In addition to the rejuvenation of aging skin, Dr. Alster says, lasers can be utilized to treat patients with "a whole host of conditions," including vascular birthmarks, hyperpigmentation, and scarring from acne, surgery or trauma. These devices also may be used to remove tattoos or unwanted hair.
Moreover, Dr. Alster said, lasers have become more specialized over the years, so each device is designed specifically for the condition it's used to treat, making laser procedures highly effective. "There are lasers for patients of all ages and skin types," she says. "It really runs the gamut."
The development of fractionated lasers for skin resurfacing also allows dermatologists to provide an improved experience for patients, Dr. Alster says. Fractionated lasers use the same amount of energy as older models, she says, but that energy is broken up into smaller doses, offering safer, more effective treatment. "Today's lasers allow us to provide a rejuvenating effect with less trauma to the skin," she says. "That means a lower risk of complications and shorter recovery time for patients."
A PRACTICED HAND
While laser treatments have many benefits, they also carry the risk of complications, including burns, hyperpigmentation and scarring. In order to reduce this risk, Dr. Alster says, it's important for patients to ensure that their laser procedures are performed by a properly trained and suitably experienced medical professional.
"It does matter whose hand is holding the laser; the laser is not doing the work itself," she says. "If lasers are used improperly, there can be side effects and complications that could have been avoided."
Dr. Alster recommends that patients seek laser treatments from a board-certified physician -- preferably a board-certified dermatologist. Additionally, she says patients should make sure their doctor of choice has experience with the treatment to be performed and the device to be used, since that experience will inform the success of the procedure. "Experience counts," she says. "Doctors get better with their lasers as they use them, sort of like how a cook gets better in the kitchen."
Dr. Alster also suggests that patients choose a doctor who has experience with multiple laser treatments and devices, as that experience will allow that doctor to choose the best possible treatment for each patient. She says talking to patients who have already received laser treatments is a good way to evaluate a potential doctor.
Laser treatments are not always the best option for every patient. Laser devices should not be used on inflamed or infected skin, Dr. Alster says, and patients whose skin does not recover well from trauma may not be good candidates for laser procedures. Additionally, lasers should not be used on skin that has recently received unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation, she says, which is another reason patients should protect their skin from the sun's UV rays and avoid indoor tanning.
To reduce the risk of complications and ensure the best possible outcome, Dr. Alster says, it's important for patients to carefully follow their doctor's instructions, both before and after the treatment. "It's vital to prepare appropriately and follow the prescribed postoperative instructions to a T," she says.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY EXPERT ADVICE
"Today's laser technology offers safe and effective treatment options for patients with an array of conditions, and many of these conditions can be treated in one office visit," Dr. Alster says. "In order to avoid complications, however, you should only receive laser procedures from a board-certified physician with the appropriate expertise. If you're considering a laser procedure, I recommend consulting a board-certified dermatologist."