The Complete Guide to Skin Lasers: How to Find Your Perfect Match
Lasers are incredibly popular skin care device used to address a wide range of skin care concerns, including but not limited to signs of aging, scarring, hyperpigmentation and more. Due to the plethora of concerns that can be targeted with a laser, it should come as no surprise that there’s more than one to choose from. That’s where things can get tricky. To help you determine which laser is right for your skin type and concerns, we tapped into two of our board-certified consulting experts: plastic surgeon Dr. John Burroughs and dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman.
What Exactly Is a Laser?
But before we get started, let’s touch on the basics of lasers. “Laser is a specific wavelength of light that is used to target something, whether it’s pigment or vascular lesions,” Dr. Engelman says. “You can actually target wrinkles and fine lines with it as well, based on the specific laser you use.” That being said, lasers can still be complicated. “You want somebody who’s using a laser to be a licensed and trained professional because you can cause injury,” Dr. Engelman warns. What’s more, a great thing to do is educate yourself on the different types of lasers available. From IPL to Fraxel, we’re sharing the ultimate guide to skin lasers, ahead.
Laser Hair Removal
What It Is: Laser hair removal is a method of long-term hair reduction. The treatment involves a laser emitting a light that is absorbed by the pigment in the hair. The light energy is then converted to heat, which damages the hair follicles in the skin to delay future hair growth.
The Benefits: Removing unwanted hair with laser hair removal—and thus eliminating the frequency at which you need to rely on temporary hair removal methods—can save a load of time in your schedule. What’s more, laser hair removal can target hairs found in hard-to-reach areas that may be more tedious with other hair removal methods. Dr. Burroughs agrees on the convenience, saying, “This is a huge benefit for busy professionals that have little free time in their schedules or just grow tired of [shaving].”
Potential Side Effects: Skin burns, physical discomfort, and pigment change issues are possible side effects of laser hair removal. However, modern laser hair devices have cooling tips to help improve comfort, as well as multiple hand-pieces for different Fitzpatrick skin types. Before booking your appointment, talk to your treatment provider about any of your concerns.
How to Prepare: To prepare for laser hair removal, Dr. Burroughs recommends that hairs on the targeted areas be cut or shaved close to the skin, so the laser energy will be directed to the follicles without burning the hairs on the surface of the skin.
Intense Pulse Light (IPL)
What It Is: Intense Pulse Light (IPL) is actually a broad range of light––not a laser like you might think. The process involves a light-based device that aims to help address the appearance of hyperpigmentation, broken capillaries, and skin redness. Each treatment only takes a few minutes to complete, however, Dr. Engelman says you may need more than one session to achieve your desired results.
The Benefits: In addition to helping address signs of hyperpigmentation, IPL is also known for having a short recovery time. Patients can go back to work immediately afterwards, making it a popular pick during lunch breaks.
Potential Side Effects: Side effects of an IPL treatment can be darkened spots on the skin. These spots are a normal reaction and eventually flake off, but you shouldn’t pick at them in the interim period. Some may also find the treatment to be a bit painful. “It feels like a snap of a rubber band,” Dr. Engelman says. Another cause of discomfort could be the bright light emitted by the device. The light doesn’t hurt, but it might make you jump, Dr. Engelman says.
How to Prepare: First and foremost, it’s important to know if the treatment is right for you. IPL treatments are not recommended for everyone and can be more dangerous for darker skin tones. If you’re curious to know if it’s right for you, we encourage you to schedule a one-on-one consultation with your dermatologist.
What It Is: Fractional lasers are a newer laser procedure that deliver “fractionated” laser energy to the skin. The technology is noted for being one of a kind, allowing the deepest layers of the skin to be treated in fractions, which can help reduce downtime.
The Benefits: In addition to reduced downtime, fractional lasers—which can be ablative or non-ablative—can help targeted a number of blemishes associated with aging. Dr. Burroughs says these lasers can be used on all pigment types––even on those with dark skin. Plus, it’s not very high maintenance. A touch-up once a year is typically recommended.
The Recovery Process: Fractionated treatments do require healing time, which could take anywhere from 5 to 10 days. Dr. Burroughs warns that there can be signs of redness for about a month or two, but it’s perfectly fine to cover up with makeup if you wish. For best practices, he recommends a series of facial peels for a few months ahead of your appointment to help improve results and reduce pigmentation risks.
What It Is: Speaking of fractionated lasers, CO2 lasers are another form of fractionated lasers used to address scars, wrinkles, and more. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), this ablative fractional laser delivers energy to the deeper layers of the skin, stimulating new collagen without causing damage to the skin’s surface.
The Benefits: CO2 lasers are considered to be the preferred treatment for addressing wrinkles and acne scars, according to the AAD.
What It Is: Erbium lasers can be ablative or non-ablative lasers, and are used for skin resurfacing.
The Benefits: Erbium lasers help promote collagen remodeling, making them popular picks for targeting fine lines, wrinkles, skin laxity, and age spots.
The Recovery Process: The healing process varies with erbium lasers, but it ultimately depends on which route you take. Non-ablative lasers typically require zero downtime, while ablative lasers can require a 2-3-week healing process.
Editor’s Note: Regardless of which laser you choose, it’s important to visit your dermatologist or laser practitioner for a consultation prior to the service. There are always possible risks and side effects that can occur with any laser treatment, so it’s important to have the proper information. For risk information on the specific laser treatment that you are considering, ask your physician or operator for the patient labeling for the laser device.
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