Laser Treatment Overview

*Treatment results may vary
Many different lasers are used in dermatology, cosmetic surgery, ophthamology, and other areas of medicine. Sorting through the brand names, platforms, wavelengths, and various uses can sometimes be overwhelming, so learning the basics about popular laser treatment is a good place to start your research.

Laser skin resurfacing

Laser resurfacing is a laser treatment frequently performed to rejuvenate skin on the face and neck. Many people seek laser resurfacing to decrease wrinkles, sun damage, and acne scars, to achieve mild skin tightening, and to improve overall skin texture.

Most doctors recommend ablative CO2 or Erbium Yag lasers for maximum skin resurfacing results, while moderate results with fewer risks and less downtime may be achieved with non-ablative lasers, such as Nd:Yag and pulsed-dye lasers.

Popular lasers used for skin resurfacing include:

Laser hair removal

Not only can laser treatment be used for skin rejuvenation, it can also be used to reduce hair growth on nearly any body area.

Laser hair removal is commonly performed to reduce unwanted or excessive facial and body hair on both men and women, but it requires multiple treatments to be effective and doesn't work well for blonde or gray hair. Many lasers are FDA-cleared for permanent hair reduction, meaning "these devices will permanently reduce the total number of body hairs, [but] they will not result in a permanent removal of all hair."

Be sure to choose your doctor carefully, as choosing an unqualified or inexperienced laser hair removal practitioner could result in burns, especially if the wrong laser is used on people with darker skin.

Popular lasers used for hair removal include:

Laser vein treatment

Treatment for varicose veins and spider veins may be performed with endovenous laser treatment, or EVLT. In addition to improving the appearance of body areas commonly affected by varicose or spider veins, such as the legs, vein treatment can help treat venous insufficiency, a potentially serious disease.

Possible side effects of laser vein treatment include redness, swelling, hyperpigmentation, and bruising.

Laser treatment isn't the only way to correct vein problems. Sclerotherapy, VNUS Closure radiofrequency treatment, surgery, and light therapy may also be performed to treat veins.

Laser tattoo removal

Laser treatment is often used to remove or fade tattoos, although success of treatment depends largely on the size and color of treated tattoos.

For tattoo removal, a number of devices are FDA-cleared. Different laser devices and wavelengths are used to break up tattoo pigment into small pieces. The body's immune system then expels the fragments of tattoo pigment, resulting in a removed or faded tattoo. Blue and black pigments are the easiest to remove, while yellow and green pigments are the most difficult.

Typically, Q-switched Ruby, Alexandrite, and Nd:Yag lasers are preferred for tattoo removal and usually carry a low risk of causing scarring. However, laser tattoo removal may be painful, and infection, hyperpigmentation, and hypopigmentation are possible side effects.

Light therapy

Although light therapy is often not performed using lasers, many refer to light therapy as a sort of laser treatment. Light therapy can be used for hair removal and to treat redness, veins, acne, skin pigmentation issues, such as age spots and melasma, and a multitude of skin conditions, such as rosacea and psoriasis.

Popular light therapies include:

Laser teeth whitening

Laser treatments are also used in cosmetic dentistry. Teeth whitening systems offered in dentists' offices, such as ZOOM whitening and Brite Smile, may use light or lasers along with a topical bleaching gel to lighten discolored tooth enamel.

On RealSelf, patients have reported that laser teeth whitening can be painful and may cause burns, however most dentists maintain that these problems are rare when treatment is performed by an experienced practitioner.

Laser eye surgery

Ophthalmologists use lasers for vision correction procedures, such as PRK and Lasik eye surgeries. Lasik is performed using excimer lasers, however several different types of excimer lasers may be used, including slit-scanning, spot-scanning, and wavefront-guided lasers.

Potential laser eye surgery side effects include reduced night vision and dry eyes, as well as infection and distorted vision.

Sources: David Goldberg, MD; Steven Dell, MD; Steven Wallach, MD; Daniel Reichner, MD; Michael J. Brown, MD; Manish Shah, MD; Jennifer Landy, MD

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