When you hear the word ‘laser’ in a skincare consult or treatment, you may not feel all that warm and fuzzy about it at first, given that lasers conjure up images of steel-splitting heat and edge-of-your-seat Sci-Fi movie scenes but… suggested by a medical doctor or medically-trained therapist, 'laser' can be a good thing for your skin, a very good thing. Here's why…
Back in the 1960s, Dr Leon Goldman was the first to use lasers in dermatology, and he clearly wasn't the last, with laser-based treatments gaining popularity decade-on-decade, year-on-year, for a long list of skin concerns, from ageing and scarring to pigmentation and sun spot removal, from unwanted tattoos to much-wanted complexion improvements. As with any treatment or procedure, it's key to do your homework first, seek a professional's advice, and clearly understand what you want to achieve.
And, with that, let's get into the different types of lasers and what they could do for you…
How do lasers work?
Lasers deliver a single wavelength of intense, focused energy rapidly absorbed by specific molecules or proteins in the skin. Within the context of a treatment, this focused energy is used to target a particular area without damaging the surrounding skin.
Different wavelengths, different applications
The wavelength of the laser is determined by – and determines – what is targeted. For example, a different wavelength is needed to target water versus haemoglobin (protein in red blood cells) or melanin (natural pigment).
- When a laser beam is absorbed by water in the skin, the skin cells are vaporised.
- When a laser beam is absorbed by haemoglobin, heat is transferred to the blood vessel walls, causing them to collapse or rupture.
- When the pigment absorbs a laser beam, the pigment is broken into smaller pieces and removed by your body.
- Vascular Lasers - Used to target haemoglobin, vascular lasers effectively treat superficial blood vessels (e.g. spider veins), rosacea, cherry angiomas, and vascular birthmarks.
- Pigment-Reducing Lasers - Used to target melanin or tattoo ink, pigment-reducing lasers are used to treat sunspots, tattoos, and pigmented birthmarks, such as port-wine stains.
- Hair Removal Lasers - Used to target melanin in hair follicles, lasers specifically for hair removal convert energy into heat, which damages the follicle, preventing the hair from growing back.
- Resurfacing Lasers - By targeting water within the skin cells, resulting in thermal damage, resurfacing lasers (non-ablative, ablative or fractional) cause a minor injury which forces the skin to generate new collagen, improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, scars, and even superficial pigment, throughout a series of treatments.
Different Types of Resurfacing Lasers:
- NON-ABLATIVE resurfacing lasers penetrate the second layer of the skin without disrupting the first layer: minimal discomfort, some skin redness and mild swelling, and relatively quick recovery time.
- ABLATIVE resurfacing lasers penetrate the first and second layers of skin. Stimulates collagen growth, improving firmness and texture of the skin—more aggressive than non-ablative lasers, longer recovery time.
- FRACTIONAL resurfacing lasers can be ablative or non-ablative. Rather than treating 100% of the skin's surface, they treat a "fraction" of the skin. For example, a mild fractional treatment may treat less than 10% of the skin's surface, and an aggressive fractional treatment may treat more than 50% of the skin's surface.
As with any new skincare treatment, product or procedure, it's essential to chat with a trusted aesthetics professional, like your Skin Renewal medical doctor or medically-trained therapist (who knows your medical history), to figure out if the treatment/procedure is not only aligned with your #SkinGoals but that you're a good candidate for it, given your age, health, allergies or other wellness-related factors.
If it is indeed time to focus on laser treatments, your doctor/therapist will provide you with all the info and instructions you need to prepare for your treatment, including:
- Practice strict sun protection before your treatment appointment, including avoiding tanning beds.
- Stop using certain skin care products, such as acids and retinoids that may irritate your skin.
- Stop waxing, tweezing, bleaching, etc., for some time if you're having a laser hair removal treatment.