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So here is the fine print on risks and side effects of the skin resurfacing procedures we talked about. The risks and side effects are similar with all resurfacing procedures: infection, scarring, pigment problems and redness. This differs from the expected post treatment course such as crusting, flaking etc that we discussed previously, because the risks and side effects are things that, thankfully, don’t usually happen, and ones we don’t want to happen. The incidence and severity of these reactions vary among with the procedure, with the patient, and with the physician.

Infection: Infection risk can be viral, bacterial or yeast. Viral risk is from the cold sore virus with a post procedure outbreak occurring in someone with a history of frequent cold sores. The virus can then spread into the treated area causing scarring. It can occur with any of the procedures but is more common after the more aggressive procedures. Anyone with a history of cold sore infections should receive preventative treatment with Valtrex. Bacterial infection can occur after picking with any of the procedures. Without picking it is very rare in the less aggressive procedures, more common but still unusual in the more aggressive procedures. Fungal infection, usually with Candida yeast only occurs after the more aggressive procedures.

Scarring: Can occur with any of the procedures, but in the absence of picking, or infection, should not occur in the less aggressive procedures. Much more common after deep chemical peels and traditional dermabrasion.

Pigment problems: Patients with any degree of natural pigment are at increased risk for permanent pigment change, usually darker but sometimes lighter skin, after all resurfacing procedures. The risk rises rather steeply as you move from the less aggressive to more aggressive procedures. At risk skin types include: Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Black, including those with these skin types in their genetic makeup several generations back. Caucasians who tan easily and those who get sun exposure are also at risk. Careful patient selection, not treating irritated skin and reducing post treatment sun exposure are important.

So here are my assessments of the degree of risk for each procedure:

Light Chemical Peels

  • Infection: Occasional viral infection if not pretreated.
  • Scarring: Very rare unless picking.
  • Pigment problems: Uncommon if proper patient selection and patient follows sun exposure precautions. More common if they don’t.

SilkPeel (medical microdermabrasion)

  • Infection: Very rare viral infection, unless pretreated.
  • Scarring: Very rare
  • Pigment problems: Rare

Deep Chemical Peels

  • Infection: Moderately common, less if pretreated
  • Scarring: Moderately common
  • Pigment problems: Uncommon if very fair skin, moderately common if darker skin

Traditional Dermabrasion

  • Infection: Moderately common
  • Scarring: Common
  • Pigment problems: Uncommon if very fair skin, moderately common if darker skin

Non-Ablative Fractional (Fraxel re:store) Laser Resurfacing

  • Infection: Uncommon viral infection, unless pretreated. Very rare bacterial or fungal
  • Scarring: Uncommon
  • Pigment problems: Uncommon if fair skin, moderately common if darker skin

Ablative Fractional CO2 (Fraxel re:pair and others) Laser Resurfacing

  • Infection: Uncommon viral infection, unless pretreated. Rare bacterial or fungal
  • Scarring: Relatively uncommon on the face, occasional on neck, chest, arms
  • Pigment problems: Uncommon if fair skin, moderately common if darker skin

 

Who are the highest risk patients?: Patients with a fair amount of natural pigment (darker skin types, or those with darker skin types in their genetic background), smokers, pickers, thin skin, those with tendency to form scars, those with undisclosed recurrent cold sores, and those who don’t take the sun precautions seriously.

Disclose all medical information, follow instructions—what a concept

Who are the highest risk physicians?: Physicians without an in depth, formal training in the skin in health and disease, those who aren’t willing to not treat inappropriate patients because of a profit motive, those who aren’t willing to take the time to be sure the patient understands and follows instructions.

Training, experience and ethical standards—what a concept

What are the highest risk procedures?: From highest to lowest—Traditional dermabrasion and deep chemical peels, then fractional ablative laser resurfacing, fractional non-ablative laser resurfacing, light chemical peels, SilkPeel.

Deep chemical peels, and traditional dermabrasion are the most risky procedures. If you are going to proceed with these, be sure the physician is trained, experienced and does a lot of them.

Remember, these are my opinions and what I tell my patients. Your doctor may feel differently. Don’t make your decision regarding procedures on what I tell you, unless you are my patient. Make your decision based on what your doctor tells you.

Next: Aesthetic skin resurfacing tips

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