Skin conditions that lasers can treat
The future is bright for these cutting-edge treatments, including light therapy.
When it comes to the use of laser technology in skin care, the future is now. Concepts that were once reserved for science fiction stories have catapulted skin care into a new age. Many of these innovations include the use of laser technology to treat myriad conditions that range from removing pre-cancerous skin growths to reducing wrinkles.
Here’s a look at some of the conditions that dermatologists are effectively treating with laser and light therapy.
Laser treatments are effective at reducing rosacea, red birthmarks, broken blood vessels, and other red spots on the skin. "Lasers are safe for targeting blood vessels in all skin types, but often require several treatments," explains Lisa Chipps, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. "Most patients don’t need any downtime, but occasionally, there may be some bruising for a few days after a treatment."
While not considered a true "laser," light therapy is another effective treatment option for redness and enlarged facial blood vessels. The procedure, which involves several minutes of zapping, essentially heats up and destroys blood vessels under the skin. "It’s used to treat everything from rosacea to sun damage," says Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Dermatologists will use a combination of light energy and a light-sensitive medication to treat many different diseases, including psoriasis and some types of skin cancer. "A light-sensitive medication is first applied to the skin, and about an hour or two later red light, blue light, or intense pulse light is applied," says Jeffrey Dover, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of clinical dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and associate professor of dermatology at Alpert Medical School at Brown University. "This light activates the medicine, which destroys the pre-cancerous or cancerous spots."
Lasers for birthmarks
Some lasers, such as pulsed dye lasers and intense pulsed light therapy, are safely used on infants and children to treat a wide range of conditions, including port wine stain and hemangioma birthmarks. In most cases, intense pulsed light treatments require about two to three sessions, notes Dr. Bhanusali, and then are followed-up once yearly to maintain optimal results.
Hair and tattoo removal
A laser that was initially developed for tattoo removal is now commonly used for the purpose of hair removal, particularly because it has shown to be effective on darker skin where many other lasers may be unsafe, according to Dr. Bhanusali. Laser hair removal can be performed on all skin types and colors, as long as there is a contrast between your skin and hair color. Depending on how many treatments you receive, most of the treated hair can be destroyed. "Pigment or tattoo removal lasers can be used with varying intensity for minimal downtime with multiple treatments, or more downtime with fewer treatments," says Dr. Chipps.
These are just a few of the conditions that lasers can treat. Laser and light treatments are also useful to reduce premature signs of skin aging like wrinkles and age spots; reduce scars, including scars caused by acne; tighten skin; reduce melasma; treat spider veins; and other concerns. Your board-certified dermatologist can help determine if any of these treatments are right for you.
Know before you go
Before undergoing laser treatments of any kind, patients should consult with their board-certified dermatologist to ensure they’re getting the right treatment tailored to their skin needs and concerns. While lasers can be used on all skin types, darker skin is more prone to burns and dark marks after laser treatments. Work with a board-certified dermatologist with experience treating darker skin with lasers.
Once a laser treatment has been chosen, Dr. Chipps recommends avoiding getting a tan and making sure to protect your skin from the sun by seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Before your treatment, you may also need to stop using certain skin care products, like topical retinoids, stop smoking and/or start taking an antiviral or antibiotic medication, if prescribed by your dermatologist.
"Patients should let their physician know all of the skin care products, medications, and supplements that they are taking, because some medications can make the skin more sensitive to laser light wavelengths," she adds.
The results of a laser procedure depend largely on the skill of the person performing that procedure. While laser procedures performed in non-medical settings like spas and shopping malls may offer convenience, the limited training, supervision, and equipment available in these environments may jeopardize your health and safety. A board-certified dermatologist can help you determine the right treatment for any of your skin, hair, or nail issues and has the expertise to perform laser therapies.
Last updated: 8/31/21