Laser treatment for the skin (Laser Therapy)

Like the name suggests, laser treatment of the skin (laser therapy) involves using laser as a treatment method for different diseases. It can be used to treat cancer inside the body, however it is most commonly used in skin diseases. Here, only laser therapy for the skin is discussed. 40 years ago the first lasers were used to treat skin conditions. However, in the past 20 years, advances in laser technology has revolutionised their use in many skin conditions and defects present at birth. Currently, skin conditions commonly treated with laser therapy include:

  • Birth marks
  • Tattoo removal
  • Scar removal
  • Wrinkle removal  

What is Laser therapy for the skin

Laser stands for ‘Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. It is produced in an optical cavity containing a substance. This substance is called a laser medium. The substance can be a gas (eg argon or carbon dioxide – these are commonly used), a liquid (eg dye) or a solid (eg ruby, yttrium-aluminium-garnet).

The principle of laser therapy involves:

  • certain tissues strongly absorb certain wavelengths of light
  • the aim of laser therapy is to destroy target cells without damaging the surrounding tissues. When the targeted tissue absorbs the wavelength, the cells heat up and die. If the surrounding tissue is damaged it can produce scarring much like how the skin is burnt.

There are many types of lasers depending on the laser mediums used. Different lasers are used to treat different skin conditions.

How Laser Therapy Performed?

Before laser treatment for the skin (laser therapy), the doctors will make sure that the patient is suitable for the surgery. The therapy itself is divided into different sessions, each session lasting from 15 to 30 minutes. Depending on the diseases to be treated, sometimes more than one session may be needed as a complete treatment process.

Side effects of Laser Therapy

The side effects of laser therapy are very minimal. Immediately after the laser treatment, the area that has been treated might be redder than before (also known as Erythema) and become uncomfortable. However the skin colour will return to normal after some time.

Other complications include:

  • eye complications: radiation to the eye inadvertently may cause corneal damage (the transparent part of the outer eye) or damage to the inner eye depending on the wavelength of the laser used in the treatment. This can occur to both the operators and patients, hence wavelength-specific protective masks must be worn during the procedure.
  • darkening of the skin
  • lightening of the skin
  • blistering or crusting after the surgery
  • bruising: usually heals in 2 weeks
  • scarring: generally, the risk is low

References

  1. DermNet NZ: Lasers in dermatology [online]. 2005. [Cited 2005 October 5th]. Available from: URL: http://dermnetnz.org/procedures/lasers.html
  2. eMedicine: Complications of Dermatologic Laser Surgery [online]. 2005. [Cited 2005 October 5th]. Available from: URL: http://www.emedicine.com/derm/topic525.htm