Laser away the years

Laser

Turn to laser technology in order to address some of the most common characteristics of ageing.

Today’s lasers can significantly diminish and even reverse many of the tell-tale signs of ageing, from early lines, uneven pigmentation and broken capillaries to deep wrinkles and severe sun damage.

They can reach much deeper levels and affect far more significant changes than would be possible with most other common modalities of treatment, and without needing to invest significant money.

Moreover, a procedure can often be performed in less than an hour and may require little or no downtime.

One of the most influential advances in aesthetic laser technology only became available for consumer use in 2006. Fractional laser resurfacing (ablative and non-ablative) can achieve skin rejuvenation results that approximate conventional ablative laser but with less aggressive treatment protocols and, so, fewer potential side effects.

With traditional ablative laser (selective photothermolysis), the whole of a selected target area is damaged – in effect burnt – usually requiring significant downtime and prolonged redness or pinkness of the treatment area for up to three months, and even more.

Fractional laser (fractional photothermolysis) seeks to only damage certain zones. The laser beam is fractionated into thousands of tiny little shafts of light.

These penetrate the deeper layers of the skin, causing tiny injuries to the skin, whilst leaving the surrounding skin perfectly intact.

The skin then repairs those tiny shafts by pushing out the old, damaged skin and replacing it with new skin. The targeted heat damage also helps to shrink existing collagen for an immediate firming effect.

This process only causes fractional damage and allows the skin to heal much faster than if the whole area was treated. It causes no visible wounds and requires less downtime than traditional ablative lasers.

With light therapies such as intense pulsed light also available to help ward off the signs of ageing, there is a dizzying array of choice – and much potential confusion for the consumer. It’s always best, therefore, to seek the advice of a doctor or clinician who is fully qualified and experienced in using laser and light devices and who will be able to advise which treatment is best for you.

What are the options?

Non-ablative laser is best for younger patients (approximately aged between 30 and 50 years) who have early wrinkles or for those who truly can’t take any time off from family or work commitments to have traditional ablative laser. There is minimal or no downtime involved. A series of treatments may be necessary to see the desired results; Between three and six is typical.

While not a laser, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) penetrates deeper into the skin than a non-ablative laser. It does not injure the surface, so there is usually no downtime. It can improve skin texture and colour as well as reduce pore size. IPL can effectively treat some types of hyperpigmentation, including age spots and freckles.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a two-step procedure and is commonly used to treat skin complaints such as acne and acne scarring. First, a solution that makes the skin more sensitive to light is applied to the treatment area and left on for 30 minutes or longer. Next, a light source is beamed onto the treatment area. This process can improve the appearance of redness, age spots and freckles, and improves the overall texture and appearance of the skin. It’s important to look after the skin post-treatment, protecting it from the sun and other bright light. Sun exposure after PDT can be very painful and result in severe sunburn and blistering.

Ablative fractional laser offers deeper rejuvenation. It is best for improving the appearance of age spots, wrinkles and skin discolourations. It can be used on the delicate skin around the eyes and mouth. It is also effective for treating precancerous growths (actinic keratoses). Recovery time is generally between one and three days.

Traditional ablative laser heats the skin to cause a visible wound, which means up to 14 days’ downtime. While invasive and performed only by doctors, with a longer and more uncomfortable recovery process, the results of traditional ‘flat beam’ laser are still regarded by many professionals as the gold standard for improving deeper wrinkles, severe sun damage and crepiness around the eyes and on the neck.

It is best for patients who are in their late 40s to 70s. During the recovery period the treated area will be red and swollen, and may then scab and ooze before healing. There will be a period of between four and six weeks when the skin may appear red or pink.

Everyone responds differently to stimuli, so there may be varying levels of discomfort associated with the use of some laser treatments. Your doctor or clinician will alert you to all the possibilities and give you various choices to provide a greater degree of comfort during the treatment.

What you see after the procedure depends on the type of laser or other light therapy used.

After a non-ablative laser or IPL, you will not have a visible wound but the treated skin will likely be red and puffy. These effects last a few hours and can be covered up with makeup. There is generally no downtime.

You will see some immediate results after laser treatments but you won’t see full benefits for three to six months. During this period, your skin will feel smoother, you will see fewer lines, less blotchiness and more glow.

While lasers may sound like magic wands, it is important to have realistic expectations. Some skin tightening is possible, but lasers cannot produce the same degree of lifting seen after a surgical facelift or eyelid lift.

Wrinkles caused by constant muscle movement such as frown lines can be hard to treat with lasers alone. Anti-wrinkle injections may be used in conjunction.

Laser skin rejuvenation cannot stop the skin from continuing to age. Crow’s feet may reappear and new age spots can develop.

Because sun exposure accelerates signs of ageing, protecting the skin from UV rays with daily use year-round with a broad spectrum sunscreen will prolong results and help prevent new damage.

While lasers and other light therapies have fewer side effects than more traditional skin resurfacing procedures such as chemical peeling and dermabrasion, there are still risks. The most common is unwanted temporary darkening or lightening of the treated skin. There also is a relatively small risk of scarring.

As with any procedure, the success of treatment is highly dependent on the skill level and knowledge of the person performing it, so it is important to ‘do your homework’ before choosing a laser practitioner.