What are the possible side effects?

  • Milia, which are small white bumps or cysts, may appear in the laser-treated areas during healing. These may be removed by gentle cleansing with a washcloth or by a dermatologist in the office by nicking the surface with a blade and expressing the cyst material out of the skin.
  • Acne flares may occur after laser resurfacing. This may resolve on its own, or can be treated with conventional acne therapies.
  • Hyperpigmentation, and more rarely, hypopigmentation, may result in the laser-treated areas. In general, the hyperpigmented areas may be treated with bleaching cream to ease fading of the pigment. Hypopigmentation is more difficult to treat.
  • Reactivation of a herpes simplex cold sore may occur, especially after laser resurfacing around the mouth. This can be prevented by giving an antiviral medicine prior to the surgery and continuing it for seven to 10 days post-procedure.
  • Bacterial infections can be prevented by taking an antibiotic prior to the surgery and continuing for seven to 10 days post-procedure.
  • Postoperative swelling is to be expected and is lessened by administration of intramuscular steroids.
  • Patients are encouraged to sleep on an extra pillow at night to help reduce the swelling. Ice pack application is also helpful in the first 24 to 48 hours.
  • Scarring, although very rare, may occur in laser-treated areas.
  • Cessation of smoking is highly recommended because of its documented harmful effects on the healing process.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/01/2015.


  • Alexiades-Armenakas M, Dover J, Arndt K. The spectrum of laser skin resurfacing: Nonablative, fractional, and ablative laser resurfacing. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2008; 58(5):719-737.
  • Perkins S, Henry D. Management of aging skin. In: Flint, PW. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2010:Chap 27.
  • Tanzi EL, Alster TS. Skin resurfacing: ablative lasers, chemical peels, and dermabrasion. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI et al, editors. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Medical; 2008:Chap 252.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy