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 22

Recovery Time for Laser Resurfacing

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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!

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

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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

Laser Recovery

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The most effective way to have the best healing possible form your laser treatment is to precondition your skin beforehand. That means you want to make sure you have cleared your skin of acne, and have used skin creams or pharmaceutical treatments as advised by your physician. When it comes time for your treatment I also advise you to clear your calendar of any social commitments for at least a week, that way you do not have the added anxiety of trying to heal rapidly. The reason is because if you really want to have a highly effective treatment, you want to give yourself enough downtime, because that treatment will likely make you look worse before you look better. The advantage of today's technology is that we have a lot of lasers available to us such as fractional laser therapy with halo, which allow you to address multiple components of your skin with minimal downtime. Invariably, you want to cover your skin with some type of semi occlusive dressing while the skin is raw and trying to heal initially. Keep your skin stimulated and moisturized so it can return to optimal condition. of course you also want to avoid sun after your treatment, because the sun is a potential cause of post inflammatory hyper pigmentation. We also recommend having the right cleaning solution and moisture therapy while the skin is undergoing healing. In our practice we like the use of CHUDA skin cream, and STRATACEL as the semi-occlusive healing dressing, until you are back to your rejuvenated skin. 

Recovery time from laser depends on specific treatment

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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 53 reviews

Recovery for fractional CO2 laser

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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 101 reviews

24 Hour downtime with Halo hybrid fractional laser resurfacing - Safe and Effective for all skin types and ages

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The latest & greatest in the world of resurfacing is Halo Hybrid Fractional laser.  FDA approved in 2014.  Gives results comparable to CO2 with reduced risk and truly 24 hours of downtime.  After 24 hours, you can cover the redness with mineral makeup AND at this point, majority of our patients return to work.  If you are not a makeup person, expect 3 days of redness, possibly 1-2 days of swelling, in some cases.  Best to clear your social calendar for 3 days.  Majority of our patients have clear and glowing skin in 1-2 weeks.  The improvement in laxity, line and wrinkle, a more even pigment and texture gradually shows over several weeks.

Recovery after laser resurfacing varies significantly depending on the laser Fraxel, LaserGenesis, PicoSure, Microneedling

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Acne scars vary from patient to patient and within the facial topography of the same patient the scars can vary significantly requiring different treatments to be done.

laser resurfacing with Fraxel Dual or Fraxel Restore use a 1927nm or 1550nm. wavelength. These are used for mild to moderately deep acne scars. Fraxel Repair or carbon dioxide laser is used for more aggressive treatment of deeper scars. The downtime for Fraxel Dual or Restore is usually five days of redness but makeup can be applied the next day and sometimes that evening. there is very little flaking but with the Fraxel Dual 1927, there are brown tiny "coffee grains" that start to show around day 3 and are gone usually by day 5 to 7. People undergoing this laser are socializing immediately, but those having had carbon dioxide laser have a wound that need days to up to two weeks to heal. Fractional laser resurfacing with carbon dioxide (Fraxel Repair) heals more quickly than the older fully ablative non fractional carbon dioxide laser which is very rarely used today, but usually takes 10-12 days to heal and thereafter there is redness for a while.

Some patients with mild scarring can benefit by a series of PicoSure focus laser treatments, LaserGenesis, and radiofrequency treatments such as Infini microneedling, VenusViva and others.

Please keep in mind that there is significant variability and some patients take much longer to heal than others and no one should schedule resurfacing shortly before a big social event, public speaking event or travel.

Ronald Shelton, MD
Manhattan Dermatologic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 39 reviews

Hydrate + Protect for recovery after laser resurfacing

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Laser resurfacing has become a very common aesthetic laser procedure and after-laser skin care has been standardized to include proper hydration, deep moisturization and protection against UV-A and UV-B damage. I recommend a product that providdes all of these features to all of my patients who have had laser resurfacing and the product is called Hydrate + Protect Mini Kit. See the link below for more information. 

Laser recovery

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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 122 reviews

Recovery Time of Laser Resurfacing

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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 (not currently practicing)
Summit Emergency Medicine Physician

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.