Laser Skin Resurfacing: Ablative vs. Non-Ablative Lasers

Whether aging, acne or sun damage have left permanent marks on your skin, laser skin resurfacing can help. From reducing the appearance of wrinkles and evening-out skin tone to removing acne scars and minimizing pores, this versatile treatment can bring back your youthful glow.

If you have been looking into this treatment, you’re probably wondering which option you should choose: ablative or non-ablative laser skin resurfacing.

Both work well in addressing aged and dull skin. However, each is designed to correct specific concerns at different depths of the skin, and with different patients in mind. Knowing more about each treatment helps in making the right decision.

At SMooth Solutions Medspa, we can help you learn more about your options and create an individualized treatment plan to address your unique concerns.

What Is Laser Skin Resurfacing?

Laser skin resurfacing is a nonsurgical skin treatment. By carefully directing laser light energy to specific layers of the skin, aesthetic providers can improve the skin’s texture, tone and appearance. Laser skin resurfacing can help us address a variety of skin concerns:

  • Acne scars
  • Sun spots
  • Age spots
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Melasma
  • Sagging skin
  • Enlarged pores

Laser stands for light amplified by a stimulated emission of radiation. A laser device that is utilized for aesthetic treatments produces a singular wavelength of light that is absorbed by the target tissue being treated. In this manner, the light energy is absorbed at a specific depth where correction needs to occur. Depending on the wavelength being utilized, the target tissue is either vaporized (ablated) or heated to a point of regeneration in a non-ablative fashion. The epidermis/top layer of the skin is usually affected with ablative lasers and the deeper layers are treated with non-ablative lasers. Newer laser technologies are very sophisticated and now deliver the controlled thermal damage in a fractionated manner so your skin can heal quicker with less downtime and better results.

Ablative vs. Non-ablative Lasers

When it comes to your choice of laser skin treatments, the two main technologies used are ablative lasers and non-ablative lasers.

Ablative Lasers

Ablative lasers are more aggressive than non-ablative ones because they vaporize the top layer of the skin. This makes them better at treating more severe skin issues, but they also require a longer and more uncomfortable recovery process. The two most commonly used ablative lasers are the famous CO2 laser and Er:YAG laser.

In addition to targeting the epidermis (the outer layer of skin), the heat that is released from ablative lasers creates coagulative zones deeper in the dermis (the second layer of skin), stimulating collagen production. This means that these lasers not only remove damage on the skin’s surface but also induce neocollagenesis deeper within the skin.

Ablative lasers are ideal for the treatment of:

  • Moderate to deep wrinkles
  • Skin laxity
  • Atrophic scars (acne)
  • Hypertrophic scars (keloids)
  • Pigmentation (melasma)
  • Sun-damaged skin

Non-Ablative Lasers

Having a gentler effect on the skin, this type of laser causes controlled injury in the dermis while bypassing the top layer (the epidermis). Non-ablative lasers do not vaporize tissue, instead they create microscopic thermal coagulation zones at varying depths above and within the dermal layer. This stimulates remodeling deep within the skin along with increased collagen production. While the results of this treatment are milder compared to ablative lasers, recovery is quick and side effects are minimal. The 1927 Thulium laser and 1470 Diode laser are examples of non-ablative wavelengths. At SMooth Solutions, our LaseMD utilizes a 1927 Thulium wavelength to provide non-ablative laser skin resurfacing. The 1470 Diode is utilized when performing HALO treatments, as this non-ablative laser creates micro thermal zones deep in the dermis while the Er Yag ablates the top of the epidermis.

Because nonablative lasers are gentle, patients may need multiple rounds of treatment to achieve their desired results.

Nonablative lasers are ideal for the treatment of:

  • Fine lines and moderate wrinkles
  • Acne and mild acne scars
  • Enlarged pores
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Melasma

Should I Get Ablative or Non-Ablative Skin Resurfacing?

The type of treatment that would benefit you most depends on several factors: the severity of your skin concerns, your skin tone, your health and whether you can take time off to recover.

At SMooth Solutions Medical Spa, we make sure to inform our patients about their treatment options and will offer solutions we know are safe and effective. With that said, here is how we determine which treatment is right for each patient.

Ablative Lasers

For older patients with prominent signs of facial aging — like moderate wrinkles, skin laxity and sun damage — ablative lasers are better at achieving visible improvement. Patients with deep acne scars are also good candidates.

Candidates for ablative laser treatments must be able to take off work and other social activities. That is because immediately after treatment, temporary side effects like redness, swelling, itching and discomfort are common. Within days, the top layer of skin will form crusts, which will gradually start to peel off over one to two weeks. While this is all normal, at least two weeks of downtime are required for a strong ablative laser treatment, while full recovery can take up to a month.

Ablative lasers may not be suitable for darker skin tones (Fitzpatrick skin types IV-VI) due to there being a risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Patients with a history of keloid scars, active herpes and some skin disorders are also not candidates.

Non-Ablative Lasers

This treatment is best for younger patients with mild to moderate signs of facial aging without signs of skin laxity. Patients with active acne and mild acne scars can also see improvement with this treatment.

Because there is no downtime after non-ablative laser resurfacing, this option is great if you can’t take time off work. However, you will need to plan to have multiple treatments before you can see improvement. Immediately after treatment, your skin may be slightly swollen and tender, but this tends to resolve within a day with no other side effects.

Non-ablative lasers are also suitable for a wider range of skin tones, including darker skin types, since there is less risk of hyperpigmentation. Those with sensitive skin can also undergo this treatment.

The HALO® Difference at SMooth Solutions MedSpa

Are you still having trouble deciding between ablative and non-ablative skin resurfacing? SMooth Solutions offers a third option that combines the best of both worlds. HALO™ is the first hybrid laser to deliver both ablative and non-ablative wavelengths in a single treatment. It provides complete skin resurfacing without the long downtime associated with ablative lasers and the need for multiple sessions with non-ablative lasers.

What’s great about this treatment is that it can address multiple skin concerns in a single session, from wrinkles and sun damage to acne scars and enlarged pores. Only one treatment is needed, and recovery takes seven days maximum.

To learn more about this treatment, call our Naperville office today at 630-381-8952 or book your appointment here.