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We Asked a Dermatologist to Explain the Different Types of Lasers (and What They Can Do for Our Skin)
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It’s no secret we love a good retinol serum, but we have to admit we’ve been curious about some of the more heavy-duty anti-aging options out there. And while there’s no shortage of celebrities like Chelsea Handler, Jenny Mollen and Kim Kardashian candidly documenting their procedures on Instagram, a part of us is still a little wary of a treatment that calls to mind a Star Wars blaster. So to help us better understand what laser treatments are all about, we spoke with one of New York’s top board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Ariel Ostad, who walked us through different types of lasers and what they do.

First, what *exactly* are lasers?

The word laser is actually an acronym that stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” This means they use light energy to interact with the tissues of the skin—from surface level to deeper tissues, depending on the lasers. It’s important to discuss your expectations with your board-certified dermatologist to align on what results you are looking for, so they can recommend the best laser for your skin type and current concerns.

Got it. So what are some of the ways lasers can be used?

Lasers can treat a variety of concerns, including sun damage, excess hair, rosacea, wrinkles and scars, including those from acne. 

What about removing that lower-back tattoo we got in college?

Yes, lasers can absolutely take care of that!

Can you break down a few of the most popular lasers and what they’re used for?

The Cutera Genesis laser or the Cutera Excel V laser treats facial redness, visible blood vessels, broken capillaries and other symptoms of rosacea. Laser therapy can also help prevent mild rosacea from progressing. The Genesis laser can restore skin tone and treat fine lines and wrinkles, scars, large pores and active acne by boosting collagen growth, resulting in a more youthful skin tone and texture.

The Fraxel CO2 uses fractionated CO2 energy to stimulate cell turnover and skin rejuvenation. Patients will experience their dead skin flaking off for the week following the treatment, followed by a fresh, glowing layer of skin. Fraxel CO2 treats sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles, lack of skin elasticity and other signs of aging.

The Fraxel Dual is a non-ablative laser, which does not remove skin but rather triggers rapid cell turnover in the deep layers of the skin through fractionated laser technology. Patients experience smoother, younger-looking skin, an improvement in tone and texture, and a reduction in fine lines, wrinkles and scars.

Laser hair removal uses lasers to target the pigments in hair, thus heating and destroying the follicles that are in their anagen growth phase. Treatment is permanent, but several sessions are required as only the follicles that are currently in the anagen growth phase are treated each time.

What do laser treatments feel like?

Lasers do not cause any significant pain or discomfort. You might feel a bit of surface-level heat that dissipates a few minutes after the treatment, but it is certainly not painful or unbearable by any means.

What about side effects? Are there any dangers associated with laser treatments?

There are no real dangers with lasers and most require no downtime. You can come in during lunch and then head straight back to the office. However, some lasers do result in redness or peeling of the skin after the treatment in order to get the desired results. This is completely expected and should be no cause for alarm. That being said, certain lasers can damage darker skin.

Wait, why are lasers off-limits for darker skin?

Most lasers either do not work on darker skin—a waste of time and money—or can result in damage to darker skin tones. This damage occurs because the energy emitted by laser pulses damages the pigmentation in dark skin, resulting in scars or spots of hyperpigmentation.

So what are the options for people with darker skin tones?

For patients with darker skin tones, I highly recommend a laser called PicoWay. It’s an advanced laser that uses ultra-short picosecond pulses to the skin. Because the laser pulses are so much faster than other lasers, they generate less heat, thus not damaging the skin pigment. Uses include tattoo removal, sun spot treatment, fine lines, wrinkles and scar removal. Best of all, it treats all of these issues with no downtime. Really, the laser is so effective, I recommend it for all of my patients, not just those with darker skin tones.

Which lasers require only one treatment and which ones entail multiple treatments?

Most lasers offer results after just one treatment, but some do require multiple treatments for desired results. Laser hair removal and PicoWay are permanent, but they do require several treatments to attain the final desired results. Most patients come in for Fraxel treatments every year or every few years, but with proper skin care, these treatments can be spaced further apart.

If we’re ready to give it a try, how much does a laser procedure cost?

Anywhere from $150 to $5,000.

OK, but what if we found one on Groupon. Thoughts?

Laser treatments should only be performed by board-certified medical professionals who will tailor the procedure to your individual needs. This is not a time to cut corners!

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