If you’ve ever considered laser treatments for your skin concerns but have been worried about looking like a lobster for several months, we’ve got some good news. Laser treatments have advanced significantly since their inception and while there are treatments that will leave you looking like you just got a sunburn, there are also procedures and treatments that provide great results with minimal side effects.
What is a Laser and How Does it Work?
The word laser is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. What this boils down to is that lasers work by generating a concentrated stream of pulsed bright light that can be strategically controlled and directed over the surface of the skin. Unlike a regular white light bulb that contains a spectrum of colors, lasers only contain one specific color. These intense rays of light are used to destroy unwanted pigments, hair or other skin concerns. Lasers are classified as either ablative or non-ablative.
Ablative Lasers – Ablative lasers work by targeting the surface of your skin (epidermis) as well as the lower, deeper (dermis) layers of skin. In order to penetrate to these lower layers of skin, ablative lasers injure or ablate the surface of your skin. Ablative lasers can be used to:
- Fade skin discolorations
- Remove sun damage
- Reveal healthier skin
- Improve appearance of deep lines and wrinkles
Non-ablative Lasers – Non-ablative treatments target the lower layers of your skin, but they leave the surface of your skin undamaged and intact. Non-ablative lasers are used to:
- Improve or eliminate redness from broken capillaries or rosacea
- Remove superficial spots
- Improve appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Stimulate collagen production
Types of Lasers
Laser technology has advanced significantly since the treatments were first offered. Today’s lasers are able to provide more precise results with less damage and side effects. Some of the most common types of lasers used for laser therapy include:
- CO2 Pulse Laser – This ablative laser is one of the oldest lasers in use. It provides significant results following therapy, but the side effects are intense with the potential for skin to remain red for up to two months following treatment.
- Erbium YAG Laser – Another ablative laser, this machine is less invasive than the CO2 Pulse Lasers, but it also does not treat wrinkles as deeply as those machines. There is also the Variable YAG Pulse Laser, which is a popular option for its ability to work almost as effectively as the CO2 Pulse, but without as much damage.
- Fraxels – These non-ablative lasers are some of the most frequently used because they deliver impressive results with minimal side effects and risks. The name is derived from the word fractional, which is how fraxels work. Instead of one, steady stream of light, fraxels pinpoint target the skin with a polka-dot type pattern of light that causes less tissue damage. Fraxels are used for a large range of skin concerns from wrinkles and stretch marks to hyperpigmentation.
- Long-Pulsed YAG Laser – This laser is also non-ablative and is used mainly for wrinkles and reducing the appearance of acne scars. These lasers, while less invasive than others, provide more subtle results than others.
What to Know Before Laser Therapy
That’s definitely a question for your doctor to decide. If you are considering laser therapy, it is a great idea to do some research, but remember that your doctor is the expert. Look for offices that feature multiple types of lasers, because an office that only has one may use it on your skin to keep your business, but it may not be the most effective or safe treatment for you. Laser therapy costs range widely depending on the type of laser, the number of treatments, your location and what type of laser therapy you are having done. Laser therapies come with varying amounts of pain. The majority of laser treatments do not require numbing before the treatment, but if you are having deeper resurfacing done, your doctor may use “…a topical anesthetic or a combination of a topical and pain injections plus anxiety drugs such as Ativan or Valium,” says Brian Biesman, clinical assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Laser treatments are an effective way to treat a large number of skin concerns from resurfacing to deep-set wrinkles. Prior to undergoing any type of laser therapy, we recommend doing some research to find a doctor that you trust and the laser treatment that is right for you.