Basically, you want to help your skin heal from the energy it has received. This means a mild cleanser (Antioxidant Cleanser – McNeillMD; Hydrating Cleanser – AlumierMD; Gentle Cleanser – Priori) formulated for use on “sensitive skin” and a bland ointment until the time of healing is complete. There is a growing variety of suitable ointments to choose from which include:
- Vanicream Ointment
- CeraVe Healing Ointment
Antibiotic ointments are unnecessary if there is no evidence of infection. Additionally, they can cause more harm than good since 5% of people who use them will develop an allergy to one of the components at some point in their lives. When antibiotics are used on normal skin, bacterial resistance to them can develop so that when a superficial infection does occur, the antibacterial ointment will not work.
“Kind & Gentle” applies to what we take in as well. Minimize salt and eliminate alcohol intake around the time of your procedure (1 week prior to and 2 weeks post-treatment). Salt increases fluid retention that can exacerbate post-laser swelling while alcohol strips the skin of antioxidants vital to healing. Plan your meals now, and lifelong, to feature lots of nutrient-rich foods like berries, citrus, dark leafy greens, black beans, lentils, flaxseeds (ground for optimal absorption), sweet potatoes, and unprocessed whole grains like oat groats support the healing process and have the side-benefit of boosting skin tone and quality on their own (see separate blog post for more).
The healing period varies based on the type of treatment performed. From the longest care-requirement to the least, here are some general guidelines.
Skin feels: Stings a bit and is mildly tender for the first 5-6 hours afterward but is tolerable.
Day 1: There is significant redness and swelling, but minimal to no pain.
Day 2: The skin looks “bronze” and there is still some background redness.
Day 3: Skin is less red and swollen. Fine peeling starts. There may be some mild itching.
Day 4: Fine peeling continues. Redness and swelling continue to go down.
Day 5: Peeling is usually complete and swelling is gone. Residual redness may last up to a month.
- Immediately after the treatment, a bland ointment will be applied.
- Continue to apply bland ointment every 1-2 hours to keep the fragile skin protected and hydrated.
- Wash skin twice a day with a mild cleanser to remove the ointment taking care not to rub the skin vigorously.
- Continue to apply bland ointment every 1-2 hours. Maintaining a consistent medium-thick layer is the goal to achieve an optimal result by preventing drying, scabbing, and premature peeling.
- For the first five days, wear a broad-brimmed hat if you must go outdoors to shield the skin from the sun.
- Follow up for your procedure on Day 2 for an assessment of how the healing is going.
- Day 5: Resume your daily sunscreen with an SPF >30 with zinc oxide +/- titanium dioxide. Tetra by Priori and Isdin in particular are great for the added benefit of the DNA-repair enzyme technology they provide.
- Transition to hydrating the skin every 3 hours with Cicalfate (Avene).
- Day 7-10: The skin is usually ready to start easing back into the maintenance skincare routine recommended by your medical provider based on your unique skin needs.
Skin feels: “Tight” and looks red like a sunburn. The tightness and redness fade over 1-3 days. It usually takes the longest to recover after the first treatment, healing faster after the following treatments because the skin has been primed to heal.
- A post-treatment mask or serum will be applied to the skin immediately after.
- Protect from the sun with a broad-brimmed hat the day of the procedure.
- Night of: Cleanse with a gentle cleanser followed by a bland ointment.
- Days 1-2 after the procedure: Cleanse the skin gently twice daily, use a bland moisturizer and a mineral-based sunscreen with spf >30.
- Day >3: Resume the skincare routine established by your medical provider based on your unique skin needs.
IPL, XF, Cutera, Pico
Skin feels: “Tight” with a variable amount of some redness and swelling. There is a fine “coffee grounds” peeling of the sunspots treated with IPL and Pico. These procedures have less downtime because the skin barrier is not disrupted.
- Bland moisturizer and sunscreen will be applied immediately after your procedure.
- Use your own makeup to cover redness as desired. Clean the skin twice daily with a gentle cleanser followed by a hydrating moisturizer.
- Wear sunscreen with SPF >30 with zinc +/- titanium dioxide daily.
- Day 1-2: Avoid potentially irritating agents like acids and retinoids (tretinoin and retinol) depending on your skin’s sensitivity.
- Resume your prescribed skincare routine as soon as you are comfortable enough to do so to promote and maintain your laser results.