The technology behind laser surgery is always advancing and lasers are now commonplace in many areas of medicine and cosmetic surgery.
The word laser is short for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. There are several types of lasers currently used for skin resurfacing and hair removal. Lasers with different spectrum wavelengths (colors of light) operate on different skin tissues and layers of the skin to remove hair and to improve the appearance of scars, aging signs and skin discoloration. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend using a combination of several different lasers.
During a cosmetic laser procedure, the doctor uses a wand-like device to pass the laser over the skin. To help ensure accuracy, a computer is used to adjust the depth, pulse, wavelength and intensity of the laser light. The laser emits a precise and intense beam of energy that heats and vaporizes tissue with damaging the surrounding area. Lasers are used in conjunction with cooling gels, sprays or built in cooling systems to help protect the skin.
Lasers can be classified in one of two categories:
- Ablative lasers such as the CO2 and Erbium Yag lasers use heat to vaporize the top layer of skin. Ablative lasers require more recovery time and fewer treatment sessions than non-ablative. Sometimes only one treatment session needed to see effective results
- Non-Ablative lasers such as the ND: Yag and Fraxel lasers target the tissue beneath the skin where collagen is formed. Non-ablative lasers are gentler on the skin, and offer little to no downtime, but require multiple sessions to achieve the desired result
Lasers Used For Laser Skin Resurfacing
There are several lasers in current use for Laser Skin Resurfacing. Each laser is FDA-approved and proven effective and safe when used for cosmetically improving the appearance of the skin. The most common lasers used are: the CO2 laser, Erbium lasers and Fractional lasers.
The CO2 laser is an ablative laser and is the highest intensity laser used for Laser Skin Resurfacing. The CO2 laser has been in use longer than other lasers. It can improve the appearance of more advanced signs of aging, scar and skin discoloration and is also used medically to treat early stage skin cancer. Some consider the CO2 laser to be more effective in tightening the skin. More recent advances in CO2 lasers have made them more precise and gentler than previous versions. These newer models use ultra-short bursts of high-intensity energy or pattern scanning to minimize damage to the surrounding tissue. The CO2 laser is still an intense laser and recovery time will be up to two weeks or more.
Erbium lasers or ER:Yag lasers target thinner layers of skin and are more precise, but less powerful than the CO2 laser. Patients with dark skin complexions benefit from the Erbium laser's reduced risk of hyper-pigmentation complications. Erbium lasers are ablative lasers preferred for treating healthier skin with fine to moderate signs of aging or scarring. Erbium lasers can be used on the face, hands, neck and chest. With its lower power, the effects of swelling, bruising and redness are less than with a CO2 laser. Recovery time from a "Laser Peel" with an ER: Yag laser is typically more rapid that a CO2 laser - one week in most cases.
Fractional lasers have been in use for Laser Skin Resurfacing since 2003. A Fractional laser delivers the effectiveness of an ablative laser combined with the benefits of gentler, non-ablative lasers. Fractional laser systems come in several varieties, but they all target small and specific areas of the skin. This microscopic precision further reduces damage to the surrounding tissue. The benefit to Fractional lasers is the virtual lack of downtime and minimal side effects following treatment. While side-effects such as pain and redness are at a minimum, the Fractional laser may require several sessions of use to be effective. The desired results are typically achieved after several weeks of treatment. Some of the more popular Fractional lasers are: Fraxel, Active Fx, Palomar Starlux 1540, Pixel CO2, PROFractional Erbium, Pearl Laser, Juvia, and Affirm.
Lasers Used For Laser Hair Removal
There are several types of lasers currently used for Laser Hair Removal. Each laser is FDA-approved and proven effective and safe when used for removing unwanted hair and permanent hair reduction. The most common lasers are: Alexandrite, Ruby, Diode and the Neodymium or ND: Yag.
The Alexandrite laser is one of the most widely used lasers for Laser Hair Removal. It’s a fast and effective non-ablative laser that can remove hair from larger areas of the body and it has been proven effective in removing fine and thinner hairs. The Alexandrite laser is mostly used with very light and fair skin tones. Some patients with a lighter olive complexion may be candidates for hair removal using an Alexandrite laser. This laser is not suitable for dark skin tones and can cause hyper or hypo-pigmentation (discoloring) of the skin.
The Ruby laser is the original laser indicated for removing unwanted hair. This non-ablative laser is suitable for light and fair complexions and cannot be used on patients with darker or tanned skin. The Ruby laser works best on fine hair, but it is not effective in removing white or light hair. The Ruby laser treats a smaller area and the laser requires more time to use. While being the oldest laser, it is a safe, effective, and almost pain-free laser.
The Diode laser is a non-ablative laser with a deeper penetration that is very effective on darker skin. Like the Alexandrite laser, the Diode laser is a fast repeating laser that can cover larger areas of the body quickly. The Diode laser is a good, general laser for all skin types and is one of the most popular systems for reducing and removing unwanted hair. The only laser better suited for darker skin types is the ND: Yag laser. This laser works best on coarse and darker hair, and like other laser systems is not as effective against light or gray hair. The Diode laser is a gentler laser that offers little to no down time
The Neodymium or ND: Yag laser is anon-ablative, fast-repeating laser that can be used on all skin types. The ND: Yag laser is the only laser that can treat darker skin types and tanned skin, making it the most recommended system for darker skin types. Its fast repetition rate makes it a quick laser than cover larger areas of the body more quickly. The ND: Yag laser is used in conjunction with a carbon lotion which is applied to the skin to help transfer the laser energy to the hair follicle. The ND: Yag laser is a highly effective laser that offers a significant period between treatment and hair re-growth, but it is not yet proven to permanently remove hair. The ND: Yag also presents more pain and discomfort than other non-ablative lasers. Despite this drawback, the ND: Yag is still a very popular and common laser for Laser Hair Removal.