When I first started treating my patients with laser and chemical peel procedures19 years ago, there were only a few options to improve sun damage, discoloration, and fine lines. Now there are dozens, so which one is best? The answer: it depends on your skin. Here are some FAQs:
How do lasers and chemical peels work? Lasers use beams of light to target a particular problem. Wrinkles, dark spots, broken blood vessels, large pores, scars, tattoos, and excess hair are treated with different lasers. Chemical peels use different strengths of acid solutions to remove layers of skin and unclog pores for smoother, clearer skin. Patients often ask for laser because it’s a newer technology and the idea of using “acid” scares them. But I explain that new devices aren’t always better or safer. In fact, for certain skin types and locations (such as the neck and chest), peels may be safer and more predictable.
How does it feel & what’s the recovery? Nonablative lasers (such as IPL) target freckles, redness, and pores, and stimulate collagen. Each pulse feels like a hot pinprick. Skin is red for a few days and may develop peppery dark spots for a week or two. These are the most popular laser treatments I perform in the office. Deeper “ablative” lasers may ooze and scab for a week or more, followed by redness that can last months. These may produce a pale, “waxy” appearance. Fractional lasers (like Fraxel, Affirm, and Pixel) treat pinpoints of skin, leaving normal skin in between, so healing time is shorter. Peels may sting and, depending on the strength, there may be redness followed by flaky patches. Deep chemical peels for melasma, wrinkles, and acne scars can produce dark crusts and scabs that may take a week or more to fall off, revealing new skin underneath.
What are the risks? Possible risks include skin discoloration and scarring if the treatment is too strong or the skin is not properly cared-for before and after the procedure. Lasers may blister and bruise, and may not be safe for those with a deeper or tan complexion. I’m a stickler about prepping my patients, and often recommend prescription-strength creams beforehand. With both lasers and peels, choosing the correct strength is crucial, and this comes from experience, so don’t be afraid to ask how long your doctor has been doing the procedure. You might not want your face to be someone’s guinea pig, even if you got a really good “deal” on Groupon.