Much has been made in advertisements and in the press of laser plastic surgery. While the laser has many legitimate and effective roles in plastic and cosmetic surgery, its use should always be carefully considered. The following is meant to answer general questions about lasers and their role in achieving an improved or more youthful or better appearance. However, it is important to obtain an individualized consultation to determine if lasers are appropriate for you.
Which procedures are performed with the laser?
Lasers are used for a variety of procedures. Their function depends primarily upon what wavelength and energy of light is produced. . The most commonly used medical lasers are the carbon-dioxide (CO2), Erbium:YAG, holmium:YAG, neodymium:YAG, argon ion, Q switched Nd:YAG and the flashlamp pulsed dye laser. Some lasers are used to resurface the skin while others are used to treat tattoos, veins, etc. CO2 and Erbium lasers are typically used to tighten the skin of the face and skin around the eyes and the neck. It is particularly good for sun damaged, aging, wrinkled or scarred skin. Pulsed dye laser and laser-like devices such as the xenon flashlamp remove dark or red spots from the skin. Neodymium-YAG lasers are ideal for leg veins and purplish spots. Alexandrite and the Epilight® are useful for hair removal. There are many other laser that overlap in their use with those listed above. They may also be used as a cutting instrument during surgery, or on very high power to remove moles and skin cancers.
How do lasers work?
They work by bouncing a beam of light back and forth between mirrors and lenses, amplifying its strength. When the beam is powerful enough it is released in a short pulse of energy or light. This burst of energy causes a carefully controlled change in the tissue. The color and energy of the laser light depends upon what type of material is being stimulated. Many materials are used in lasers such as carbon dioxide, ruby crystals, and argon, which is a gas similar to that used in fluorescent lights.
What is laser resurfacing of the skin?
Laser resurfacing, also known as laser peel or laser facelift, is a technique for smoothing fine wrinkles of the skin. Various types of lasers, made up of beams of focused light, can be applied to the skin in short pulses to remove irregular contours, discolored areas, tattoos, or blood vessels.
What advantages does the "Erbium" laser have?
The Erbium laser is a gentle laser currently available for skin resurfacing. It produces a shorter recovery time and shorter period of redness compared to the CO2 laser. However, because it is more gentle, its results may be less dramatic than with other lasers or forms or chemical peeling.
What are the alternatives to laser treatment for skin tightening or resurfacing?
Chemical peels with glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and phenol as well as mechanical sanding of the skin (dermabrasion) have been successfully used for many years to selectively smooth the outer layers of skin. These are very successful techniques and much experience has been gained with these reliable techniques.
Which treatment is better for the skin, the laser or other techniques?
The laser peel, because the energy produced is very closely controlled, may be more predictable than chemical peels or dermabrasion. Furthermore, the laser strength and exposure time on skin can be precisely controlled. However, the bodys reaction to the laser cannot always be predicted in each patient. Redness and on very rare occasions, scarring, may be produced by the laser. Redness may last from several weeks to months but can usually be hidden by cosmetics. After the redness resolves, some patients may have lightening or darkening of the skin. The darkening of the skin can be controlled with medications and the lightening of the skin cam be advantageous in some instances and can be covered with cosmetics. Rarely, scarring can be permanent.
Who is a candidate for laser treatment?
Anyone who has skin problems, scars, wrinkles, red spots, prominent blood vessels, age spots and unwanted hair may be a good candidate.
Is laser a substitute for a face lift or surgery for baggy eyelids?
No. Lasers do firm up the skin and increase skin tone by heating and contracting collagen in the skin. However, lasers cannot eliminate skin that has lost its elasticity. Once the skin begins to sag, surgery is typically required to correct the undesirable cosmetic appearance.
Does laser resurfacing correct wrinkling in the neck?
In some cases lasers may correct neck wrinkles but its effects are less than in the face and around the eyes and mouth. There are however, other treatments for neck wrinkles beside the laser.
Are lasers safe?
For the most part lasers are very safe. However, as with any medical procedure there are risks and benefits. Scarring, pain, lack of permanent results, delayed healing up to several months, and other risks are uncommon, but possible. Sometimes additional treatment in the form of surgery may be necessary after laser treatment.
How does the laser remove hair?
The laser removes hair by sending energy to darker colored hairs which transmits the energy in the form of heat to the hair follicle, permanently destroying it. The most popular areas are the back, chest and neck for men and the underarms, bikini area and facial hair for women. The best candidates for laser hair removal have dark hair and light skin. Patients with dark tans should let their tan fade prior to treatment for best results.
Does the laser hurt?
Most lasers produce a sensation similar to the snap of a rubber band against the skin. Most people find it tolerable, but for those who find the treatment uncomfortable, a topical anesthetic cream is used.
What are the advantages of laser hair removal over other hair removal treatments?
Shaving is simple way to remove hair but it is not permanent and requires frequent re-treatment. Tweezing is another temporary solution for unwanted hair but is tedious, painful and impractical for large areas. Waxing is another common technique ans can be used for large areas and results may last a month or more, but it is painful and can often cause allergic reactions and inflammation of the hair follicle. Electrolysis involves inserting a needle into each hair follicle and applying an electrical current. Expertly used, it can be successful in eliminating hair permanently. However, because you can treat only one hair follicle at a time, it is a tedious, time-consuming and an expensive process.