At first glance, skin laser treatments seem pretty easy: they often require little prep work on your end, the treatments themselves are incredibly precise, and many are over in a matter of minutes (or even seconds, depending on what you’re treating). However, there is a more complicated aspect — the aftercare process following your laser treatment. It’s so important, in fact, that your doctor may determine the best laser for you based on your lifestyle and schedule.
“We try to pair the appropriate laser with each patient’s ability to restrict activities or return to regular activities,” says Kathleen Behr, MD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon and founder of the Behr Laser and Skin Care Center℠ in Fresno, California. “Patients may need more treatments with less aggressive lasers, but that may work [better] with their lifestyle.” For instance, while CO2₂ and some fractionated lasers require roughly a week or more of recovery, non-ablative lasers such as PicoSure® and Clear + Brilliant® require hardly any downtime at all. “I had a Pico [laser treatment] the day before my daughter’s graduation and was fine,” she adds.
Just as important as caring for skin during its recovery is understanding what to avoid after a laser treatment. The beach, a spin class, and the active skincare products in your current lineup are off-limits. Here, what you should definitely not use in the weeks after a skin laser treatment.
What to Avoid After a Skin Laser Treatment: Sunlight
No matter what kind of skin laser treatment you received, be it an intense fractionated laser or laser hair removal, they all have one thing in common: They cause damage. Therefore, after a laser procedure, the skin needs to heal. And, as is the case with any sort of injury to skin, be it a scrape or a burn, skin is especially sensitive to sunlight when it’s in the healing process. “The stimulation of melanocytes by UV light in this healing phase can lead to hyperpigmentation in treated areas,” explains Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in West Islip, New York. “And, if the laser done was for treating brown spots, they will come back immediately, rendering the laser procedure ineffective.”
So, make like a vampire and plan to stay indoors. If you do go outside, slather on a mineral sunscreen. “I prefer chemical-free sunscreens, since they have less possibility of adversely reacting with the lasered skin,” says Dr. Behr. Elta MD® UV Daily Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($27) is a derm favorite, because it’s lightweight and gentle.
What to Avoid After a Skin Laser Treatment: Your Usual Skincare Routine
Suspend your typical daytime and nighttime skincare routine for the next week or more, depending on which type of laser treatment you received. In most cases, the doctor who performs your laser procedure will give you written instructions for your skincare steps in the days following the skin laser treatment, though the exact extent can vary. That way, if any redness or irritation arises, your doctor already knows what you’re applying and can rule certain products out if necessary.
“If you undergo something more intense like a resurfacing procedure, there are specific cleansing routines and facial care we specify, depending on the number of days post-procedure,” says Dr. Mariwalla. To treat skin, “we have patients pat their skin with diluted acetic acid soaks for two days and use a thick emollient for maximal healing,” she says. She’s a fan of SkinMedica® TNS Essential Serum® ($281), which features both powerful growth factors and key peptides, and also likes Alastin Skin Nectar®.
What to Avoid After a Skin Laser Treatment: Exfoliating
If your skin has been compromised in any way, the last thing you should do is compromise it even further. And, as lasers either remove the top layers of skin (in the case of ablative lasers) or injure it from within, it’s imperative to treat post-laser skin like cashmere. “Depending on the strength of the laser treatment, patients should avoid anything that may irritate the skin, such as prescription retinoids or glycolic acid,” says Dr. Behr. And, remember — most forms of depilation are also exfoliation, so steer clear of certain forms of hair removal for a bit, too. “We typically recommend no waxing in the area for one week, so as not to disturb any sensitive skin,” adds Dr. Behr.
Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
If you’ve gotten laser hair removal, it may seem especially challenging to resist a bit of exfoliation, as this procedure may cause the skin in the treated area to look bumpy. “[Patients] may develop some inflammation in the hair follicles, and within a few days of treatment, the hair will actually jettison out of the follicles,” says Dr. Mariwalla. While there’s nothing you need to do about this, the skin may appear a bit rough. Dr. Mariwalla just warns against exfoliating to smooth it over.
What to Avoid After a Skin Laser Treatment: Exercise
Now is not the time to book a hot yoga class. When skin is vulnerable, it can get irritated from anything — even your own sweat. It’s not entirely illogical when you think about it — sweating is literally pouring salt in the wound, which is why “sweating from exercise may irritate the skin,” says Dr. Behr. Take a few days off before going back to the gym.
What to Avoid After a Skin Laser Treatment: Makeup
Really, this depends on the treatment in question. Makeup can be a godsend after certain laser treatments, especially if you’re prone to redness or bruising during treatments like intense pulsed light (IPL). “After IPL, patients can sometimes bruise, so we tell them they can use makeup to cover it up,” says Dr. Mariwalla.
Usually, it can also safely be applied after any non-ablative laser treatment, adds Dr. Behr. (Discover some of our favorite post-aesthetics procedure makeup formulas here.) However, she adds that it should not be applied after ablative lasers for a couple weeks, as the priority for skin as it heals should be sunscreen and occlusive moisturizers — not foundation.
Dr. Kathleen Behr is a paid Allergan® consultant.
SkinMedica® is an Allergan®-owned skincare line.
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