You have probably heard of the wonders of laser skin treatments and so may be asking if laser could help overcome some of the effects of ageing that start to become increasingly visible as you grow older. Be guided by a reputable dermatologist who will advise you regarding the treatment best suited for your skin type and condition — and also for your pocket.
Laser advances are most especially being made at the cosmetic end of the spectrum, which means they are less invasive than traditional treatments like chemicals peels and dermabrasion. However, if you are considering some kind of laser or light-based treatment for your skin, it is extremely important that you consult a dermatologist or specialist centre. Be sure to ask about side effects, recovery times, number and frequency of treatments, any pre- and post-treatment skincare requirements.
Risks and recovery times
One way to try and make sense of skin resurfacing treatments is to understand the side effects, as risk and recovery times (and, naturally, cost) broadly increase in line with effectiveness.
Risk and recovery times are generally higher for ablative versus non-ablative treatments. Ablative lasers are less specific in terms of what they target and, because they are more destructive (the top layer of the skin is removed), pain is greater, scarring risk is higher and downtime is longer. Non-ablative lasers are less effective, but recovery is rapid and the safety profile is good.
It is especially important to note that the risk of discolouration from using laser is greatly augmented if you have tanned, olive or dark skin.
What conditions can laser treat?
Leaving aside tattoo removal, hair removal and specific treatments to remove warts, skin tags and certain kinds of birthmarks, the main skin conditions that can be treated by laser or light therapy are sun-damage and pigmentation lesions (age and café-au-lait spots), wrinkles, spider veins and acne scars.
More ablative treatments are usually required for ageing and sun-damaged skin. A less aggressive form of ablation is fractionated laser, which is used to smooth out lines, wrinkles and scars and other surface irregularities and to tighten the skin. Fractionated non-ablative lasers can improve pigmentation problems and acne scars; they are also used to enhance skin tone and texture.
Note that the term “laser” as used in the skin context also includes treatments — like intense pulsed light therapy (IPL), radiofrequency, infrared, ultrasound and light-emitting diodes (LED) — that are often referred to as “laser procedures” when, in fact, they use non-laser light sources. These treat many skin concerns at once such as pigmentation spots, red veins, texture and tone and are frequently used to generally tighten the skin and improve its elasticity.
Application of a non-irritating sunscreen is vital until any redness subsides completely. It is also recommended in the period before treatment, not to mention highly advisable as part of a good skincare routine in the months and years after treatment (it may reduce or eliminate the need for maintenance or future treatments).
How much does laser cost?
How long is a piece of string?! Prices vary — but you should be very wary of suspiciously cheap offers, as unlicensed, untrained or inexperienced providers may botch the treatment and leave you with burned or damaged skin.