By Patty Kovacs, Editor-At-Large, Make Me Heal
Laser (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is a “light pump” which applies principles of radiation physics to very narrowly segregate light of selected wavelength and then “pump” the light radiation to high intensity. These beams of selected wavelength are varied in intensity and in duration of the emitted pulses.
Laser treatments have advanced in the plastic surgery market at the very speed of light itself for the past decade. Today’s patients are heading into their plastic surgeon, dermatologist, and medical laser specialist to consider the latest options for skin rejuvenation. The menu of advanced laser, non-surgical options are ever growing in numbers. Plastic surgeons are adding laser treatments to the overall improvement for their patients, and dermatologists are seeing unprecedented growth in patient requests for laser treatments. Recent laser and skincare advances enable dermatologic surgeons, plastic surgeons, and anti-aging physicians to treat a variety of skin conditions that previously required invasive procedures and a long recovery period.
Laser skin resurfacing softens wrinkles and depressed scars, as well as removes pigment related to sun damage, thereby creating a more youthful appearance to the skin. Sometimes called “laser peeling”, laser resurfacing is a precise, effective, and long-lasting method of skin rejuvenation, resulting in dramatic improvements to the appearance of treated skin.
Research has shown that laser resurfacing treatments also stimulate the formation of new collagen to provide better support for the skin, resulting in a smoother and more even appearance to the skin. Laser resurfacing treatments must be tailored to the nature and extent of skin damage, skin type and individual requirements for recovery time.
While physicians and laser treatment specialists can now prevent, maintain and even restore a youthful appearance to men and women of nearly all ages, it’s important to remember that healthy skin and good skin care habits should begin as early as childhood and can actually help in the development of self-confidence and positive self-esteem. Remember, maintenance is less expensive than repair and daily habits that are inexpensive can really make a visible difference. But, oh what a skin improvement these lasers create. Bring on the Light!
Dozens of laser companies today make anywhere from three to ten laser systems each, creating a market overflowing with more than a hundred lasers, all lighting the way for your attention to skin repair.
I first decided to give a call to Dr. Brandith Irwin, board certified Dermatologist, Director of the Madison Skin & Laser Center, frequent guest of Oprah, and author of The Surgery-Free Makeover.
“Originally, laser companies tested their lasers themselves for long periods of time before releasing them to the world at large. Their very reputation depended on delivering a safe and reliable device that got good results for patients. But due to more intense competition now, laser companies all vie to be the first to get to market with their new devices, each with the ‘newest’ technology. While this ‘new’ technology may be promising, lasers are more often released before the results are clearly defined and before the treatment parameters are definitely established. That means, all too often, that doctors and consumers do the ‘testing’ of the devices themselves,” says Dr. Irwin. “Good laser centers that operate ethically will never try to ‘hard sell’ you or get you to commit before you walk out the door. An excellent, ethical doctor wants you to think over what’s involved, to do your homework, and never use before-and-after photos as your main study material.”
Today’s principal applications of lasers in facial skin rejuvenation are reduction or removal of wrinkles, lines and age spots so to “resurface” the skin.
Powerful, rapid pulses can be directed toward resurfacing skin with- surprise!- no bleeding. Laser skin resurfacing offers reduced risk of infection, precisely controlled surgical effects, and one-day outpatient treatment.
After-effects and recovery times vary with different laser procedures. Your doctor should always carefully explain the risks, after-effects, and benefits of recommended procedures.
A broad range of dermatologic applications for lasers include:
Skin resurfacing – removal or improvement of wrinkles & lines, aging, and photo-aging
Treatment of superficial brown pigmentation, age spots and deep pigmented lesions such as port wine stains and birthmarks
Removal or improvement of scars (acne included)
Removal of some skin cancers
Removal or improvement of vascular moles or skin warts
Removal of tattoos
Removal of unwanted hair
Fraxel repair is currently hailed as a revolutionary procedure in the treatment of wrinkles, age spots, sun spots, sun-induced redness, scars and irregularities of the skin because it has the capability of tightening and rejuvenating the skin with “extreme safety.” Fraxel repair significantly corrects aged or damaged skin by utilizing a new technology known as Fractional Deep Dermal Ablation (FDDA™). Recovery time is less than traditional laser treatments and the procedure has proven more effective than skin treatments used in the past.
I spoke with leading laser expert, Dr. William Groff, board certified Dermatologist, La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center, which, according to Solta Medical (the manufacturers of Fraxel re:pair,™ performed more Fraxel re:pair™ procedures in 2008 than any other practice worldwide.
Dr. Groff actually worked on the original prototype of the Fraxel, having been greatly involved with research and development of the technology since its inception. He teaches the procedure to other physicians around the world and is considered by his medical colleagues as one of the most respected sources on laser treatments.
“While the Fraxel repair resurfacing laser has more social downtime depending on the aggressiveness needed for each case, it’s one of my favorite treatments for moderate to severe sun damage, acne scarring, as well as Melasma. I’ve actually had virtually 100% success treating Melasma with the Fraxel,” exclaims Dr. Groff. “With the Fraxel repair, we adjust the treatment from a light treatment to a more aggressive treatment, depending on each patient’s specific needs,” says Dr. Groff.
The Fraxel works on a microscopic level breaking the treatment area, penetrating the dermis and resurfacing the uppermost part of the skin. The process allows the skin to stimulate itself while expediting the production of collagen and elastin, resulting in a tight, smooth, fresh look to the face.
Fraxel repair leaves microscopic areas of the skin untouched allowing for faster healing than if the entire area were treated all at the same time. It’s considered safe for sensitive areas like the neck, chest, arms, hands and legs and effective in treating sun spots and age spots, deep lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone and texture, skin irregularities, precancerous lesions, reduction of scarring (including acne scars, traumatic scars and surgical scars), and lightening of stretch marks.
Specifically, patients can expect to see softening of deep lines and wrinkles, a significant reduction or elimination of age spots or sun spots, smoother/ even skin tone and a tighter.
Photo courtesy: La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center
Patients are given a topical anesthetic cream, pain medication and nerve blocks prior to the procedure to numb the general treatment area, thus patients experience little to no pain. But of course, patients can request the option of having general anesthesia if preferred.
Photo courtesy: La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre
A patient can expect redness, swelling, and crusting for 7 to 10 days, all of which are normal signs indicating the skin is healing and deep tissue is being repaired, and patients generally return to normal activities within 6-10 days of treatment.
The UltraPulse Encore Total FX/Active FX™ Laser combines the safety of fractionated laser therapy with the efficacy of CO2 laser treatments. The UltraPulse Encore Total FX™ (fractionated CO2) laser deeply penetrates with microscopically small but highly effective CO2 laser “microbeams” removing sun damaged and scarred tissue, stimulating the body to produce new, healthier collagen. In addition, patients sometimes elect to have the surface of their skin treated with a second laser pass designed to blend color imperfections (“Active FX™”), resulting in a significantly improved appearance of the treated skin. Wrinkles and scars are substantially diminished and skin color made more uniform. Doctors can treat both facial and neck skin, resulting in a natural looking outcome. Loss of pigment has been reported so the expert skill of your laser technician or physician is important. Healing after this treatment is usually fairly rapid, with minimal care required for only a few days. Redness of the treated skin generally heals over the subsequent week. Most patients’ appearance continues to improve for months after this laser therapy. One or two treatment sessions are generally required to achieve most patients’ goals.
The Erbium Carbon Dioxide (CO2) laser ablates delicate tissue, layer by layer, permitting clear definition of landmarks and optimal depth control. It is used to treat lines, wrinkles, acne scarring, certain other scarring, “sun spots” and other skin conditions. Dr. Groff finds this laser particularly effective for the deeply imbedded lines above the upper lip often caused by smoking or genetics.
The Alexandrite Laser works by using light to target the pigmented area and break it up. The result is fading of pigment in the treated area. While some areas respond with just one treatment, others may require multiple treatments over several visits. When multiple treatments are required, significant improvement should be noted with each visit.
Long-Pulsed Yag Laser Treament effectively treats all skin types, including tanned skin, offering unmatched treatment capabilities in permanent hair reduction, leg veins, facial veins, and wrinkles and skin tightening.
The Candela Vbeam® Perfecta pulsed dye laser treats underlying vasculature and epidermal pigmented lesions without damaging the surface of the skin. Dr. Groff recommends the Candel VBeam® Perfecta along with the Smooth Beam for the most effective treatment for specifically diminishing pore size should that be a patient’s main issue. Perfecta uses micro-pulse technology to provide visibly effective treatments without any open wounds, facial crusting, “purpura,” or laser bruising. No anesthesia is required, and no skin irritating “topicals,” ointments or gels are applied for Vbeam treatment. It is used to treat conditions such as facial and nasal veins, sun spots and freckles, diffuse redness and rosacea, psoriasis, even unsightly scars and warts; and can be used on the face and body.
The Cutera Pearl laser received FDA approval in March, 2007, and has been successfully used to on patients of all ages with sun damage, uneven skin texture and fine lines and wrinkles; however, the most common age group seeking this treatment is between ages 25-60. Pearl smooths the skin’s texture and softens fine lines and wrinkles on the face, neck, upper chest, and hands.
The treatment takes approximately 10-15 minutes for a full face and patients say it feels like a series of mild, brief pinches.
After the Cutera Pearl treatment, the skin will look like it’s sunburned. Ointment is applied to the treated skin to keep it moist. The skin will need to be kept moist for 3–4 days. Any outdoor activity will require protective clothing and one should responsibly limit sun exposure for a few days following the treatment. Make-up is fine after three days when the top layer of superficial skin tissue peels off revealing new, healthy, vibrant skin underneath.
Many patients experience excellent results after one treatment. Some patients want a second treatment for best results. Some fractionated technologies treat only small portions of the face during each treatment, thus 4-6 treatments, each with 4-6 days of downtime and spaced a month apart are required to treat the face.
The Profile® laser brings a new approach to laser hair removal. This infrared laser can selectively target microstructure hair follicles. It’s effective for lighter skin types and, because of the relatively low absorption of this light by melanin, it’s a good choice for darker skin types. Additionally, the ability to safely treat sun-tanned skin makes this a treatment of choice for active individuals who spend a lot of time in the sun.
I spoke about the Profile laser with respected friend and anti-aging expert, Dr. Daniela Paunesky, Director of www.AtlantaAntiAging.com, board certified in Internal medicine, Anti-Aging medicine, certified in Bariatric medicine and internationally recognized medical specialist featured in several of Suzanne Somers’ books.
“The Profile laser selectively targets hair follicles and heats them with infrared energy. Unlike other processes, the laser beam treats many hairs at once, making treatment of large areas practical and easier for the patient. The Profile employs a unique computer-guided scanning system that automates the treatment, ensuring that your skin is rapidly, evenly treated. The computer sets the parameters and places the beam in an optimum pattern for the patient’s skin so to ensure a safe, fast, effective and gentle treatment,” explained Dr. Paunesky.
What precautions should be taken before and after any laser treatment? Avoid the sun a few weeks before and after treatment or until your practitioner gives the ok. It’s best to avoid electrolysis, plucking or major waxing a few weeks prior to treatment. If you’ve had a history of perioral herpes, tell you physician or treatment specialist and prophylactic antiviral therapy may be prescribed. Always discuss your desired results and the improvements you expect to achieve. Together with your physician or laser specialist, you can decide if your expectations will be met and if a particular laser treatment is the best option for you.
Lasers will continue to evolve and be perfected. Make sure you have a good relationship with your doctor or laser specialist and that the staff is friendly and respectful. Ask friends whom you trust for their recommendation. Do your skincare homework. Good doctors appreciate patients who respect their time and experience and applaud you for resourceful medical research, not just here say.
Patty Kovacs, Editor-At-Large at Makemeheal.com, is a published author and beauty expert. Patty is the Executive Producer/Host of The Health and Beauty Revolution Show on wsRadio. Her 800+ interviews include over 450 New York Times best-selling authors. Patty