Lasers can be used for a variety of skin issues, including hair or tattoo removal. This article is an overview of lasers, with links to more specific laser topics
What can a laser be used for?
There are a wide variety of uses for lasers, including:
• Port-wine stains – these tend to be flat red patches, which can vary in size. They tend to darken and become more resistant to treatment with age, and form ‘blebs’ that bleed easily. Laser can attempt to improve these bleeding areas, and reduce the appearance of the port wine stain.
• Thread veins – these are usually actually prominent vessels rather than ‘threads’, and often respond well to laser therapy, and can completely disappear. Multiple treatments may be needed, however, and vessels can recur in time. Read more about thread vein treatment here
• Moles – freckles and sun-damaged skin can be improved with laser, although thicker moles may need surgical excision.
• Wrinkles – the appearance of wrinkles can be softened with laser therapy, much in the same way as peels and dermabrasion. This type of laser is usually the CO2 (carbon dioxide) laser. The skin can take up to 2 weeks to heal, and reddening can last for a number of months. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy tends to heal faster, although this is often in exchange for a less dramatic result.
• Hair removal – laser targets the dark pigment in hair, and can be effective at destroying the hair root. New hairs will tend to grow over time, so laser should be viewed as a way to reduce hair numbers and growth as opposed to a permanent treatment. Laser tends to work well with dark hair, but has less or no effect on pale blonde or grey hair. Read more about laser hair removal here
• Tattoo removal – tattoos can be effectively lightened with laser, and near-complete fading may be possible with multiple treatments. Lighter colours may be more resistant to treatment though. Read more about laser tattoo removal here
• Haemangiomas – also called a ‘strawberry nevus’, these are types of birth mark that look red and can be raised. About 70% of these will slowly disappear during the first years of childhood, although some can persist. Even if they do disappear, small blemishes can sometimes remain into adulthood. Laser can be used for such small blemishes and persistent growths, or to reduce the size of growths that are close to structures such as the eye. Because laser does not penetrate deeply into the skin though, bulky growths do not tend to respond well to this treatment.
How do lasers work?
Laser stands for ‘Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. Basically, a Laser works by causing molecules in a chamber to become excited (gain energy) – this causes release of the energy in the form of light. The energy is used to excite more and more molecules, creating even more energy. Once the energy is strong enough it is allowed to escape as a beam of light. The colour of the beam of light will depend on which molecules were used in the chamber, and can be red, green, yellow etc. Commonly used molecules include carbon dioxide, ruby and argon, to name a few.
The ability to use different laser colours is important, as different problems need different lasers. An Alexandrite laser, for example, is suitable for dark areas such as hair, but not usually for red blemishes.
What does laser treatment involve?
Your specialist will discuss with you about your concerns, and what your aims are. You may need a ‘test patch’ before having treatment – this is where the Laser is used on a small area of skin; this is to test how your skin reacts to the chosen Laser before using it on a larger, more easily seen area.
Multiple laser treatments are often required, the number varying according to the problem you have. Laser can be a little painful, feeling like an elastic band being flicked on your skin. For this reason an anaesthetic cream may need to be used on the skin, or even sedation/general anaesthetic if the area is large. Usually the process is fairly quick and is performed in an outpatient setting in a clinic.
It is important to realise that whilst laser can often dramatically improve or even treat problems, certain marks and blemishes can be resistant to treatment.
Following specialist instructions is extremely important and often includes such advice as keeping the area dry and staying out of the sun for a number of weeks after treatment.
This information is for general information only. If you have any concerns about your health or are considering any treatments, you should seek advice from a healthcare specialist