An optical-thermal-damage model of the skin under laser irradiation is developed by using finite-element modeling software (FEMLAB 3.1, Comsol, Incorporated, Burlington, Massachusetts). The general model simulates light propagation, heat generation, transient temperature response, and thermal damage produced by a radically symmetric laser beam of normal incidence. Predictions from the model are made of transient surface temperatures and the thermal damage on a pigskin surface generated by 2000-nm laser irradiation, and these predictions are compared to experimental measurements. The comparisons validate the model predictions, boundary conditions, and optical, thermal, and rate process parameters. The model enables the authors to verify the suitability of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) maximum permissible exposure (MPE) standard for a wavelength of 2000 nm with exposure duration from 0.1 to 1 s and 3.5-mm beam diameter. Compared with the ANSI MPE standard, however, the MPE values predicted by the model are higher for exposure durations less than 0.1 s. The model indicates that it may be necessary to modify the ANSI MPE standard for cases in which the laser-beam diameter is larger than 3.5 mm when a "safety factor" of ten is used. A histopathological analysis of the skin damage is performed to determine the mechanisms of laser-induced damage in the skin.