Do Facial Laser Peels Really Work?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

star-sponsored-native  The following article is sponsored by University of Utah Health Care.

The compliments keep coming.

“Your skin looks great!”

“You’re how old? I never would’ve guessed.”

“What skin care products are you using?”

Jamie underwent a breakthrough facial peel procedure called fractional CO2 laser resurfacing at the University of Utah’s South Jordan Health Center nine months ago, and the 37-year-old has been hearing the love ever since.

“Maybe they’re just flattering me, I don’t know,” she said, laughing.

Jamie opted for a laser peel hoping to smooth and lighten areas of her face and to restore her youthful glow.

“I could see immediately that my dark spots were gone and a lot of my fine lines were gone,” Jamie said. “Over the last six months, my skin has gotten even better. It’s really kind of amazing. It’s still working. I think it kind of builds up collagen.”

That’s exactly right, says Daniel Ward, M.D., a facial plastic surgeon with University of Utah Health Care who performed Jamie’s peel. The procedure stimulates the body to produce collagen, which fills in wrinkles and gives the skin a more vibrant appearance.

Ward said laser peels are now the most popular kind of facial peel because the method can be less risky than chemical peels and dermabrasion. Instead of removing all the skin at once, physicians remove a fraction at a time, making for a shorter recovery.

“If you’re doing a chemical peel, there are many different types of peels depending on how deep you want the peel to go,” Ward said. “With the laser, you can dial it to a certain setting and determine how deep you want to go.”

That exactness allows patients and physicians to aim for specific goals. A 30-year-old who wants fine lines smoothed or dark spots lightened wouldn’t need to undergo as deep a peel as, say, a 45-year-old with crow’s feet and wrinkles around the mouth. A patient in his or her 60s looking to have droopy skin tightened and rejuvenated would need to go a little deeper.

Peel depth determines recovery time, Ward said.

“For a very superficial peel, you’re going to be healed up in two or three days,” Ward said. “For a deeper peel, it might be 7-10 days.”

The procedure itself takes 45 minutes to an hour. General anesthesia is an option, but 95% of patients choose a topical anesthetic. Even with a numb face, the procedure that uses a laser to seal tiny capillaries and lymph vessels with CO2 can be uncomfortable, Ward said. Afterward, the face is raw until new skin forms.

“You know when you’re a little kid and you’re playing and you fall and skin your knee on the gym floor or rug? That’s kind of what your face is like,” Ward explained. “After it heals over, the skin will be red for several weeks. Rarely — about 5-10% of the time — people can have prolonged redness for 12-18 months, but it goes away after that.”

Ward said that most patients don’t report severe pain and do well with ibuprofen.

“More than pain, it’s the fact that they feel like there’s a mask on their face,” Ward said. “It’s a raw wound and can turn into a hard crust. We encourage people to not let that happen by following the care instructions and to take a hot shower a few times a day to loosen it up and let the face heal properly.”

Jamie said she holed up in her house for a couple weeks before debuting her new face to the world. She’s the first to acknowledge that those initial days post-procedure weren’t pretty — or much fun. Her face swelled up so much she said she looked like she got beat up.

“My kids were like, ‘What happened to you? Are you OK?!’” Jamie said. “I told them ‘It will look good — I think.’”

Sure enough, she got past the swelling, peeling and redness stages (she looked sunburned for about a month). Today she’s thrilled with the result and recommends fractional CO2 laser resurfacing to her friends.

“I have found I am much more confident going out without makeup,” Jamie said. “I don’t feel like I have to get all my makeup on if I’m just going to run to the store or go to the gym now that my skin looks so good.”