, I still think it take a week to heal.  Lana Long, M.D.

Lana Long, MD
Cincinnati Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 2 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.