Laser Skin Lightening: 12 Side Effects You Have to Know


Dark skin is a common problem of both men and women, particularly of those who live in regions where the natural skin tone is darker, such as in Africa and Asia.

But aside from genetics, there are some other reasons which can cause your skin to become darker, including overexposure to sunlight, excessive use of medications, skin disorders, inflammatory problems, hormonal changes, and poor lifestyle.

Some dark skin problems develop as small patches or spots that appear on a certain part of the body.

This commonly happens when there is an overproduction of melanin in that area of skin. Melanin is a pigment produced in the body, which gives colors to our hair, eyes, and skin. However, some skin discolorations may also grow slowly and spread in other parts of the body.

While some forms of skin discoloration may be disturbing, the good news is that most of these are just temporary, harmless, and can be treated. 

Using bleaching creams and soaps, as well as applying home-made lotions are some of the most common ways to eliminate dark spots and get even tone. But sometimes, these solutions may not have the best results.

Fortunately, there are now more advanced approaches that promise to deliver faster and more effective results for skin lightening, and one of these is the laser skin lightening.

What is laser skin lightening?

Laser skin lightening is a procedure that uses high-energy light to remove irregular, damaged skin cells and stimulate the growth of new skin cells; thus, giving you a lighter and younger looking skin. It is commonly done in a clinic by a qualified dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

Laser skin lightening can be used to effectively treat various skin problems, such melasma, wrinkles, age spots, acne marks, uneven tone, and dark spots. It is also known as laser peel or laser skin resurfacing.

Laser Skin Lightening Procedures

Laser skin lightening comes in two main categories: the ablative and non-ablative lasers. Both of these treatments can give you effective results if done correctly; however, these treatments are significantly different in terms of complexity, approach, and recovery.

Ablative Laser Skin Lightening

Ablative laser treatment is a more invasive procedure that generally uses a traditional carbon dioxide laser or chemical peel to remove the outer skin layer.

This procedure is more intense; thus require the use of anesthesia or sedatives to relieve potential discomfort. Recovery time is also longer – usually takes a week and can extend up to a month. After the procedure, you may also be required to take medications and apply special ointments to manage swelling and avoid infections. These treatments will be mostly prescribed by your surgeon.

For patients with mild to moderate skin darkening problems, the ablative laser treatment may be their best option. Significant improvements can generally be seen after a single treatment. There are two common types of lasers that are used in ablative laser skin lightening, and these are:

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Laser. This method uses light beams that are either pulsed or scattered. This precisely eliminates the deep layers of older skin with minimal damage to stimulate the growth of healthy skin underneath. The CO2 laser is commonly used for the treatment of wrinkles, acne scars, sun damage, saggy skin, birthmarks, and warts. Common side effects are scarring and redness.

Erbium Laser. This method is a milder and less invasive option compared to CO2 laser. It also uses light beams that precisely remove damaged skin, but unlike CO2 laser that is able to penetrate deeply, the erbium laser only targets the outer layer. This type of laser causes fewer side effects and recovery time is usually faster than CO2 laser treatment. Erbium laser is great for reducing fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, and sun damage.

Non-Ablative Skin Lightening

Non-ablative laser lightening is a non-invasive procedure that uses specialized heat to penetrate the skin and treat it. Unlike with ablative laser treatment, which removes the top layer of the skin completely, this lightening treatment only targets the lower layers of skin, triggering the growth of new collagen.

Since it doesn’t damage the surface of your skin, recovery time is much quicker.

Usually, you can get back to your normal life after a day or two. Also, the use of special creams and ointments are usually not necessary. But depending on your skin type, your doctor may also prescribe creams and medication to prevent infection and other side effects from occurring. Since this procedure is less aggressive, more treatments are needed to see significant results.

Common non-ablative laser procedures are as follows:

  • Nd: YAG Laser. This method uses a special type of crystal, known as neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum, to produce a wavelength of high energy light, which is then used to target and destroy dead skin cells. This laser is able to penetrate the skin deeply without damaging the skin’s surface. It also stimulates the growth of new cells and essential nutrients, which are vital for having younger and healthier skin. However, this procedure is known to have a lower success rate with common side effects, including redness, swelling, bruising, and changes in skin pigmentation.
  • Pulsed-Dye Laser. PDL utilizes a high-intensity light that can be used to treat different skin problems, such as scars, keloids, psoriasis, warts, and melasma. This light is converted into heat, targeting the blood vessels that are causing the redness and darkening of the skin. Side effects are usually minimal, which may include bruising and itching.

Laser skin lightening, both ablative and non-ablative, may take 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on the size of the skin that needs to be treated. For severe cases, the treatment may take up to 2 hours.

Ablative laser procedures are typically painful so anesthesia is given before the beginning of treatment. For more extensive treatment, you will be sedated. Non-ablative laser procedures usually don’t require anesthesia. But if necessary, your surgeon will apply anesthetic agents or cooling ointments to make the procedure more comfortable.

3 Benefits of Laser Skin Lightening

Laser treatment is one of the fastest skin treatments for lightening skin. Here are some of the benefits you can get by undergoing this advanced whitening treatment:

  • ​Fast, effective skin whitening. Most skin lightening treatments available out there take a time to produce results. Unlike them, laser skin lightening works fast. Typically, you’ll see drastic improvements right after the treatment. This is particularly true for the ablative laser procedure. Since this procedure uses the aggressive method to treat your skin, results can be seen right away – usually just after 1-2 treatments. Non-ablative treatment may take longer for you to see the results, usually after 1-5 treatments, but it is significantly faster compared with other skin lightening solutions.
  • Improvement in the overall appearance of skin. Aside from reducing dark spots and acne problems, laser treatment can also help you improve your overall complexion and skin health. Since the light energy used by this kind of procedure is easily absorbed by the skin, it effectively destroys the cells that cause your skin darkening, resulting in a more balanced skin tone, as well as fresher and healthier skin.
  • Improve your appearance and confidence. Laser skin lightening is one of the quickest and effective skin treatments available around. If done correctly, it will eliminate your dark spots and help heal your other skin problems. If you have healthy and younger looking skin, you will feel more comfortable about yourself and you will certainly have more confidence.

12 Side Effects of Laser Skin Lightening

Like all other skincare treatments, laser procedure also has potential risks, and these may include:

  • Swelling, itchiness, and/or redness. After the procedure, your skin may feel itchy, red, and swollen. But these symptoms usually fade after a few days. For aggressive treatments, redness can be intense and may last for a few weeks.
  • Burning sensation. Depending on the type of laser treatment used, burning sensation is also another side effect. But this usually subsides after a few days and can be relieved by applying a cold compress.
  • ​Skin infections. Infection is infrequent, but it can happen. Most doctors will prescribe antibiotics after the procedure is done to treat and prevent infections.
  • Scarring and dryness. Laser treatments may also cause your skin to get dry and scarred, but this depends on the type of skin you have.
  • Changes in skin pigmentation. Laser skin lightening is definitely one of the best treatments available for whitening skin – but it isn’t for everyone. This is the very reason why you need to consult a trusted dermatologist before you undergo the treatment. If laser is not suitable for your skin, it will lead to hyper-pigmentation (darkening of the skin) or hypo-pigmentation (lightening of the skin).
  • Turning of the eyelid (ectropion).  Some aggressive treatments near the lower eyelid, such as the ablative lasers, can also cause your eyelid to turn outward, leaving the inner surface exposed. Although this symptom is rare, it can still happen. To correct the problem, surgery is needed.
  • ​Scabbing and blistering. These are also rare symptoms, but when they appear, they can be severe. These are common in non-ablative lasers.
  • Tightness and discomfort. After the treatment, you may also experience tightness or discomfort in the area that is treated. But this will also fade overtime.
  • Sensitivity to the sun. Since laser treatments utilize high heat to destroy dead cells and encourage the growth of new cells, your skin can become photosensitive. After the procedure, it is recommended to reduce your exposure to sunlight and wear sunscreen to protect your skin.
  • ​Breakouts. Acne formation is also another common side effect of cosmetic laser treatment. This usually occurs due to heavy ointments and healing creams that you apply after the procedure. In general, people with sensitive and acne-prone skin should not get this kind of treatment.
  • Abnormal healing. While uncommon, abnormal healing is also possible, especially if there is excessive scarring or other severe symptoms.
  • Recurrence of the skin tissue. While the cosmetic laser is considered effective in lightening skin, it doesn’t always guarantee great results. Sometimes, skin conditions come back, and you may need to take another treatment to get your desired results.

Laser skin lightening procedures are generally safe when performed by qualified surgeon or dermatologist. However, certain complications, such as the ones mentioned above, although infrequent, may also occur.

To minimize your risks, it is important to consult with a trusted and experienced doctor. It is also vital to discuss with your doctor about your medical history before undergoing such procedure.

Some conditions, such as drug allergies and health problems, including previous surgeries and current medications, may affect the result of the treatment and cause serious side effects. It is important for you to provide complete information so that your doctor can effectively determine what kind of procedure is right for you.

Recovery Time

As mentioned earlier, the recovery process will vary depending on the type of treatment received. For simple treatments, like the non-ablative procedure, it usually just takes a day or two to heal it completely. But for more aggressive procedures, like the ablative laser, recovery time may take 1-2 weeks or longer.

For the first few days after the procedure, you will be typically advised to apply special ointments to reduce the swelling and redness, as well as avoid bacterial infection. Most of these are available over-the-counter, but may also be prescribed by your doctor. In addition, your skin may also become more sensitive to sunlight after the procedure, so applying sunscreen is recommended.

Cost of Laser Skin Lightening

The average cost of laser skin lightening was around $2,100 for ablative treatments and $1,100 for non-ablative treatments in 2014, according to American Society of Plastic Surgeons. However, cost may vary depending on the type of procedure, the qualifications of the surgeon, the time and effort required for the treatment, and the location where the procedure is being done.

Talk with your doctor about all the costs involved in the procedure before you undergo the treatment. Some doctors are flexible when it comes to payment, and will be happy to develop a payment plan that will fit within your current financial status.


Laser skin lightening is, indeed, a fast and effective treatment for whitening skin. However, it is also important to take into consideration the potential risks that you may encounter once you undergo this kind of treatment. For best results, ask a trusted dermatologist or doctor for more advice and information.



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