Laser Skin Treatments 101
With all the advancements in modern technology, it seems like a new skin treatment or technology is popping up every other week. It can be hard to know what exactly a laser treatment is and what it can treat, so we asked Ocean Cosmetics co-founder and cosmetic doctor, Dr Jessica Wang, to break it down for us.
What are laser skin treatments?
‘Laser skin treatment’ is a very general term. It often refers to using energy-based devices to treat skin conditions. The LASER – Light Amplification Stimulated Emission of Radiation – refers to the device that can emit light through a process of optical amplification based on stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation of various spectrum. Basically, the laser punctures skin tissue by a heated beam of light. This process causes injury to the skin and induces the repairing process to regenerate tissues. Hence, we can use this laser technology to treat unwanted blemishes on skin and create a healthier and more radiant skin.
What skin conditions do the different lasers treat?
The laser technology can be used to:
- Ablate a lesion
- Break up pigments caused by sun or hormone
- Remove tattoo pigments
- Resurface skin
- Scar modification
- Treat blood vessels capillaries
- Remove unwanted hair, wrinkles and lines
- Improving pores, skin tone and textures
- Induce collagen.
We use different lasers to treat these conditions. Each laser at a different wavelength has its own chromophore targets. This means some lasers can see redness in blood vessels, some see pigments, some see water. We use the knowledge of what specific laser can do to treat various conditions. In some cases, we might need to use a combination of different lasers to produce the best outcome.
What are the differences between the different lasers?
The differences between lasers can be seen in its choice of semiconductors materials which determines the wavelength of the emitted beam of laser eg. Diode, Nd:Yag.
Some laser machines can also produce different energy levels and when its pulse width is so short, it has photomechanical effects. Without getting too technical, some lasers are designed for vascular lesions specifically; some are designed to remove hair, and some can treat multiple conditions depending on the wave length of laser light.
Some lasers are designed to ablate the first superficial layer of skin; it produces excellent long lasting results, although this is offset with a lot of down time, which can last up to several weeks.
The most popular lasers are the fractional lasers – where the laser beam is targeted interspaced between the normal skin points. This enhances skin healing ability, hence less down time. The fractional lasers can treat from 10% of the face to as intense as 70% of the face depending on the setting. The results are noticeable and long lasting.
What should I look for when I choose a treatment provider? Does it need to be performed by a doctor?
Laser treatment in Western Australia had authorisation traditionally limited to be performed by doctors only. However, recently, the rules have changed. It can be performed by qualified and trained personnel, such as registered nurses and dermal therapists.
I would suggest you look for the provider’s qualification, experience and existing affiliation with reputable cosmetic – dermatology college groups. This will often indicate if they have updated knowledge.
Are there any risks involved with laser skin treatments?
Laser skin treatments, like all other medical treatments, can have its potential side effects and complications. Laser technology aims to create injuries to damaged skin in a uniform controlled fashion, hence stimulation of natural skin defence to heal. The risks include redness, hotness, bruising, blisters, scarring, pigment changes-hypopigmentation, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, hair loss, or excess hair, blindness /eye injury (if safety eye protection not used appropriately), trigger skin breakouts, cold sores, infection or general infection risks and photosensitive skin reaction.
Can all skin types have laser treatments? For example, can it be used on darker skin?
The short answer is all skin types can have laser treatment. However, with darker skin types (which are Fitzgerald 5/6), the risks are substantially higher due to the natural dense pigments in the normal skin absorbing the laser light energy, as well as the abnormal skin areas we try to treat. We tend to use laser wave lengths that target the water content. This reduces complications and uses more conservative energy level to treat darker skin.
Who is laser best suited for?
The laser treatment is best suited for all men and women. Another factor is the contrast between skin colour and pigments. A lighter skin colour and darker pigment targets is the best contrast combination for laser treatment. This means that Caucasians are best suited and the most laser-forgiving compared to Asian and African dark-skin backgrounds.
Why is it more expensive than other types of skin treatments?
Laser skin treatment is more expensive than other types of skin treatment because the device is costly. It is often around $150,000-$300,000 to purchase one of those medical grade laser machines. The laser machines are also expensive to maintain in good conditions.
It produces more dramatic differences than less invasive, more gentle superficial treatments. It creates micro-channels for skin care products’ active ingredients to penetrate skin more efficiently. Some recent papers released have also indicated that it may improve skin DNA which were damaged by ultraviolet lights over time. In addition, the benefits from laser skin treatment lasts longer in general.
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