If you happen to keep a pulse on all the latest technology in skincare, you’re likely aware of laser treatments. Psst…those are the machines you see at the dermatologist office with buttons, knobs, and robotic-looking arms straight out of a sci-fi movie. Naturally, you might feel inclined to know more about how lasers work before literally coming face to face with one. Are they safe? Are they worth your time and money? Which type should you use? What’s the difference?
Let’s take a deeper look…
How do lasers work?
In general, lasers work by using a focused beam of light that’s converted into heat energy as it hits a target in the skin—such as hyperpigmentation, redness or even a hair follicle. This treatment destroys the target without harming the surrounding skin.
There are various light wavelengths produced by lasers—red, blue, green and so on—which are used for specific skin issues. The most important consideration with laser treatments is picking the correct laser for your specific skin issue. More on that in a minute!
Which skin issues can be treated with a laser?
As mentioned above, there are many types of lasers, because different light wavelengths have different targets. For example, blood absorbs yellow light, which is why it’s beneficial for skin redness. If you’re in the right hands, your laser professional will know these differences like the back of their hand and will be able to give you the correct treatment you need depending on your skin issue.
In general, skin issues that can be treated with laser treatments include:
- Hair Removal
- Sun Damage
- Facial Vessels & Redness
What are the different types of lasers?
There are tons of different lasers on the market, but generally speaking, there are two major types: ablative and non-ablative. So, which one should you use for your specific skin issue? Only an experienced dermatologist should be making the call, but understanding the difference will help you have an educated conversation with your doctor.
Best for: Acne Scarring, Age-Related Wrinkles & Sun Damage
The 411: These lasers are considered more intense and effective because they target both the outer and inner layers of the skin. These treatments tend to require more down time because they remove the outer layer of the skin and heat the inner layer, resurfacing the skin and stimulating collagen regrowth. As the epidermis heals and regrows, the treated area appears smoother and tighter.
Examples: CO2 & Erbium YAG
Best for: Acne, Hair Removal, Redness, Facial Vessels, Sun Damage, Hyperpigmentation & Fine Lines
The 411: Unlike ablative lasers, non-ablative lasers won’t destroy the top layer of the skin and require less down time. Instead, they bypass the top layer of the skin and target a specific issue underneath by creating a more controlled wound response using heat. All this being said, non-ablative lasers can be somewhat less effective than ablative lasers.
Examples: YAG, Pulsed Dye (PDL), Alexandrite & Diode
How are photofacials different from lasers?
Best for: Mild Sun Damage, Uneven Skin Tone, Melasma, Generalized Redness & Subtle Anti-Aging Benefits
The 411: Photofacial treatments use varying color wavelengths, whereas lasers use only a single wavelength to target a specific issue. Photofacials are not fixed wavelengths, but rather broader wavelengths that can hit multiple targets or skin issues at once. Since they’re considered minimally invasive, you’ll typically need multiple treatments to get your desired result.
Examples: IPL, LED & BBL (Broadband Light)
What is red light therapy?
Used in an infrared sauna for full-body health or full facial rejuvenation, red light therapy treatments interact with fibroblasts in your cells to change how the skin functions. These treatments, with little known side effects, have shown marked improvement in skin health when used consistently. This might explain why they’re growing so much in popularity!
What are the benefits of laser treatments for your skin?
Overall, benefits of laser treatments can include:
- More even skin tone: Decrease in redness, hyperpigmentation, sun damage and facial vessels
- Overall rejuvenation: Tighter, plumper skin with fewer fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improved texture
- Improved targeted issues: Hair removal, tattoo removal and scar reduction
What are the risks of laser treatments?
In general, lasers come with a few risks and can sometimes worsen the issue you’re trying to treat—or not help it at all. It’s important to work with a specialist who has extensive experience and training working with laser and light treatments to mitigate the risks involved.
Potential risks of laser treatments:
- Skin color changes
Laser treatments should be avoided for those who:
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Have pigmented skin or a recent tan (use caution with specific lasers that can cause hypopigmentation or loss of pigmentation)
- Have a history of infection, cold sores or poor wound healing (these could be triggered or worsened with a laser treatment and should be discussed with your specialist prior to starting treatment)
In general, laser and light treatments can be used to improve skin issues that are often the most difficult to treat, such as hyperpigmentation, generalized redness, facial vessels, scars, fine lines, wrinkles and even acne. Be sure you’re using the right laser or light treatment for what you’re trying to achieve, and always be diligent in finding the best provider to help you with your results.