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How does skin resurfacing work?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Removing the top layer of skin reveals new, healthy skin, and improves the health and appearance of skin that is scarred or damaged. Watch the animation to learn more about skin resurfacing.


"Skin resurfacing" refers to techniques that smooth the skin by physically removing dead skin or by filling in depressions in the skin. These techniques include the use of fillers, chemical peels, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, and laser light treatments. Skin resurfacing can be used to treat age spots (sun spots), dark circles under the eyes, dry skin, fine lines and wrinkles, freckles, hand wrinkles and lines, melasma (a skin condition that causes greyish-brown patches), mottled complexion, skin discoloration, redness, rough skin, scars, seborrheic keratoses (flat-type), stretch marks, unwanted hair, spider veins, and varicose veins, as well as to remove tattoos. If you are considering a cosmetic procedure or treatment, you should consult a dermatologist about which one is right for you.

Skin resurfacing works in two ways. The two main types of laser skin resurfacing are ablative and non-ablative fractionated.
  • In ablative laser therapy, the doctor uses a laser to destroy the top layer of skin, the epidermis, and reveal smoother, unblemished skin beneath. The laser also triggers new cell growth to repair the damage. Lasers used include the Erbium Yag, carbon dioxide, and YSGG.
  • In non-ablative laser treatments, which are used more often today, tiny holes are drilled through the epidermis to target the next layer down, the dermis, with radiofrequency waves. Although the results may not last quite as long as ablative skin resurfacing, there are far fewer side effects and a much faster recovery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.