What’s a cosmetic laser – and how do they work?
‘Laser’ is an acronym meaning ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. This means that a laser is a single source of light with a high energy that can be focused accurately on a small area. Lasers are used in all kinds of technology and in recent decades have merged into the cosmetic surgery industry.
How are lasers used in Cosmetic Surgery?
There are two types of lasers used in cosmetic surgery: ablative and nonablative. Ablative lasers work on the top layers of the skin whereas nonablative lasers penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, without damaging the top layers at all. Because of this, there is very little ‘patient downtime’ after a surgery that uses nonablative lasers, meaning that a patient can return to normal activities almost immediately.
As mentioned before, lasers only emit one type of colour of light. Because of this, within cosmetic surgery the process of using lasers is called selective photothermolysis. This means that the laser modulates the frequency of light or photo to creat heat or thermo on the small area that you wish to change or the lysis. In this way, if the colour of the light matches the colour of the area that you want to address, such as brown spots or broken red capillaries, then the laser can change their appearance.
Different Types of Lasers
The two main types of lasers, ablative and nonablative, can be further broken down into hundres of subcategories and brand names. The main difference between these lasers is the wavelength, with the length of the wave determining which skin condition it can treat. Multiple lasers may be employed to treat certain skin conditions.
Skin Conditions Treated by Cosmetic Lasers
Wrinkles – For the treatment of fine lines and wrinkles one could a combination of skin tightening and resurfacing procedures. A more aggressive ablative laser can give the same affect such as a CO2 laser. The CO2 laser is also commonly used to treat warts, skin tags, and as a scalpel in laser assisted surgery
Tightening of the Skin – Most laser will produce some tightening of the skin as a natural side effect. However for a more pronounced result CO2 lasers are the best. There have been results shown in using non laser light based treatments like Titan infrared device and Thermage radio frequency based systems.
Lesions – There are three main types of lesion here: pigmented, precancerous, and vascular. For pigmented lesions Nd:Yag and fractional lasers are most common. Precancerous legions should be removed by scalpel thoughsome lasers such as the CO2 have been used as preventative measures before they become cancerous. Vascular lesions work well with IPL which is less invasive than most.
Tattoos – The CO2 laser and Nd:YAG are still the top ranking lasers for tattoo removal.
Acne and Acne Scars – For deep acne scars, yet again it is the CO2 laser that wins this round. For more superficial acne scars however, the Erbium:YAG and certain nonablative lasers have shown some success in treating acne. For active acne, LED technology shows promising results.