We all age. Some faster than others. Since you are reading this we’ll assume you are taking action on the matter- a respectable move. But, with so many technologies out there, what is the best? What is the difference between these lasers? Let’s take a quick look.
The way laser based systems work is they use a gas or element of some sort. The machine then puts energy into the gas or element and boom…a laser (photon) comes out the other end. We will spare you the physics lesson here to keep you from falling asleep. This light that comes out is designed, by nature, to hit certain colors or targets. A laser will generally only do one thing: hair removal, skin resurfacing, brown spots, etc. It is like a rifle-- it only hits one target, not a bunch of different ones. Since you are only hitting that one target (hair, brown spots, skin rejuvenation, etc) it takes less treatments. An example is Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which was one of the first lasers use in the aesthetic industry, some 30+ years ago. When used in aesthetics, CO2 has a large affinity for water. As it is absorbed, it heats up the water and transforms it from a liquid to a gas (it vaporizes). Consider that your skin is over 60% water you now have the reason CO2 is so effective. No, it does not feel good, but it does work and has been one of the gold standards for aesthetic laser procedures.
IPL (intense pulsed light)
Larger medical devices are called “capital equipment” because they are expensive. Medical device companies have a lot of overhead with research, the FDA, liability, etc. There are a lot of medical spas and practitioners that offer IPL as an option for hair removal, skin rejuvenation, and the treatment of spots. This is because IPL is not a laser, and is much cheaper to purchase. It is a xenon-based flash lamp that uses filters to narrow down the light to hit certain targets. Confused? Don’t worry, keep reading. Have you ever taken a picture with a flash on it? Chances are that flash was made from a lamp of some sort. The light that is in the flash is broad spectrum, meaning that it will hit a bunch of different colors. Remember the laser hitting one target like a rifle? IPL is like a shotgun-- it hits a bunch of different targets. Since it doesn’t hit any single target well (hair, pigment, etc) it is cheaper than a laser treatment. Quick tip: Many practitioners will say they have “laser hair removal,” when in reality they use IPL. Any website that says “photo-facial” uses IPL. Quick tip: Clinics that have Sciton (BBL), Palomar/Cynosure or Cutera are amongst the best IPL devices around. Keep an eye out for these brand names.
RF or radio frequency is another modality that has been used in medicine for decades. It is safe and a proven method for ablation and skin rejuvenation. Radio frequency works on creating friction. The device has two poles and creates a charge between these poles. Since we are all essentially made from energy (atoms), there is a natural resistance to our skin. When radio frequency is applied to it, heat is generated. This heat then can cause denaturing (destruction) of collagen. While this might sound like a bad thing it is necessary to injure the skin for the body to then jump into action to create more collagen. Quick tip: Look out for RF devices made by Venus Concept, which is arguably the best manufacturer of aesthetic radiofrequency based devices.
Though microneedling is not a laser, it has become very popular for use in aesthetic treatments. How it works is a number of very small needles are arranged in a circular or square grid. These needles are then pushed into the skin via a hand-held probe or a mechanical hand piece. The idea is that by creating an injury to the skin the body will then repair itself by creating new collagen. This is a good thing for acne scars, skin tightening, minor scars, etc. One item to keep in mind is as of this writing in 2018 the FDA has yet to clear microneedling for use in the US. This has created a controversy for legal use, but the hope is that it will be approved for use soon. On the other hand, microneedling with radiofrequency has been approved and represents the latest and greatest for cutting edge technology. Quick tip: Look out for clinics that carry the Vivace, which is an FDA cleared device using microneedling and RF.
Reasons to Use Lasers
Now that we have covered some of the basics of lasers, how do you know what is good vs bad to use? There is no reason you need to understand all the different modalities involved in the laser world. To do this would require several years working in the industry or a degree in physics. Here we are covering some of the best reasons why you would want to use a laser.
Lasers are fantastic at removing unwanted hair. Bikini lines, leg hair, facial hair, etc are all very popular areas to use with laser hair removal. If you can afford it, go to a clinic that uses lasers vs IPL. There is nothing wrong with IPL, but it will require 2-3 times the number of treatments to do the same thing. A typical hair removal will require 3-6 treatments with a laser. It will require 6-12 using IPL. This is because your hair grows in three phases, anagen (growing), catagen (shedding), and telogen (resting). Depending on when you are trying to do, certain hair follicles could be in a resting phase, so lasers won’t work on them. So, you need to do treatments every 1-2 months to try and catch that hair in a growing phase. Quick tip: Keep an eye out for clinics that have laser hair devices made by Cynosure and Lumenis, as they are some of the best in the industry.
Hyper-pigmentation i.e. brown/liver/sun spots are all the same thing. They are a result of your body releasing melanin (pigment) to protect your skin from getting burned. We all get them, so don’t feel bad. There are a couple of different ways to get rid of them. You can heat them with a laser or IPL and destroy the pigment. Second, you can use an ablative means that vaporizes the spot (remember CO2). Third, you can use a mechanical means with microneedling, or microneedling with radiofrequency. The last is using a tattoo laser such as a “Q-switch” or “Pico-second” laser. The last one creates the equivalent of a sound where you break up the pigment by the force of the laser. Though it is complicated to explain, there is little or no pain using a tattoo laser for brown spot removal. Quick tip: Tattoo lasers for brown spot removal work faster than your body can respond, so are great for patients with melisma and larger amounts of pigment.
These are those areas on your face that end up looking like tiny branches on a tree. They are actually branches of veins in your face that have been damaged by the sun. If you have some, don’t fret, lots of people get them. The way to deal with them is to see your local dermatologist or medical spa to “blanch” or cauterize the veins. Since these tiny veins don’t work anymore they need to essentially be destroyed. This can be done very quickly using IPL or specific lasers.
Skin Care to Use After a Treatment
As with anything it is important to see a licensed medical professional when getting a laser-type treatment done. Please be sure to follow their instructions. That being said, here are a few do’s and don’ts after having a treatment on your face:
Do: use an occlusive barrier following any laser, IPL, or microneedling type procedure. According to respected Dermatologist Dr. Carl Thornfeldt ,“using an occlusive barrier will speed up healing by as much as 40%.” Products such as petroleum jelly and aquafor work very well as they keep in moisture. The one thing to keep in mind is to gently clean them 1-2 times a day or you can have acne breakouts.
Don’t: use retinol for 5 or so days following any laser procedure. Retinol is an amazing serum to put on your face, but not following laser type procedures. Your skin is compromised and causing more cells to turnover during this time is a bad idea.
Do: use a non-comedegenic (non-clogging) moisturizer. It is important to keep the skin hydrate, but don’t use over the counter moisturizers. Many of these products have fragrances and filler materials which can do more harm than good. Nobody wants more irritated skin after a procedure.
Don’t: exfoliate or over wash your skin. It’s sensitive and there is no need for a deep-pore cleaning scrub, cleanser, or a heavy wash. Keep it gentle and pat-dry your face with a fresh towel.
Do: use sunscreen and stay out of the sun. If you can use a physical based sunscreen like Colorescience, more power to you. Physical sunscreens are comprised of zinc and titanium and sit on top of the skin, versus chemical sunscreens which are absorbed into the skin. Be careful using sunscreens that are chemical based during this time. Certainly, chemical based sunscreens are better than nothing, but many ingredients can cause inflammation and irritation to your skin.
There is a lot of information here, but try and keep it simple because it can be overwhelming. Find a clinic or dermatologist you feel comfortable with and tackle issues one at a time. Remember “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Take that approach to your skin. It’s a long-term investment and lasers are one part of it. Make sure you are on a daily skin care regimen as the appropriate habits will reduce the number of times you need lasers. If you need help with figuring it out, feel free to visit our site as we create personalized skin care systems for people. Otherwise stay safe and take it one step at a time.
To having good laser experiences,
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