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  • By Ioannis Glavas, MD

    When most people think of plastic surgery, they think of nose jobs and facelifts. However some of the most popular procedures are associated with skin rejuvenation, including repairing the damage done by a lifetime of overexposure to the sun. In fact laser skin resurfacing, dermabrasion, and chemical peels accounted for more than 20% of the minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in the U.S. in 2010, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

    Decades of sun exposure have left many of the Boomer generation – who grew up equating “tan” with “healthy” – with moderate to severe skin damage. Over the last several years there are a growing number of people who want a solution to the wrinkles, skin discoloration, moles, and even growths on the eye directly attributed to sun exposure. With advanced cosmetic rejuvenation techniques, it is now possible to reverse some of the damage.

    According to the ASPS’s “Report of the 2010 Plastic Surgery Statistics,”[i] of the 11.6 million minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures last year, skin rejuvenation accounted for about 2.4 million: chemical peel (1.14 million), laser skin resurfacing (430,000), and microdermabrasion (820,000 – all numbers rounded).  Additionally, the number of laser skin resurfacing procedures performed increased by 2.5 times over the past 10 years.

    The cosmetic benefits are obvious. For example, laser skin resurfacing makes the skin smoother; eliminates wrinkles, sun spots, and pigmented lesions; and improves scars from accidents or acne. Newer “fractional” or “fractionated” lasers are an improvement on traditional lasers, precisely treating the skin to a predefined depth and because they minimize the risks of post treatment complications.

    Laser and other radiation therapies can also help reduce the risk of future skin problems – including skin cancer.

    “Some of the lasers are useful in treating pre-cancerous lesions, thus reducing the risk of developing skin cancer,” wrote Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, Clinical Professor Dermatology, NYU Langone Medical Center and vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation, in an “Ask an Expert” section of the foundation’s website.[ii]

    However finding out which procedure is the right one is not as easy as it may seem. There at least three different types of procedures to treat the effects – more if you consider options like surgical facelifts or injectable fillers. There are also now more options within those types. For example, laser techniques alone include ablative (removing a layer of skin), non-ablative, and fractional laser therapy, as well as the related intense pulse light (IPL) therapy.

    Anyone considering one of the skin rejuvenation procedures must consult with a professional. There are many variables involved including the type and extent of damage, skin type, and even past medical history to a certain extent. That’s why consulting with a board certified cosmetic surgeon is so important. Cosmetic surgeons have the training to understand all treatment options, and can explain in detail these options before one decides on a treatment.

    As far as plastic surgery recovery is concerned, although the risk of complications is relatively low (especially with the newer technologies), there are risks with any medical procedure. Not only  is a cosmetic surgeon better informed to outline those risks, he or she is also better prepared to manage complications should they occur.

    But even with all the new advancements in treatments, prevention is the key to protecting your skin. The sun produces ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB, that our bodies actually need. But overexposure leads to many skin and eye problems. Limiting exposure by covering up skin with clothing and sunscreen, and wearing sunglasses with UV protection are the smartest practices for protection.


    Ioannis P. Glavas, MD is a Board Certified (ABO) oculoplastic and facial cosmetic with offices in Boston (Newbury Street) and Manhattan. He is the founder and Director of the Glavas Centre for Oculo-Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the Massachusetts Eye Plastic Surgery & Laser Center, both in Boston, and serves as an Assistant Clinical Professor at NYU school of Medicine and Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital in New York.

    [i] http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Documents/news-resources/statistics/2010-statisticss/Overall-Trends/2010-cosmetic-plastic-surgery-minimally-invasive-statistics.pdf April 20, 2011

    [ii] http://www.skincancer.org/ask-the-expert-can-laser-treatment-cause-skin-cancer.html April 20, 2011

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