Ablative, Non-Ablative, & IPL: The Language of Laser Treatments

Woman in Atlanta, GA with glowing skin from laser resurfacing treatment

Patients often ask what skin rejuvenation treatment will work best for their specific skin condition because there are so many different types of laser-related treatments available. If you’re considering a laser skin treatment at our Buckhead, GA, practice, this blog post is for you.

We offer several treatment options using different technologies for women and men who want to improve the appearance of their skin. These include various lasers that use different types of energy to resurface the skin and enhance the complexion.

How Do Laser Skin Treatments Work?

Laser treatments target the skin’s varying pigmentation (color) to produce results. When the laser locates the targeted pigment, it heats them enough to create controlled injuries that trigger the body’s natural healing process. This process stimulates collagen and elastin production, the essential building blocks of smooth, more youthful-looking skin.

But not all lasers are the same, and the intensity of the treatments can be customized. Some types of laser skin rejuvenation treatments are more aggressive than others. The best choice depends on the skin condition being treated and whether patients want to get results after a single treatment—which involves more downtime—or to space out several less aggressive procedures.

It helps to understand the different types of lasers when deciding what treatment would be best for you.

What Are the Different Types of Lasers?

If you’ve been doing some research online about laser skin treatments, you’ve likely come across certain phrases, such as ablative, non-ablative, and IPL. Laser and light procedures improve the skin’s texture and tone; reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and scars; and minimize discoloration. You can get a good sense of the results produced by various laser treatments in our gallery of before-and-after photos.

Which type of laser is right for you depends on your concerns. So what are the differences?  

Ablative Lasers

An ablative laser removes the thin outer layer of skin (called the epidermis) and heats the underlying layer (the dermis), stimulating the growth of new collagen. Before the emergence of fractional ablative lasers, which creates microscopic columns in the skin while leaving surrounding tissue undamaged, an ablative laser treatment required significant recovery time. The iPixel fractional ablative laser we use works for all skin types.

Fractional ablative lasers generally require the fewest number of treatments to achieve significant improvements. Still, the tradeoff is usually about 7 days of downtime, with redness persisting for up to 2 weeks in some cases.

Non-Ablative Lasers

Non-ablative lasers, such as ClearLift™, don’t require any downtime for patients because they leave the skin’s surface intact. Instead, the laser energy targets the dermis with heat to produce results more gradually than ablative lasers. We recommend ClearLift treatments for patients concerned about pigmented or vascular lesions. It’s also an excellent choice for laser tattoo removal.


Intense pulsed light (IPL) is often referred to as a laser treatment, but IPL devices use light energy rather than laser technology. IPL devices, such as the Dye-PL we use, are known for their versatility and are typically used to treat skin conditions such as port-wine stains that can be difficult to remove. The Dye-PL’s ability to penetrate deeper into the skin than other laser skin rejuvenation treatments makes it a good choice for many conditions on the face, neck, and body.

Combined Technologies

Some energy-based skin treatments combine different technologies to enhance the versatility and effectiveness of the procedures. That’s true of FotoFacial® RF, a laser skin rejuvenation treatment we offer that combines pulsed light technology with radiofrequency energy. It’s ideal for treating broken blood vessels, sun spots, brown spots, and rosacea.

If you’re looking for a laser skin resurfacing specialist in the Atlanta area, contact Buckhead Facial Plastic Surgery using the online form to book now. Or call us at (404) 233-3937 to schedule an appointment.

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