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What Are Fractional Lasers, And What Can They Do For You?

Learn why this beauty treatment is super popular.

April 28, 2022

If you’re like us (skincare and beauty obsessed, innovation-loving, gorgeous, etc), you’ve probably been hearing a lot about fractional laser treatments. And you are probably wondering what ‘fractional’ means and how these lasers are different from other laser treatments out there. Today we’re giving you the lowdown on this treatment so you can decide if it’s right for you. 

What is a fractional laser? How is it different from other laser treatments?

Fractional lasers are different than other laser treatments because they create columns of thermal damage in skin,while leaving other parts of the skin in the treatment area alone. That thermal damage is what spurs the body to produce more collagen and reduce pigment and thus regenerate the skin. But leaving other columns of skin alone reduces downtime compared to lasering the whole treatment area. It’s the laser version of “work smarter, not harder.”

What problems do fractional lasers treat?

Fractional laser treatments target a range of different concerns, including:

Pigmentation (like melasma)

Acne scarring

Uneven texture

Fine lines and wrinkles

Large pores

Stretch marks

Sun damage

What’s the treatment like? Does it hurt?

We have some bad news, but we like you, so we’re not going to lie: laser treatments are usually uncomfortable. The level of discomfort you can expect depends on the type of fractional laser treatment you’re getting. If it’s “ablative,” that means it wounds the stratum corneum, the scientific term for the top layer of the epidermis. Ablative fractional lasers hurt more. “Non-ablative” fractional lasers leave the stratum corneum alone, and are less irritating. 

The kind you get depends on the problem you’re trying to fix. For scarring, bad sun damage, wrinkles, or loose skin, you’ll need ablative fractional lasers. More minor issues will respond to non-ablative fractional lasers. 

Your treatment provider will apply a topical numbing cream about forty minutes before the treatment starts. Cold air is often applied to the skin. And if you’re getting an ablative fractional laser, they may even use local injections to manage discomfort. 

The good news is that treatments don’t take very long, typically up to 30 minutes. 

Is there any downtime? What is aftercare like?

There is usually some downtime. Again, there are differences between ablative fractional lasers and non-ablative. 

Ablative healing time: about two weeks of recovery time. 

Non-ablative healing time: 3-5 days on average. 

Expect to have some scabbing and/or peeling shortly after treatment, and avoid sun exposure for several weeks. If your skin is lighter in tone, you may have residual redness for several weeks. While your skin is healing, it’s super important to keep it clean as this prevents infection. So follow your provider’s instructions carefully and use the after-care skincare they give you. (Especially SPF!) And don’t use makeup on healing skin unless your provider gives you the OK. 

How long do results last with fractional lasers?

Results from laser treatments take a little while to appear–typically 3 months after treatment. But results last an average of 3-5 years! If you’re using non-ablative lasers, you may need a few treatments before seeing results. So it’s worth considering whether you’d rather do fewer treatments with more downtime, or more treatments with less downtime. 

Who can get fractional laser treatments?

Fractional laser treatments are considered safe for most people and most skin types. Do not get laser treatments if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have bleeding disorders or are currently on Accutane, don’t get a laser treatment. 

Also, if you have a darker skin tone, there are elevated risks of some laser treatments causing pigmentation. If your treatment provider decides you are a good candidate, they may give you hydroquinone cream to use in the very short term to prevent post inflammatory pigmentation.

Where can I get fractional laser treatments?

You should get fractional lasers from a dermatologist or qualified medical provider. We recommend looking for someone who specializes in laser treatments. 

Well, there you have it: a crash course in the trendiest laser treatment out there. We hope this helped you decide if fractional laser treatments are right for you!

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