Cosmetic Surgery

Laser 'resurfacing' is an increasingly popular option for reducing facial lines and giving skin new life. We shed some light on the three types of treatment available

Using a laser to gently 'burn' off years from your face may seem out of this world, but there's probably a doctor practising the treatment near you right now. The procedure of laser 'resurfacing' works by directing a precise and intense beam of laser light back and forth over certain areas of the skin. In the case of the Erbium and CO2 lasers, each pass of light produces a carefully controlled burn to the outer layers of

wrinkled or damaged skin. With the Cool Touch Laser there is no burning of the surface skin layer. All resurfacing techniques result in a tightening of the collagen and elastic fibres of the dermis - or middle skin layer - to reveal a skin that is firmer and more youthful-looking. The decision to undergo treatment should be taken with care: results are long-lasting, but some procedures involve an anaesthetic and recovery can be slow and painful.

The CO2 laser
What it is: The CO2 laser used to be the preferred machine for laser resurfacing and is still the most aggressive and effective treatment for severely aged or scarred skin. A qualified physician must perform this procedure, either in an outpatient setting under local anaesthetic or in a hospital with general anaesthetic if the procedure is more extensive. A session can take from a few minutes to more than an hour, depending on how extensive the treatment is.

Costs: About £1,800 to £3,500 for full-face resurfacing, plus you'll pay extra for an initial consultation fee and sedation or general anaesthetic costs.

Good for: Removing lines and scars on the entire face or specific areas, as well as diminishing wrinkles around the eyes and mouth (crow's feet and laughter lines), the cheeks and the fine vertical lines above the lip. The CO2 laser also works well for generally firming up the skin, getting rid of scars from moderate to severe acne, age spots, severe sun damage and irregular pigmentation.

Reality check: Recovery takes about 10 days to two weeks, during which time the patient's skin will be swollen, raw and oozing (you probably won't want to go out in public). You'll feel pain - similar to that of severe sunburn - for several days, and eventually the treated skin will form crusts and flake off. Skin can remain bright pink for three to six months, and complete recovery can take up to a year. Because of the risk of abnormal pigmentation changes after treatment, this procedure isn't recommended for darker skin types .

Erbium laser
What it is: Similar to the CO2 laser in the way it works (by 'burning' off outer layers of skin and causing the skin underneath to produce collagen), the Erbium laser resurfaces with less heat. The upshot is that healing takes place in about a week, with most redness fading in one to two weeks. One month later, most patients are fully recovered. The long-pulsed Erbium laser is thought to be more effective (but is also more invasive) than the short-pulsed one, so consult your doctor about which is right for you.

Costs: About £1,800 to £3,500 for full-face resurfacing, less for partial resurfacing.

Good for: Eradicating wrinkles, acne scars, sun damage and irregular pigmentation.

Reality check: In general, the Erbium laser is gentler than the CO2 laser, with fewer side effects and a shorter recovery time (one week instead of two). However, it doesn't tighten the skin as much or offer the same dramatic results. Still, the Erbium laser is becoming the machine of choice for many doctors, mostly because patients see significant improvement with less trauma to the skin and fewer post-op complications.

Cool Touch Laser
What it is: By far the newest and most innovative laser treatment available, the Cool Touch Laser, also referred to as the cool laser, thermescent laser or N-lite rejuvenation laser, uses a specialised cooling spray on the outer surface of the skin which stimulates the dermis to increase the production of collagen, thus softening age lines and wrinkles . There is no 'burning' as with the other two types of laser, so you don't have the usual swelling and redness and lengthy healing time. This procedure can be performed on any area of the face and takes only 30 minutes for a full-face treatment. It usually requires three to six treatments every two to four weeks for desired results, although patients often start to see a tightening of the skin and a reduction of fine wrinkles and small scars after the third treatment. The minimal reddening of the skin usually fades a few hours after being treated.

Costs: One treatment costs about £150 for a small area, such as the eyes; for a one-time full-face treatment you'll pay about £250. Most doctors sell courses of the treatments, which are cheaper. For example, a course of six treatments will cost about £600 for the eyes and £1,200 for the full-face and neck. If a top-up treatment is required after a year or so, this is often done for a third of the price of the initial package.

Good for: Diminishing acne scars, especially on the cheeks, and lessening stretch marks and fine lines around the mouth, upper lip and eyes.

Reality check: This gentle procedure gives gradual rather than dramatic results. Patients are spared the prolonged redness and healing time that follows many skin resurfacing techniques. While it's not effective for age spots or uneven pigmentation, it works on all pigmentation and skin types.