Medical Review By: Kerry Shaughnessy, MD
Even if you follow a gentle skin care routine and use the medications your doctor has prescribed for your rosacea, you may still be frustrated by persistent redness and visible veins on your face. If so, adding laser treatment could help reduce both symptoms — and give you a major confidence boost.
“Rosacea is a difficult condition to live with because the symptoms are so noticeable,” said Kerry Shaughnessy, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Water’s Edge Dermatology. “Laser therapy won’t replace your standard treatment plan, but adding it can make a big difference in your appearance and self-esteem.”
How laser treatment for rosacea works
Laser treatment for rosacea uses a pulsed dye laser called Vbeam. The laser delivers intermittent pulses of yellow light that target the blood vessels without damaging surrounding tissue.
“The blood vessels being treated absorb this yellow light, which heats them and causes them to collapse and be reabsorbed by the body,” Dr. Shaughnessy explained.
The Vbeam laser also destroys broken capillaries, which are the cause of persistent redness in people with rosacea.
Results can be impressive. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, patients typically experience a 50% to 75% reduction in visible blood vessels after one to three treatments. In studies, most patients had about a 20% reduction in redness, though some had more. Dr. Shaughnessy says her patients typically experience a 20 – 30% reduction in redness per treatment.
Patients generally need three Vbeam laser treatments to see the best results, according to Dr. Shaughnessy. Sessions are spaced three to four weeks apart.
Vbeam laser treatment can also lead to some improvement in skin texture, though if rough skin is an issue for you, your provider may recommend a laser skin resurfacing treatment such as fractional laser therapy, Dr. Shaughnessy said.
Candidates for Vbeam laser treatment
Laser treatment for rosacea isn’t appropriate for everyone. It generally works best in people with light skin and works moderately well in those with olive skin.
“While Vbeam can be used on darker skin, these patients have a risk of developing pigment alterations following treatment,” Dr. Shaughnessy said. “If you have dark skin, your dermatologist may want to adjust the settings of the Vbeam device and do some spot tests on less visible areas of skin to see how your skin responds.”
Pigment alteration is also a risk if you have a tan, she added. “A good candidate for laser therapy is someone who is very careful about limiting their sun exposure.”
Laser therapy is not recommended for pregnant women.
What to expect during and after your appointment
Your doctor will begin by taking “before” photos of your face. You will wear goggles during the laser treatment. There is no need for the doctor to numb your skin.
“Patients describe the sensation as feeling like rubber bands are snapping at their face, which can be uncomfortable,” Dr. Shaughnessy said. “However, there’s also a soothing, cooling sensation, so the procedure is typically well tolerated by most patients.”
Depending on the size of the area being treated, your appointment will likely take between 15 to 30 minutes. Your skin may feel slightly warm and swollen for a few hours or days afterward, as if you have a mild sunburn.
Other side effects may include bruising, which fades within seven to 10 days. You may also develop a rash, itching or a tight feeling in your skin, all of which should resolve in a few days.
Dr. Shaughnessy asks patients not to exercise or drink alcohol the evening after treatment, since both activities promote facial flushing. It’s important to protect your face from the sun after laser treatment to avoid pigment changes.
When you’ll see results
Some people start to notice improvements in their skin after just one treatment, but full results are typically seen four to six weeks after the third treatment, at which point you’ll have a follow-up appointment with your provider.
“That’s when we look at before-and-after photos,” Dr. Shaughnessy said. “Patients are often shocked when they see how much their skin has improved.”
The effects of Vbeam laser treatment aren’t permanent. Rosacea is a chronic condition that progresses with age and sun exposure. Redness and visible veins will continue to appear, but a treatment session every one to two years should lessen those symptoms.
“The downside of laser therapy for rosacea is that is it not covered by insurance,” Dr. Shaughnessy said. “But the treatment is so effective that many people consider the money they spend to be a great investment in their skin and self-esteem.”
Article Written By: Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Brooklyn, New York. She has written for Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org and many other outlets.