New Trends in Cosmetic Laser and Light Treatments

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You’re standing on tiptoe, lengthening your legs, holding in your stomach. Your posture is erect. You let out a sigh of frustration. Even with the creative body contortion, you cringe at the image peering back at you in the mirror. You want to believe the harsh ultraviolet light is to blame for some of your discontent, but you quickly dismiss that idea as foolish. You silently wish for a wand, magical enough to melt away the years, fat, cellulite and imperfections staring back at you.
Today, what once seemed like science fiction is now reality. The marvelous tool you wish for does exist, and it’s known as a laser. First invented in 1960, lasers are now utilized in everything from scanners and light displays to weapons, surgeries and cosmetic treatments.

As technology continues to improve, this magic wand now has the ability to wipe away the years by softening fine lines and wrinkles, improving the appearance of acne scars, and tightening sagging skin, with less down time and fewer side effects than traditional treatments. Lasers take aim at cellulite, which affects 80 percent of women and is unaffected by lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. New lasers are able to remove the more stubborn tattoo colors such as blue and green. The American Academy of Dermatology reports several recent advancements using lasers and other technologies in these areas.

In 2012, the FDA approved the 1440 nanometer laser, which involves inserting a tiny fiber optic beneath the skin to permanently break the fiber bands that cause cellulite and to stimulate collagen production. When the fiber bands are severed, the blood supply to the area is eliminated and the bands don’t regrow. It also allows for the treatment of several areas at once, including the most common problem spots such as buttocks, hips and thighs. This procedure requires a week or two of down time due to bruising and swelling.

The picosecond laser was approved by the FDA in 2013. It uses very short pulse durations to break down tattoo pigments, allowing it to target the more resistant colors such as blue and green. This laser pulverizes the pigment into finer particles than previous lasers, similar to the consistency of dust; these particles are then absorbed by the body. Fewer treatments are required than with previous lasers. Recent studies have shown that multiple treatments during a single office visit show even more improvement.

The fractionated CO2 laser is used in skin resurfacing. It combines the effectiveness of traditional carbon dioxide lasers with a new application technique. It works by delivering energy to the deeper layers of skin and stimulating collagen without injuring the skin’s surface, eliminating the traditionally harsh side effects and extended down time. It is considered the gold standard for wrinkles and acne scars and dermatologists report that its effects last eight to ten years. The erbium YAG laser, also used for surface-level and moderately deep lines and wrinkles, causes fewer side effects such as bruising, swelling and redness, and may be preferable for darker skin tones.

Ultrasound is an FDA-approved, non-invasive procedure that destroys or melts fat without harming the surrounding skin. It is used to reduce fat bulges in larger areas, including the abdomen and thighs. Average reduction is about an inch per treatment session. Results are seen in two to three months and include the added benefit of improvement in appearance of cellulite.

Ultrasound technology is also approved by the FDA for lifting and tightening skin on the neck, chin and eyebrow area. Ultrasound used on the face does not penetrate as deeply as what is used to melt fat, but dermatologists do have the ability to vary the depth depending on need without compromising the skin’s surface. Results are visible within four months and last about a year.

The FDA approved radiofrequency energy to treat aging skin and sagging eyelids. New improvements allow for only one treatment instead of two. As with ultrasound, optimal results can be seen in four months, with some tightening noticed in about a month. Both ultrasound and radiofrequency also improve acne scarring and have the benefit of minimal down time.

Cryolipolysis is a non-invasive procedure approved by the FDA to remove the fat in the abdomen and sides of the body. It works by freezing and dissolving the lipids in fat cells, which slowly dissolve and are absorbed by the body. Three treatments are typically required, and results are seen in three to four months.

The American Academy of Dermatology advises everyone seeking cosmetic laser treatment to research all options beyond what is described on the internet. Board-certified dermatologists with an expertise in cosmetic procedures are best qualified to present the pros and cons of each new technology and to offer an individualized consultation for each patient.

The right treatment will make that trip into the department store dressing room much less traumatic, especially at swimsuit time. HLM

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