More than 509,000 laser skin resurfacing procedures were performed in the U.S. last year. The procedure may be used to remove fine lines and wrinkles, sun-damaged skin and acne scars. The first lasers to be used for skin resurfacing were the carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers. However, the risk of side effects (such as scarring) led to the development of lasers that provided more precise, controlled resurfacing, like the erbium:YAG.
Another popular technique is fractional laser resurfacing (Fraxel®). Fraxel can be used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars and irregular pigmentation. An added bonus to Fraxel – it stimulates production of collagen as the treated area heals.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, laser hair removal is currently the third most popular nonsurgical cosmetic procedure in America. Last year, more than 1.4 million procedures were performed in the U.S. The treatment works by delivering highly concentrated beams of light energy into the hair follicles. The light is absorbed by the pigment, destroying the hair inside the follicle. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the first lasers approved for hair removal were the ruby, alexandrite and diode lasers. Today, intense pulsed light (IPL) lasers are popular for those with light skin and dark colored hair. Nd:YAG lasers are better for people with darker skin.
Some lasers target the red coloring in hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying pigment in red blood cells). This allows doctors to selectively target unwanted blood vessels, like superficial leg veins or spider veins. The energy from the laser heats and damages the target vessel, causing it to scar over and disappear under the surface of the skin. Last year, more than 174,000 laser treatments for leg veins were performed in the U.S. Some commonly used lasers include the intense pulsed light, pulsed dye, Nd:YAG and Alexandrite lasers.
No single laser can perform all functions. However, some do have more than one application. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery says the choice of laser depends upon the experience and preference of the surgeon, the type of treatment, size of the treatment area and patient expectations. Your physician can advise you on the best lasers or treatments for your condition and skin color.
Jeffrey Kenkel, M.D., a Plastic Surgeon with UT Southwestern Medical Center, says people who are considering laser cosmetic treatments need to do their homework. Some laser devices are aggressively marketed to consumers who may jump on the bandwagon without fully understanding the appropriate use of the technology, side effects of treatment, recovery and down time.
Make sure the physician has experience with the procedure you are selecting and the laser equipment being used. Ask about potential complications and how unexpected problems would be resolved. Find out who will perform the procedure. Sometimes the physician who schedules the procedure isn’t the one who will provide the treatment. Ask for referrals from friends and talk to people who have already had the procedure you are choosing.
Kenkel says the risks of laser procedures are small, but can be serious. Patients may experience a skin burn, thickening of the skin or pigmentation problems in the treated area.
For general information on use of lasers for cosmetic procedures: The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, http://www.aafprs.org.