LASER (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) surgery uses a focused and intense beam of light to treat a variety of skin conditions. Each laser treats a specific target. For example, one laser may remove pigment (brown or black colors) while another laser treats only blood vessels. No one laser will be effective for all skin problems. The specificity of each laser permits the effective treatment of its target with minimal injury to surrounding tissue. Laser surgery may be ideal for some conditions (facial blood vessels) but may be less appropriate for others.
One form of light therapy that is not a LASER is the Intense Pulse Light (IPL) device. The IPL is a broad rather than a focused beam of light and it treats a number of different targets. There are benefits and disadvantages to both lasers and IPL devices and your condition, skin type, and response to previous therapy will determine which is the best option.
Most conditions treated by lasers or IPL require more than one treatment for optimal benefits. Specific conditions treated by lasers or IPL are numerous.
1. Vascular lesions– these are due to dilated blood vessels that may either be from birth or develop in later life. Dilated blood vessels may be cosmetically unsightly or cause symptoms such as bleeding and flushing. For birthmarks such as port wine stains, vascular lasers are ideal in that they treat the blood vessels with little injury to surrounding tissues (reduces risk of scarring).
a. Dilated blood vessels (telangiectasias)
b. Hemangiomas (vascular birthmark)
c. Port wine stains (vascular birthmark)
d. Spider veins
e. Nonspecific redness
2. Pigmented lesions– Melanocytes are skin cells that produce the pigment melanin. Melanin is produced in varying amounts in different skin types (in general, the darker the skin, the more the melanin content). Melanin may be increased in response to sun damage or skin injury. External pigments come in different forms and are used in tattoos. Both melanin and tattoo pigments may be found in superficial or deeper layers of the skin. The deeper the pigment location, the more difficult it is to remove (more treatments needed).
a. Lentigo (sun damaged brown spots or “liver spots”)
c. Café-au-Lait Macules
d. Nevus of Ota or Ito
3. Scars and Wrinkles– Lasers improve on scars and wrinkles by removing the damaged skin layers and altering the collagen (skin protein) underneath. Fine wrinkles and scars may be erased while deeper lesions are softened and improved.
4. Rejuvenation/Resurfacing– similar to scars and wrinkles, skin changes from sun-damage or aging may be improved by lasers and IPL devices.
5. Benign and Malignant Skin Growths– from warts to pre-caners and superficial skin cancers, laser surgery may effectively remove these lesions.
6. Hair Removal– darkly pigmented hairs (brown to black) may be removed on a long-term basis with several laser and IPL devices. Treatments are outpatient, quick, and well tolerated. Several treatments are needed depending on the color, density, and location of hairs.
7. Misc Conditions– the indications for laser surgery continue to expand. Conditions as varied as rosacea and psoriasis have been improved with laser treatment.