When Is a Laser Not Really a Laser?
“Laser” seems to be the buzz word in cosmetic surgery these days, and with good reason. Lasers are being used to smooth, lift, tighten and perfect the skin in a myriad of ways, with much success and less downtime than more traditional methods that involve going under the knife. When is a laser not really a laser, though?
There are several new technologies currently being used in the world of aesthetics that are often referred to as laser procedures, when in fact, they don’t really use lasers at all. It’s true that most of them are light-based, but not all lights are lasers. Otherwise, we’d all be taking our lives into our hands every time we flip a switch on the wall.
These new procedures often perform exactly the same function as many laser procedures, and some even get comparable results, although more treatments may be required to obtain the same level of effectiveness. These functions include smoothing of fine lines, tightening of skin, removal of dark spots on the skin, smoothing of acne scars, hair removal, tattoo removal, destruction of visible broken blood vessels and general skin rejuvenation (i.e., tightening of the pores, smoothing of the skin’s surface, increased radiance and more even skin tone).
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)IPL is not a laser but is a powerful light source that is used for skin rejuvenation and has the ability to penetrate the skin with minimal skin damage. Like the laser, it works by filtering various wavelengths of light to react with specific skin conditions. IPL has been shown to help improve the appearance of red and brown skin discolorations, birthmarks and symptoms of rosacea, as well as to tighten and refine the appearance of the skin. This process is also known as photorejuvenation or photofacial. It has also become popular for removal of vascular lesions (broken blood vessels, etc.) as well as removal of hair on lighter skin types and even removal of some tattoos. IPL is truly a non-invasive procedure and is among the group of no-downtime skin treatments, which have become widely known as “lunchtime” procedures.
Light Emitting Diode (LED)LEDs are very small light bulbs which, in contrast to ordinary incandescent bulbs, don’t get especially hot and don’t burn out. These special lights are illuminated only by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material, and they are very long-lasting. They were originally developed for experimental purposes -- namely to research the effect of light sources in photosynthesis for plant growth.
How does this apply to aesthetic goals? LEDs have been found to trigger natural chemical processes inside the cells, boosting the body’s own production of collagen, which slows in our late teens and, by age 25, nearly slows to a halt. This fact makes LEDs particularly useful for skin rejuvenation, because the treatments can wind back our collagen clocks, so to speak, producing collagen more like we did in our teens and early twenties (at least for a short period of time immediately following each treatment). This allows our natural body processes to repair some of the damage caused by environment, gravity and time.
LEDs produce light in blue, red and yellow wavelengths -- all of which have different aesthetic applications. Together with certain photo-reactive acids, LEDs have been shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of acne.
Infrared (Titan)Titan uses an infrared light source to heat the dermis (the deeper layer of skin well below the surface). The heating of the dermis causes a contraction of the collagen deep in the skin, producing an immediate tightening effect. This immediate effect is only part of the story, however, since the dermis is technically “injured” by the heating process. The body’s response to heal this injury is to step up collagen production, thereby resulting in increasing firmness, smoothness and tightening over the several months following the procedure.
During the procedure, the skin's surface is protected through continuous cooling by the device’s handpiece. Since the thermal injury takes place in the deeper layers of the skin, leaving the skin’s surface unaffected, the treatment does not carry the risk of pigmentation changes on people with darker skin.
Radio Frequency (Thermage)Radio Frequency is the only modality listed here that is not a light-based technology. Since it is currently being used for the same effects and purposes, though, it makes sense to include it in this list. In fact, when people talk about a nonsurgical face lift, they are usually referring to either Titan or Thermage (the brand name for the proprietary technique/device that started the nonsurgical radio frequency skin-tightening craze). In the minds of some, the two are interchangeable, because although they use different technology, they work through the same mechanism.
Like Titan, the goal of Thermage is to produce a controlled thermal (heat-related) injury to the deeper layers of the skin, so that the body will respond by producing more collagen to heal the injury. This is done while at the same time leaving the surface of the skin unharmed.
Interview with Eric Berger, MD, conducted on June 16, 2008 IPL Skin Treatments Using Photorejuvenation; Manufacturer’s Consumer Information Brochure; Lumenis Aesthetic Corp.
Interview with Eric Berger, MD, conducted on June 16, 2008
IPL Skin Treatments Using Photorejuvenation; Manufacturer’s Consumer Information Brochure; Lumenis Aesthetic Corp.