As you age, you might notice that your skin begins to sag and develop wrinkles (which is completely normal) and, it’s fully your decision to embrace the changes, ignore them altogether, or address them with a treatment or two. Still, the fact of the matter is that after the age of 25, your skin starts to lose about one percent of its collagen each year, and your elastin production is on a gradual decline — that’s when looseness and laxity occur (helped in part by gravity). However, thanks to advancements in the esthetics space over the years, there are many laser skin tightening treatments to explore if you’d rather minimize these effects before, say, resorting to something more invasive, like a face lift, later in life.
So what’s the deal with this buzzy skin care procedure? According to Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, laser skin tightening is the act of improving the texture, tone, and tautness of the skin through laser and heat energy. “It is one of the most high-impact procedures to erase sun damage, tighten skin, and prevent skin laxity,” he tells TZR.
Adding to that, Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD, says “we can use technology to induce energy, like little microscopic channels of injury, into the skin, and your skin responds to that type of injury by stimulating the development of collagen over a period of three to six months, or even up to a year.”
Curious to know more about the array of laser options available today? Read on for some of the top expert recommendations.
Best Skin Tightening Laser Treatments
Laser Skin Resurfacing
Historically, Dr. Hartman says the most popular forms of laser skin tightening involve laser resurfacing, which can be achieved through carbon dioxide, erbium, or thulium lasers. These work by creating epidermal damage and delivering heat to the dermis, which in turn, stimulates collagen production and causes peeling and redness to the skin’s surface. “Newer technology includes radiofrequency microneedling, which inserts titanium coated needles to deliver heat energy to the dermis, where fibroblasts produce collagen, and tighten the skin to improve sagginess, laxity, and wrinkles,” he notes.
According to Dr. Hartman, radiofrequency microneedling works well for both younger and older patients. “Devices that penetrate deeper are better suited for mature skin that has started to see unwanted signs of aging, while younger patients benefit from the preventative effects of devices that don’t penetrate as deeply, but also leave little downtime,” he explains.
Non-Ablative CO2 Lasers
Additionally, Dr. Murphy-Rose says different brands of CO2 lasers are most often used for tightening. “There are both non-ablative and ablative lasers, but the most popular treatments are the non-ablative and fractional lasers,” she notes. According to the dermatologist, most non-ablative lasers used are fractional lasers. “These devices create deeper channels of injury but spare intervening areas of skin, allowing for excellent skin benefits with reduced recovery time,” she explains. The upside on non-ablative is less downtime, as only the targeted sections of the face and neck are treated.
Laser-wise, there are two popular non-ablative fractional options. “The 1550nm [erbium] wavelength penetrates deeper into the skin as compared with 1927nm [thulium],” Dr. Murphy-Rose explains. “[The] 1550 is better for deeper wrinkles and for scarring while 1927nm is best for more superficial concerns like hyperpigmentation, though it will also stimulate collagen production to reduce fine lines and improve skin quality.”
Ablative CO2 Lasers
Alternatively, ablative lasers take off the whole top surface of the skin, which means the recovery is much more extensive — typically twice as long as non-ablative lasers, according to Dr. Murphy-Rose. “Depending on your aesthetic goals, multiple treatments with a non-ablative laser may be recommended to achieve the same results as an ablative procedure,” she explains. With ablative resurfacing, the skin takes around 10 to 14 days to heal. “After non-ablative resurfacing, downtime is about five to seven days,” the dermatologist notes. “In addition to a longer recovery, there are increased risks associated with ablative lasers including infection and post-procedural scarring.”
Because of the higher risk and more downtime, Dr. Robert Finney, MD, FAAD, adds, “[Ablative lasers are] typically reserved for older patients with a lot of skin laxity and wrinkles, because it can produce significant improvement after one treatment, but you’re looking at [potentially] a month of downtime.” For ablative treatments he says CO2/Erbium is the number one laser option he has at his office.
Who's A Good Candidate For Laser Skin Tightening?
“Resurfacing lasers should be used with caution in those with darker skin tones because of the potential damage to the epidermis that can result in hyper or hypopigmentation,” Dr. Hartman explains. The expert says hyperpigmentation is the darkening of the skin due to pigment dropout from melanocytes that occurs after inflammation. “Hypopigmentation is loss of pigment that can also occur as a post-inflammatory effect,” he adds.
On the other hand, he notes that radiofrequency microneedling devices are safe and effective for all skin types. “Patients with sagging skin are ideal for RF microneedling while those with fine lines and wrinkles and pigment alterations from chronic sun damage are best suited for resurfacing with devices like the CO2 laser, Erbium, and Fraxel.”
Does Laser Skin Tightening Hurt?
When it comes to any of the non-ablative laser tightening devices, Dr. Murphy-Rose says the downtime ranges from five to seven days. “Your skin can be red, blotchy, rough to the touch, and you can have little pin-point scabbing,” she says. “But, that usually starts to resolve around four to five days. As for the procedure itself, the dermatologist says it is uncomfortable, but they use a numbing cream and there are cooling devices that can help minimize the discomfort. Immediately after you’ll feel a slight burning sensation on the skin, but that will stop once sometimes even before you leave the office.
Laser Skin Tightening Side Effects & Recovery
Typically, by week two, Dr. Murphy-Rose says your skin will look really nice and glowy. “The stimulation of collagen takes longer, and with laser skin tightening your skin will keep improving for up to a year.” However, six weeks post-treatment you’ll start to see a bit of tightening. Because there are many variables involved, as well as different technologies, there’s no definite answer on how much collagen can prompt after this time period. “Some animal studies of laser tightening have observed about a four to 10% skin surface area reduction,” Dr. Murphy-Rose explains, which would equate to that section of skin becoming tighter and less lax. “Some studies have quantified skin surface reductions and others collagen fiber diameter reductions, among others.”
How Much Does Laser Skin Tightening Cost?
The cost for the procedure ultimately boils down to where you live and how much of the skin you’re getting treated (in addition to the type of laser treatment you want). Dr. Hartman adds, “the cost for a full-face treatment ranges from $800-$2,000 depending on the device used and geographical location.” And if you’re located in New York, Dr. Murphy-Rose says generally you can expect to pay somewhere between $1,000-$4,000 for a really deep laser procedure.
And remember, if you’re unsure whether or not laser skin tightening is the right treatment option for you, it’s always best to consult a dermatologist for their expert opinion.