Many people who want a fresher appearance but don't want cosmetic surgery opt for laser procedures because these are noninvasive and require minimal downtime. But laser treatments offer another advantage.
"Surgery doesn't change the texture of your skin," says Dr. Kate Holcomb, a dermatologist at the Lupo Center for Aesthetic and General Dermatology. "Light devices are able to do that."
Dr. Marilyn Pelias a physician, surgeon and founder of Dr. Pelias Cosmetic Surgery and Lifestyle Center, has nine laser devices at her office that provide everything from spider vein treatment to complete facial rejuvenation. "There are so many technologies available for whatever areas someone is having problems," Pelias says. "The devices we have are able to leave the skin's surface intact, doing all the work inside."
At its simplest definition, a laser is a device that takes light energy and filters out certain spectra, then boosts others to target certain light wavelengths, Pelias says. By directing energy at specific problems (like the red pigment in broken capillaries or the brown pigment in melasma), lasers cause damage to skin in a controlled manner.
"The skin can then rejuvenate on its own to target whatever that specific problem is," Holcomb says, likening the process to exercise, in which muscles grow stronger from repairing microscopic tears caused by a hard workout. Similarly, skin repairs itself from within after a laser procedure, resulting in a rejuvenated appearance.
In addition to lasers that use a specific wavelength of light to target a problem, there are heating devices, which melt fat, and light devices such as intense pulsed light (IPL) or photofacials, which include many wavelengths and can target multiple problems at once, Holcomb says. Any procedure customers choose should be performed by a physician or certified practitioner; otherwise, there is risk of burns or hyperpigmentation. "We get a lot of repair work from people who don't know what they're doing with these devices," Pelias says.
When performed by professionals, laser procedures involve minimal downtime and little to no pain. "These procedures are very safe, usually fairly painless, and you see results quickly, in 4 to 8 weeks," Holcomb says. "Winter is an ideal time for laser procedures because when you have them done, you should minimize your exposure to sunlight." Some procedures require no downtime, while more involved procedures like the Fraxel or CO2 laser require healing time of 5 to 7 days. Depending on the procedure, prices range from $250 to $1,000 per treatment, and a series of three to six treatments is usually recommended.
Tighten Loose Skin
Heating devices offer skin contouring and fat reduction. They melt small amounts of fat and stimulate the body to create new collagen, Holcomb says. The Exilis device is commonly used to create a more defined jawline or a more toned neck.
"Heating lasers superheat the deep collagen, which then draws up and shrinks over a few months," Pelias says. "As it heals, it tightens the skin to its original position, instead of being lax."
Improve Rosacea/Broken Capillaries
"We have specific lasers that target and super-heat just the red pigment," Pelias says. "Those tiny blood vessels collapse and the redness goes away."
Holcomb adds that though lasers offer a long-term solution to rosacea, they don't cure the underlying disease. Treatments should be repeated every few years. However, treatment can prevent the condition from worsening.
"Rosacea can cause skin to become thickened," Pelias says. "Think of W.C. Fields with that big nose. When veins aren't treated over the years, it causes the soft tissues to grow. Keeping the veins in check can prevent permanent disfigurement."
Eliminate brown spots
"For sunspots, melasma or uneven pigmentation, we use lasers that are looking for a darker brown than the normal pigment," Pelias says. "Lasers superheat just the brown pigment, causing it to dessicate and fall off in a day or two."
"Hair removal lasers used to really hurt," Pelias says. "Now they have freezing units built on the tip so you don't really feel anything except a cold tip touching your skin."
The Zerona laser is a warming laser that disintegrates fat cells, which are then eliminated by the body. The new technology targets stubborn pockets of fat that don't respond to diet and exercise, like those around the waistline, arms, hips, thighs or under the chin.
"Our average loss is 9 inches after six treatment," Pelias says. "It's not painful at all, and we've had tremendously good results with it."
For facial rejuvenation, lasers like the Fraxel or CO2 laser and Erbium laser offer dramatic results, but the procedures are more painful and involve local anesthetic, 5 to 7 days of downtime and an aggressive skin regimen to promote healing. They target everything from fine lines and pigmentation to acne scarring and brown spots by penetrating deeply and poking tiny holes into the skin.
"(The laser) makes microscopic perforations in the skin in a pixilated fashion, and then the energy goes through those holes and melts the collagen in that area, but the skin stays intact," Pelias says. "When the skin heals, you get almost complete removal of wrinkles and acne scarring. It actually improves the skin's integrity."
"Lasers for acne are good for people who are on acne regimens who need (something more), or for people who have no interest in systemic medications, who can't take them due to medical issues or because they're trying to get pregnant," Holcomb says. "We see results quickly, and treatments are done every month."
"The Erbium laser or pixel laser does an amazing job for acne scars," Pelias says. "The energy is delivered to the scarred area, which is then essentially removed, and the body forms new collagen. So we can get rid of pretty deep acne scars."
Larger scars also can be treated. Holcomb uses the Fraxel or CO2 laser to treat elevated scars, and she treats pink scars with the same laser used to treat rosacea.