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A Guide to the 14 Most Common Cosmetic Procedures

After struggling with her acne and hyperpigmentation for nearly a decade, Magee, a tech-consultant and part-time beauty blogger, was frustrated and ready to seek a more permanent solution. When her cousin mentioned the skin-smoothing results she experienced after a recent chemical peel, Magee wasted no time booking her appointment at a nearby salon.

Unfortunately, the peel — performed by non-medical, unqualified hands — left her with sore, red, and scaly skin as well as unwanted skin lightening. Weeks after the procedure, her acne worsened.

After seeking help from a licensed dermatologist, she was able to reduce the unwanted side effects from her original peel and find a way to manage her acne. Her skin is now back to its natural glow.

Today, Magee prefers to go straight to the source when it comes to dermatological procedures. “Now, I want the experts. Though they can be more expensive, it’s just not worth putting your face in jeopardy,” she says. “If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her to ignore the fads promoted on television and to always, always, go to the licensed professionals.”  

Loving your body comes in many forms. Whether you decide to go au natural or to seek medical and beauty treatments is a highly personal decision, but one you shouldn’t make without being armed with all of the relevant information. When you know what your options are, as well as the benefits and risks of each procedure, you will be better prepared to consult with a qualified professional and to decide the right plan of action for you and your beautiful skin.

1. Botox/Dysport

What It Is: Botox is perhaps the most famous cosmetic treatment available. Botulinum toxin therapy, also referred to by brand names Botox® Cosmetic, Dysport®, MYOBLOC®, and XEOMIN®, is a quick and popular procedure used to diminish signs of aging, including frown lines and crow’s feet. It can also be used to treat certain medical conditions including hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

What It Involves: Your dermatologist can administer treatment during a single office visit by injecting a very small amount of purified botulinum into the targeted muscles on the face or neck. (When treating excessive sweating, the injection is administered directly into the skin on the underarm.)

In most cases, a single treatment is enough to see results that will last between 3 to 6 months, after which time you will need to repeat the process. Botox has the added benefit that most people can return to their everyday activities immediately after injection.

The cost: $460 on average. Treatment to address signs of aging are not covered by insurance, but treatment for hyperhidrosis or TMJ may be fully or partially covered.

You Should Keep in Mind: Botulinum is a toxin and should be administered by someone with a medical license. As long as you follow that rule, it is considered a safe and effective treatment.

Still, it may not be right for everyone. There have not been sufficient studies on the use of Botox during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid during this time out of an abundance of caution. You should also let your doctor know about any pain relievers, blood thinners, vitamins, supplements, or other medications you’re currently taking.

2. Laser Hair Removal

What It Is: Want to make razors and waxing a thing of the past? Laser hair removal can permanently eliminate unwanted hair from your face and body.

What It Involves: During treatment, a laser vaporizes the targeted hair, creating small puffs of smoke that can have a sulfur-like smell. Depending on the area of focus, numbing gel may be applied beforehand. The length of treatment will vary depending on the size of the area being treated. Smaller areas, like your upper lip, may take only a few minutes, while larger areas like your legs can take more than an hour.

Results can often be seen immediately after treatment, though this varies from person to person. To permanently remove hair, you will need between 2 and 6 total treatments. In some cases, you may need maintenance treatments over time to remain hair-free.

The Cost: $200-$500 per session, depending on the area being treated. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Both dermatologists and aestheticians can perform laser hair removal. Because treatment can be dangerous in inexperienced hands, make sure that whatever kind of professional you see, it is someone who is qualified to perform the procedure.

Some people may experience mild, temporary side effects after treatment, including discomfort, swelling, or redness, though more serious side effects including blistering, infections, or skin discoloration are possible, though rare.

It’s critical that you protect your skin from the sun after laser hair removal. Equally important is following your provider’s post-treatment skin care recommendations.

Until recently, laser hair removal was only recommended for those with light skin and dark hair. Today, dermatologists can also safely perform the procedure on those with light hair and dark skin, though it requires additional caution.

3. Microdermabrasion

What It Is: Also known as a “power peel,” microdermabrasion is a non-invasive skin smoothing procedure that gently exfoliates the top layer of skin to diminish signs of aging. Unlike dermabrasion, microdermabrasion only removes layers of the skin that are dying or already dead. It can help treat superficial skin conditions, including fine lines, a dull or uneven complexion, brown spots, mild acne scars, melasma, age spots, and sun-damaged skin. Many dermatologists also use microdermabrasion to improve the results gained from anti-aging products, since the procedure allows the products to penetrate the skin more easily.

What It Involves: Usually performed by a dermatologist, the procedure involves using a handheld device that gently removes the top layer of skin. It generally takes 30 to 40 minutes to treat the entire face and about 20 minutes to treat the neck. Best of all, there is no recovery time, and the procedure is safe for all skin colors. When the treatment is complete, moisturizer is usually applied to the skin.

Most people need a series of treatments to see the full results. Depending on the condition being treated, most women should expect between 5 and 16 treatments. Still, results are generally temporary, as there is no way to completely halt the skin’s aging process.

The Cost: $167 on average, not including related expenses. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: After the procedure, your skin may feel red or slightly swollen, but these symptoms tend to go away within one day. In rarer cases, your skin may bruise, burn, sting, or become extremely sensitive to sunlight. Following a skincare plan that includes sun protection will help ensure the best possible results and reduce the risk of side effects. However, if your skin tends to develop dark spots when healing, you may have a greater risk of developing dark spots after this procedure. But having this procedure done by a certified dermatologist, as opposed to a salon or spa technician, greatly reduces this risk.

For the most part, microdermabrasion is a safe procedure. But it’s still a good idea to let your dermatologist know if you suffer from cold sores, have skin that scars easily, or are currently taking oral isotretinoin (or Accutane).

4. Dermabrasion

What It Is: Also referred to as skin planing, dermabrasion is a skin smoothing procedure that uses a special device that rotates quickly to remove the outer layers of the skin. Dermabrasion typically goes deeper than its sister procedure, microdermabrasion, and removes layers of the skin that are still viable or alive. The benefit? It can help patients with more severe skin issues, including intense pigmentation, acne scarring, or deep wrinkles. It can also be helpful if you have age-related skin growths, precancerous growths, scars from accidents or surgery, or sun damage.

What It Involves: Dermabrasion is usually performed by a plastic or dermatologic surgeon. You may be awake while the surgeon applies local anesthesia to the skin being treated, though in some cases, stronger sedatives may be used. When the treatment is complete, petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment is applied to the skin to help prevent scabs and scars from forming.

Healing time will vary depending on the extent and size of the treatment area, but most people can resume normal activities within two weeks. Sports and other high-contact activity should be avoided for 4 to 6 weeks after the procedure.

The good news? You may start to see full, complete results within several weeks. Amazingly, any scars, growths, or tattoos removed during dermabrasion are permanent. However, the procedure is not a safeguard against future signs of aging, so continue to wear sunblock and take other measures to protect your skin.

The Cost: $1,786 on average, not including additional expenses like anesthesia. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: After the procedure, your skin may feel red, swollen, achy, tingly, or burning. Most symptoms will resolve within a few weeks, but your doctor can prescribe medicine to help control the pain. People with darker skin tones are also at a greater risk of developing dark patches on their skin as a result of the procedure.

A few activities will be limited for a short time after your procedure. You should avoid shaving for at least one week, be extra cautious about protecting your skin from sun exposure for 6 to 12 weeks after while your skin is still healing, and for roughly 3 weeks after the procedure, your skin will likely turn red every time you drink alcohol.

Not everyone is suited for dermabrasion. The procedure isn’t recommended if you:

  • Have taken oral isotretinoin (or Accutane) in the past year

  • Have burns, scars, or skin damage that was caused by radiation

  • Are experiencing a breakout of inflammatory acne or cold sores

5. Dermal Fillers

What They Are: Dermal fillers, also called soft-tissue fillers and soft-tissue augmentation, are a popular treatment that delivers immediate results to diminish signs of aging. They can return fullness to your lips, cheeks, hollow areas under your eyes, and deep creases, as well as reduce scars, erase fine lines, lifting the brow or down-turned mouth, and rejuvenate your hands

What They Involve: During administration, a dermatologist injects filler into the targeted area, often repeating several times to produce the best results. Depending on the type of filler used and the area being treated, your doctor may pretreat the area with ice, anesthetic, or a nerve block injection.

Several kinds of filler may be used, a few of which require allergy testing before administration. In this case, you’ll need to wait for the results from the test before getting filler. If you use your own fat as filler, the entire treatment may be completed in one day.

In most cases, a single treatment is enough to see immediate results that last anywhere from 2 to 12 months. Most people can also return to their everyday activities immediately after treatment. But exercise and strenuous activity should be avoided for at least a day. You should also avoid touching the treated area for three days, unless the filler used requires you to massage the area. Regardless of filler type, you should avoid sun exposure.

The Cost: $500-$2,000 per syringe, with costs varying depending on the type of filler used. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Some people may experience temporary, mild side effects after receiving filler, including redness, swelling, tenderness, and bruising. These symptoms will generally clear up within a week, if not sooner.

When performed by a medical professional, dermal fillers are one of the safest cosmetic treatments available, according to the AAD. Still, this treatment may not be right for you. Be sure to let your doctor know about any of the following before getting treatment:

  • Current medications, especially if you’re taking Warfarin, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Vitamin E, St. John’s wort, or garlic or ginger supplements

  • History of bleeding disorder, cold sore breakouts, or heart condition

  • Easily irritated skin

  • Allergies and any previous surgeries and cosmetic treatments

  • If you’re pregnant

6. Microneedling

What It Is: Sometimes referred to as collagen induction therapy (CIT) or percutaneous collagen induction (PCI), microneedling is a procedure that uses fine needles or pen devices to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, stretch marks, and acne scars. Though most commonly used on the face, it can also be applied to other parts of the body. This cosmetic procedure is safe for all skin colors and types and can benefit most adults.

What It Involves: Though you may be able to find some derma rollers online or over-the-counter, the most effective procedures are performed by medical professionals—usually a dermatologist.

In-office treatment involves using fine needles or pen devices to create controlled microinjuries on the skin. As the injuries heal, the skin produces capillaries, collagen, and elastin that work to improve the skin’s appearance.

Each session can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size and condition of the patch of skin being treated. You’ll typically need 3 to 6 treatments to see the best outcomes, according to dermatologist Dr. Amy Kassouf. Most dermatologists will also schedule treatments 4 to 6 weeks apart to allow your skin time to heal. Meaning at best, treatment time will take 12 weeks in total, and at most, sessions can span 36 weeks. After your final treatment, results can last up to 12 weeks—though timing will vary based on age, skin type, the number of treatments received, and how your skin responds to it.

The Cost: $200-$700 per session. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: The good news is people with a wide variety of skin tones can get microneedling without the risk of pigmentation issues that can occur with laser and light procedures.

However, microneedling isn’t for everyone. If you have active inflammation or an infection on your skin, including acne or cold sores, this procedure may not be right for you right now.

7. Laser Skin Resurfacing

What It Is: Laser skin resurfacing is a minimally invasive and non-surgical procedure for tightening loose skin, balancing skin tone, and reducing wrinkles, age spots, acne scars, and other skin blemishes. It works by using lasers to stimulate collagen growth and the production of new skin cells to resurface your skin and give it a tighter, more even look.

What It Involves: There are two main types of laser resurfacing: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative resurfacing works by using lasers that remove the outer layers of your skin. Because this version actually damages your skin in order to promote collagen growth, the procedure requires a local anesthetic jab or full sedation in order to keep you comfortable.

Non-ablative treatments, on the other hand, use a laser that passes through the skin, delivering heat without removing any layers. Because this version of the therapy causes little-to-no pain, it only requires a topical numbing cream.

Though less invasive than surgery, laser skin resurfacing may require up to 7 days of downtime after the procedure, but the benefits are impressive. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), laser skin resurfacing is the most effective procedure for tightening loose skin and it delivers the fastest results: within two weeks after healing. The best part? On average, patients can expect their new look to last anywhere from 3 to 5 years. Though some reap the benefits after only one treatment, most providers recommend a series of procedures to deliver the best results.

The Cost: $1,500-$2,500, on average. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: The sensations experienced during the procedure can vary from individual to individual, but most liken them to the feeling of a rubber band being snapped against the skin.

The treatment is also most effective on lighter skin tones, though there are safe and effective resurfacing options for lighter-toned African American, Hispanic, or Asian skin tones. Darker skin tones may need to consider other resurfacing options, like radio-frequency or microneedling.

Patients should also keep in mind that laser-treated skin can be hypersensitive to sun exposure for up to a year following treatment. For this reason, many surgeons recommend getting the procedure done in the fall (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere), when you’re less likely to be exposed to strong sunlight in the months immediately after the procedure. 

Finally, laser skin resurfacing isn’t right for everyone, including those who are pregnant, prone to cold sores or fever blisters, have a skin infection, or take certain medications, including acne medications that contain isotretinoin or aspirin, which can increase the risk of post-procedure bleeding.

8. PRP Facial Rejuvenation

What It Is: Short for platelet-rich plasma, PRP facial rejuvenation is sometimes referred to as the “vampire facial” as this treatment involves injecting your own blood into your face and scalp to reduce wrinkles, plump sagging skin, eliminate deep creases, improve complexion, heal wounds from facial surgery or injury, improve hair loss, and diminish acne scars.

What It Involves: The three-step procedure entails drawing blood from your arm, placing the blood into a machine to separate out the platelets, and re-injecting the blood that now has a high-concentration of platelets into your face or scalp using a syringe or microneedling device.

Treatment duration can vary, but generally each procedure lasts about 45 minutes to one hour. Though some people will experience more benefits than others, researchers have found that most people who see results will do so after three or more treatments. Even then, it may take a few weeks or months until you can reap the full benefits. Because few studies have been conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dermatologists still have some unanswered questions about PRP, including why some people experience more benefits from the procedure than others and how much time should be allotted in between treatments.

The upside? There’s little to no downtime required after each procedure and, if you’re one of the lucky ones, results can last as long as 18 months. In some cases, dermatologists may also inject a filler to help you see benefits more quickly.

The Cost: $1,500-$2,000 per session. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: If you’re a good candidate, PRP is a safe procedure with little to no recovery time. You may experience a bit of pain, bruising, or swelling directly after the procedure, but, in most cases, these symptoms resolve within a few days.

Though PRP is considered safe for most people, it’s not right for anyone who has hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, blood cancer, cardiovascular disease that requires use of a blood thinning medication, or skin cancer located on the face, neck, or scalp. You should also let your doctor know if you take over-the-counter blood thinners, including ibuprofen or aspirin.

9. Chemical Peels

What They Are: Also called chemexfoliation and derma peeling, chemical peels can be used to diminish signs of aging, including lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, dull complexion or discoloration, freckles, rough-feeling skin, or sun damage. Some dermatologists also use chemical peels to treat some forms of acne and melasma.

What They Involve: Chemical peels come in different versions of light, medium, and deep. During treatment, your dermatologist will cleanse your skin before applying the peel quickly and evenly to your face. If you’re receiving a deep peel, you may be put under general anesthesia. After application, your dermatologist will watch your skin and remove the peel at the appropriate time. Treatment can take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes.

All peels require some form of downtime, but the amount will vary depending on the type of peel you receive. Light peels have a downtime of 1 to 7 days, while deep peels have a downtime of 14 to 21 days. Once your skin has healed, you will see immediate results, which can last up to two months for light peels and several for a deep peel.

The Cost: $1,300-$5,000, depending on the expertise of the person performing the procedure, the type of chemical peel performed, and geographic location. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: The success and safety of a chemical peel depends largely on the skill of the person administering the peel. Be sure to see your dermatologist or other medical professional for this treatment. Before getting a chemical peel, you may need to follow a pre-peel skin care plan recommended by your doctor.

Some people may experience mild side effects after treatment, including facial redness that persists for several months, temporary skin darkening, lighter skin color, and scarring (which is rare when the peel is performed by a dermatologist).

It’s crucial that you protect your skin from the sun after a chemical peel. Equally important is ensuring that your skin is kept well moisturized in the weeks following treatment.

Chemical peels aren’t right for everyone. Be sure to let your doctor know about your current medications and skin history before going ahead with this treatment.

10. Oxygen Facials

What They Are: Beloved by celebrities and influencers today, oxygen facials are non-medical procedures intended to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve blood circulation, and promote collagen production. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that oxygen facials actually work. And unlike medical procedures, oxygen facials are commonly performed by aestheticians, not dermatologists.

What They Involve: As a non-medical procedure, different aestheticians will have varying methods on how they administer an oxygen facial. Typically, an aesthetician will cleanse and exfoliate your face before using a handheld device to deliver a stream of high pressurized oxygen to the top layer of skin. In some cases, the aesthetician will also apply serum or moisturizer to your skin post-facial.

The length of the treatment varies but can last anywhere from 30 to 80 minutes. The plus side of doing a non-medical procedure means there’s no downtime—you can walk out the door and resume your daily activities.

You should start to see results immediately, but, as with all facials, they’re not permanent. Talk to your aesthetician or dermatologist about the recommended cadence of oxygen facials.

The Cost: $75-$500, depending on where you seek treatment. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Some people may experience temporary, mild side effects after treatment, including skin redness and plumpness or facial swelling.

As a non-invasive, non-medical treatment, oxygen facials are generally safe for everyone. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor or dermatologist beforehand and always make sure that the aesthetician you book is qualified.

11. Cryotherapy Facials

What They Are: Like oxygen facials, cryotherapy facials are popular treatments performed in wellness centers and spas. Though they promise younger, healthier looking skin with no injections or surgeries, they have not been approved by the FDA and there isn't enough research to determine whether they really can even skin tone, reduce acne, or minimize signs of aging, as they claim. However, one study shows that cryotherapy facials can help reduce swelling and pain experienced after certain facial surgeries.

What They Involve: During this non-medical procedure, gusts of cool air produced by liquid nitrogen are applied directly to the face, neck, and scalp. By decreasing the surface temperature of the skin, the aim is to constrict the blood vessels to boost collagen production, increase skin elasticity, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

The length of the treatment ranges from 15 to 30 minutes. Like oxygen facials, there’s no downtime and you can walk out the door and resume your daily activities directly after treatment.

You may experience results immediately, but they won’t be permanent. The upside? They’re one of the more affordable facial treatments available.

The Cost: $40-$150, depending on where you seek treatment. Not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Though rare, some people may experience tingling, numbness, or frostbite post-facial.

As a non-invasive, non-medical treatment, cryotherapy facials are generally safe for everyone. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor or dermatologist beforehand and always make sure that the aesthetician you book is qualified.

12. Thermage/Minimally Invasive Skin Tightening

What It Is: Thermage® is a non-invasive radiofrequency (RF) treatment used to tighten, smooth, and contour skin.

What It Involves: As a non-invasive procedure, no needles, cutting, or syringes are involved. Instead, RF technology is used to heat deeper, collagen-rich layers of the skin while cooling the skin’s surface. As collagen strands contract, the skin tightens, with new collagen growth further tightening skin over time. 

In most cases, a single treatment is enough to see results, but it can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months for them to appear. Treatment time will vary but generally range from twenty minutes to one hour per session. Remarkably, no special care or downtime is required after treatment, and results can last for 1 to 2 years.

The Cost: $1,000-$5,000 per treatment. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Some mild side effects, including redness, skin sensitivity, soreness, or swelling, can occur, but they generally resolve after 24 hours.

Most people are considered good candidates for treatment, but ideal patients are between the ages of 30 and 65 and are experiencing early signs of aging. Thermage is also safe for all skin tones, making it a good alternative to other procedures for women with darker skin.

13. Intense Pulsed Light

What It Is: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a light therapy used to treat many common skin conditions, including wrinkles, sun damage, freckles, birth marks, varicose veins, broken blood vessels, rosacea, dark or age spots, or unwanted hair growth.

What It Involves: IPL is similar to laser treatments, but it uses light of different wavelengths — rather than just one — to improve skin appearance. During treatment, light penetrates to the second layer of skin without harming the top layer, causing less overall damage. Skin cells absorb the light’s heat, which works to clear the pigmentation issues.

A single treatment of IPL can take between 20 and 30 minutes. To get optimal results, three to six total treatments are recommended, with a month in between each treatment to allow your skin to heal. After treatment, you should be able to resume your normal activities immediately. With the proper sun protection and skincare regimen, results can last for several years. Though, like most procedures, it cannot magically prevent signs of future skin aging.

The Cost: $700-$1,200 per treatment. Usually not covered by insurance.

You Should Keep in Mind: Some mild side effects, including bruising, blistering, a change in skin color, or infection can occur, but they generally resolve after 1 or 2 days. Most people are considered good candidates for IPL, but be sure to let your specialist know if you have any existing skin conditions, including inflammatory acne or eczema.

14. Pulse Dye Laser

What It Is: Pulse dye laser treatment (PDL) uses light to treat many common skin conditions, including rosacea, facial redness, and certain types of birth marks and scars.

What It Involves: The treatment uses light converted into heat to destroy damaged blood vessels. As your body absorbs these vessels, your blood flows normally through other, healthier vessels. The name “pulsed dye” refers to the solution of organic dye used during treatment. This organic dye creates the laser effect that delivers gentle bursts of light to targeted areas of your skin.

The procedure generally takes 30 minutes, and most people see results immediately, though, for some, it may take several months for skin pigments to adjust completely. How many treatments you’ll need will depend on the condition being treated, but most require between 1 to 3 sessions. The results of PDL may be permanent, though this also varies depending on the condition. Like with most dermatological procedures, avoiding sun exposure, smoking, and other triggers can help prolong the results.

The Cost: $200-$500 per session. Some insurances may cover the cost if treating certain types of birth marks.

You Should Keep in Mind: Some mild side effects akin to the feeling of a sunburn can occur, including swelling, itchiness, redness, or discomfort, but they generally resolve within 24 to 72 hours.

In some cases, you may experience burns, blistering, or bruising, and if you’re prone to scarring, you may see minor scarring after the procedure. In very rare cases, laser treatments have been known to trigger dormant infections or viruses.

Most people are considered good candidates for treatment but be sure to let your specialist know about existing skin conditions and current medications.

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