AUGUST 14, 2012
The proliferation of laser and light-based therapies have changed the face of the cosmetic medical industry over the past decade. They are now everyday tools for self-enhancement: from skin rejuvenation and correction to hair removal, treating scars and stretchmarks and removing tattoos. The terms are often used interchangeably, however, there are crucial differences in how the technologies work and what they effectively treat.
The term laser is an acronym that stands for “light amplification by stimulated emissions of radiation.” There are many sub-categories of laser types and hundreds of variations and brand names that fit into these sub-classifications. The main differences have to do with wavelength: different laser wavelengths (colors of light) target different skin issues.
When laser light is absorbed by your skin it is converted to heat, which can result in the burning, vaporization or coagulation of the targeted tissue. In this respect, it is divided into two basic types:
In the hands of qualified, experienced practitioners, ablative lasers – notably Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Erbium: YAG – safely injure the skin at first, using the power and heat of light in a targeted beam to remove and resurface the skin, either superficially or through to the deeper layers. This then generates a healthy healing/wound response that results in collagen production. By delivering a deep, single wavelength of energy, these are often used to remove deep lines or scars as well as improving overall skin tone and texture and typically require one session.
They require anaesthesia, pain management and real downtime for your skin to crust over, shed the scabs and fully heal. They are definitely not for darker coloured skin as borders, hyperpigmentation or permanent skin whitening can occur in treated areas.
CO2 is still considered by many practitioners as the gold standard for improving skin texture and tone, acne scarring, and wrinkles. The main drawback as well as 1-2 week recovery period is that residual redness or pinkness in the treated area for 1-3 months or even more.
These lasers do not damage the skin, which can be considered a bonus, but may be less effective and require multiple sessions. These are used to correct certain skin concerns and remove tattoos and reduce hair by targeting the dark pigments. With hair reduction, the follicles eventually become inflamed and disabled, and thus the skin smooth after a few sessions.
FRACTIONAL LASER TECHNOLOGY
This is the new wave, as it were, of lasers. It can be ablative and non-ablative but offers dramatically less recovery time than skin resurfacing procedures used in the past, with comparable results after a series of treatments in many cases.
All fractional resurfacing follows the same premise: microscopic columns of the skin are ablated while leaving surrounding areas intact. The laser beam is broken up, or fractionated, into many small microbeams that are separated so that, when they strike the skin surface, small areas of the skin between the beams are not hit by the laser and are thus left intact.
These small areas of untreated skin promote much more rapid re-epithelialisation, recovery and healing, with less risk of complications. The small areas treated by the fractional microbeams, called microtreatment zones, cause sufficient laser injury deep in the dermis to promote new collagen production and resultant facial skin rejuvenation.
Fractional lasers are excellent for sun damaged skin, wrinkles, acne scarring and improving overall skin texture.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) delivers a broader spectrum of light energy, unlike lasers’ single wavelength – but it is not a laser. IPL is a non-invasive procedure that has been shown to help improve the appearance of red and brown skin discolorations, birthmarks and symptoms of rosacea, as well as to tighten and refine the appearance of the skin.
This process is also known as photorejuvenation or photofacial. It has also become popular for removal of vascular lesions (such as broken blood vessels,) as well as hair reduction on lighter skin types and even removal of some tattoos. IPL is among the group of no-downtime skin treatments, which have become widely known as “lunchtime” procedures. However, it is important to go to an experienced practitioner with top quality.
Light Emitting Diodes (LED) is a shallower, gentler treatment than IPL, ideal for collagen boosting and rejuvenating the skin. LED comes in a variety of colours – red for fighting acne, blue to combat bacteria and yellow to reduce redness. LEDs are very small light bulbs that, in contrast to ordinary incandescent bulbs, don’t get especially hot and don’t burn out. LEDs have been found to trigger natural chemical processes inside the cells, boosting the body’s own production of collagen, which makes it particularly useful for skin rejuvenation.
Photo Dynamic Therapy. This uses a chemical reaction activated by light energy to selectively destroy specific tissues and can be used to treat sunspots, certain types of skin cancer, rosacea, acne and sun-damaged skin. A photosensitising medication is applied topically on the skin and a narrow band of light (red or blue light) is administered to cause a moderately deep exfoliation and target damaged tissue and sebaceous glands.
When skin is exposed to a light source of an appropriate wavelength, its photosensitiser molecules are activated to produce oxygen intermediates that destroy the targeted cells. Recovery time is around two weeks after each treatment and usually 1-3 sessions are required.