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Shedding the Light on Lasers

Corrective cosmetic procedures can be very overwhelming and confusing given the array of treatments available. Hot lasers, cold lasers, low-level lasers, ablative, non-ablative, down-time, no down- time, minimally invasive, tuck, tighten, lift. What does all this mean? With so many options and a clutter of complex terminology, how does a person decipher one from the other and decide which treatment to invest in? Advertising and marketing campaigns can make it even more confusing for the consumer, and one must look past the fancy name and beautiful model representing the brand and turn to their treatment provider to help clarify and explain the pros and cons, the benefits and risks, and reasonably expected results. The goal of this article is to touch on some of the lasers used in corrective cosmetic treatments to give readers a better understanding of laser technology as it relates to these procedures.

LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. This means that in order for a device to be termed a laser it must be able to generate energy that creates a single wavelength of light. Lasers play an important role and have many uses in the cosmetic industry. Light-based cosmetic treatments are some of the most sought after cosmetic services in the medical beauty industry. Lasers can safely improve the appearance of wrinkles, sun damage, brown spots, scarring and reduce unwanted hair. Laser penetrates to a very precise, controlled depth in the skin, making it a safe and predictable procedure in the right hands. They beauty of lasers is they have the ability to target only the specific area while not harming the rest of the surrounding tissue. Each specific laser wavelength is chosen by its ability to treat different skin concerns. For example a laser that is used to treat brown spots, cannot treat red spots and vice versa.

With cosmetic treatments, the target the laser absorbs into is one of three things: melanin, hemoglobin, or water.

Lasers that are targeting melanin are used to treat age spots, sun damage, brown spots, and the pigment in hair and even tattoos. The lasers used for these types of treatments are the Q-switched ND:YAG, Alexandrite, Diode lasers. The Long Pulsed YAG for hair removal on darker skin is the preferred wavelength to ensure a safe treatment.

Lasers that are targeting hemoglobin are for red capillaries, spider veins, port wine stains, and any type of redness within the skin such as rosacea. It will absorb into the blood vessel and transfer into heat, which will coagulate the vessel and allow body to absorb it. There are several types of lasers to treat redness. The lasers of choice for treating blood vessels are Pulsed Dye, Long Pulsed YAG and KTP lasers.

Lasers that are absorbed by water in the cells are used for skin tightening and wrinkle reduction. These lasers target the lower layers in the skin and use their light to heat up the water within the cells to create a micro-injury which stimulates a wound-healing response and collagen production..

If skin texture is your concern, acne scarring, wrinkles and roughness can be treated with resurfacing lasers. There are ablative and non-ablative resurfacing procedures. Ablative will produce more dramatic results but will require some serious recovery time and post-operative care because they remove or “ablate” the upper layers of the skin. This procedure also comes with more associated risk. Non-ablative procedures will produce subtle results, require more treatments but have fewer side effects and minimal downtime as they leave the skin’s surface unharmed and intact. The newer version of resurfacing involves fractional treatments, meaning that hundreds of tiny beams of light or radio frequency enter the skin but leave the surrounding skin untouched and healthy to lessen the downtime and speed up the healing time. The laser vaporizes skin cells by emitting bursts of radiation that are absorbed by water in these cells. The result is smoother, more youthful looking skin without the risks associated with ablative treatments.

Other light-based technologies such as Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or Photorejuvenation are not classified as true laser because this type is a broad band of light made up of many wavelengths within the visible light spectrum. Think in terms of a laser pointer compared to a flashlight. A laser pointer is a concentrated beam of light made up of one single wavelength, whereas a flashlight will produce a broad beam of light with many different wavelengths. IPL is a great option for treating more than one target at a time but it is less specific and may require more treatments to achieve the results that laser can.

There isn’t one particular laser that is the best, despite what you might hear. They all have their purposes. Newer technologies have definitely improved and refined the choices when practitioners are choosing which one best suits their clinic. Which laser is used for each particular skin concern depends on several factors and you and your practitioner should have the conversation around which device will be used and why.

The brand name of the device shouldn’t be as concerning as the particular wavelength chosen. Be sure you fully understand the pre-treatment requirements, the associated risks, expected results, and also your post care responsibilities. A home care regime including recommended skin care and daily sunscreen will ensure you maintain the results and keep your skin nourished and healthy. Lasers are an integral part of cosmetic procedures. Talk to your skin care specialist or doctor to learn more about these treatments and your options.

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