Years of exposure to the sun can contribute to unwanted skin conditions, including uneven skin tone, brown spots and premature aging. Sun damage is not reversible, but cosmetic laser treatments can help enhance the skin’s appearance and texture.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with E. Victor Ross, MD, a dermatologist at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley and director of the Scripps Clinic Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology Center.
Laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
“That’s a mouthful, but what it really means is we have a very sophisticated way to control light. We can make light very bright, we can use different colors of light to do our bidding,” says Dr. Ross. “Different types of lasers are used for different types of conditions. We have about 40 lasers here and can treat most cosmetic issues.”
In addition to treating skin conditions caused by sun damage, dermatologists use lasers to:
- Minimize scars
- Resurface rough skin
- Remove blood vessels that cause spider veins
- Remove noncancerous raised red growths called cherry angiomas
Depending on the type of condition, cosmetic laser treatments typically take between five and 20 minutes. One small spot may require just a minute or two under the laser, while an entire facial rejuvenation treatment may take 45 minutes. Most patients feel little to no discomfort during treatment; the most common sensation is feeling like your skin is being snapped with a rubber band.
Some conditions can be treated in a single session, while others require multiple visits. For example, a single brown spot may require just one session, A patient being treated for a surgical scar may need four or five treatments spaced several months apart.
Side effects of cosmetic laser treatments are usually minimal. Patients may have some swelling, redness or peeling after facial treatments. Brown spots on the hands may darken at first, form a tiny scab and then peel off.
Recovery time varies according to the specific procedure. The amount of downtime after cosmetic laser treatment depends on the type of laser, the type of procedure, and the size of the area being treated. For example, treatment for a small cherry angioma on the abdomen has no downtime. The lesion disappears immediately and leaves no open wound, so patients can return to work, exercise and outdoor activities right away.
“On the other hand, if we were to treat a whole face and peel the face, that could be seven or 10 days of downtime,” says Dr. Ross. “We try to do the best we can to keep the downtime low and the results high, but some procedures necessarily have downtime to get the results that we desire.”
In some cases, dermatologists will combine cosmetic laser treatments with other treatments to complement the laser and get the best results. For example, when treating wrinkles around the eyes, Dr. Ross may use both laser therapy and Botox injections. Treatments to tighten the skin on the neck may combine lasers and radiofrequency, which inserts little needles into the skin with heat to support tightening.
The goal of cosmetic laser treatments is to improve the skin’s appearance and slow down the aging process, says Dr. Ross. While dermatologists aim to make the results last as long as possible, ongoing maintenance is needed — especially in San Diego where sun is a big part of our lives.
“If you get less sun, you won't have to see us as much, but it’s a tough battle,” he says. “You don’t have to do it as often as mowing the grass every two weeks or getting a haircut, but you do have to come back every so often.”