Increasingly, laser therapy is becoming the preferred treatment for a broad range of dermatologic concerns, including age spots, wrinkles, acne, unwanted hair, and prominent leg veins.
But, since a treatment usually entails multiple sessions, just how safe are dermatologists’s lasers over the long run? I’ll answer that here. First, a quick explanation of how they work and why they’re so effective.
How does laser therapy work?
During a laser treatment, an intense beam of light targets specific cells. Its effectiveness and permanence sometimes depends on the individual being treated. Laser hair removal, for instance, usually works best on people with light skin and dark hair.
Your skincare regimen during the weeks and months that follow the treatment also plays a significant role. Applying sunscreen on a daily basis, for example, only improves the efficacy of a laser therapy that was used to remove age spots or smooth out wrinkles.
As the technology’s improved through the years, it’s translated to less downtime for patients. Dermatologists are now using multiple devices to treat different conditions—redness, brown spots, and sagging skin, for example—during a single office visit, which limits the amount of recovery time.
The development of fractioned lasers for skin resurfacing has also been a boom to the patient experience. They use the same amount of energy as older models, but it’s broken up into smaller doses. That heightens the rejuvenating effect while minimizing the trauma to the skin.
But are they safe?
Advances in the technology and medicine have dramatically lowered the chances of serious side effects, both in the short- and long-term. For most, mild swelling or soreness around the treated area is the extent of their side effects, though many won’t even experience that. When it does occur, it generally lasts for only a few hours.
During the treatment itself, it’s common to experience a slight warming or tingling sensation. In rare cases, it may be closer to stinging or mild burning, but it still shouldn’t necessitate an anesthetic.
The human element factors into the safety of the treatment, too. In the hands of someone who isn’t properly trained and suitably experienced, laser therapy carries the risk of complications, including burns, hyperpigmentation, and scarring, that can be easily avoided.
Basically, it does matter who’s holding the laser. It’s not doing the work itself.
Look for a dermatologist who’s experienced in the treatment you’re interested in and the device that will be used. As with any acquired skill, the more practice a doctor has with a particular tool, the better it will bode for the success of the treatment.