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When it comes to skin conditions, teenagers usually are thought of as the people who suffer most from breakouts and an uneven complexion. But cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists see far more than young blotchy faces in their offices.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects more than 80 percent of Americans, and an estimated 14 million suffer from facial redness and swelling associated with rosacea.
Whether they’re in angst over aging marks or a facial breakout, patients of all ages are finding that traditional treatments such as antibiotics or chemical peels are no longer the only methods for fighting back.
Enter the latest weapon: minimally and noninvasive lasers. Through therapies that utilize lasers, light treatments or a combination thereof, patients are seeing immediate results and a dramatic transformation over a series of treatments.
One new FDA-approved device is the Fraxel, a laser that zaps wrinkles, lines, spots and acne, but, to the delight of patients, does so on the sly.
Joshua L. Fox, M.D., an AAD spokesperson and the founding director of Advanced Dermatology in New York , says that the minimally invasive Fraxel is one of the most versatile lasers currently available.
“It punctures tiny holes in the skin that you can’t see, and about one to two weeks later, the pores fall out, but you can’t see them so no one knows you had anything done.” says Fox. Occasionally a patient may get a scab, but if the procedure is done less aggressively, you won’t have those problems.”
Similar to manipulating a digital photograph, pixel by pixel, the Fraxel improves aging and sun-damaged skin by altering fractions of the target tissue. The tiny “wounds’ are surrounded by healthy tissue that promotes rapid healing of the outer skin layers, and at the same time, the Fraxel deeply penetrates damaged skin to promote regeneration at the collagen level.
“The Fraxel is similar to the CO2 in that it’s stimulating collagen. .”
“This is where we see the real benefits of the Fraxel laser treatment, in that it aids in the natural regrowth of healthier, younger-looking skin cells”, says Fox.
The Fraxel targets wrinkles, lines and brown spots, but Fox also has seen an improvement in the reduction of acne and rosacea.
“The Fraxel didn’t claim to help this, but I’ve seen quite a few cases where it has,” he says. “Some patients had wrinkles but their acne disappeared as well.
Patients being treated with the Fraxel laser require three to five visits about five to seven days apart.
What ‘s still undetermined is how long the results from the Fraxel will last”, says Fox. But he compares the effects of the procedure to that of the ablative CO2 laser, which unlike the Fraxel, requires significant healing time.
“With CO2, studies have shown that five years later about 70 percent of the improvement is still there,” says Fox.
“The Fraxel is similar to the CO2 in that it’s stimulating collagen. This makes me think it will be a long-term improvement.”
“Many people don’t like the CO2 because they may have to take two weeks off from work,” says Fox. “The Fraxel is more appealing to men as well as women since they can’t cover up with makeup. Their face might be a little red, comparable to a mild sunburn.”
Another laser that’s taking on facial woes is the Smoothbeam. This nonablative laser treats acne breakouts as well as scarring.
The Smoothbeam encourages the production of collagen beneath the skin in order to plump up the surface and smooth out scars. The laser also shrinks the follicles of the sebaceous glands, reducing the amount of oil they can secrete. This results in less breakouts.
“The Smoothbeam seems to inhibit sebaceous gland production for eight to ten months after three treatments.” says Fox. “This is also an excellent therapy for acne scarring with no downtime yet it produces the same results as an ablative laser and at a lesser cost.”
The Smoothbeam also treats mild wrinkles by stimulating collagen.
“Treatments are four to six weeks apart, so it’s not as immediate as an ablative procedure.” notes Fox.
Through its patented LASR (laser-assisted skin renewal) process, the Smoothbeam targets the deepest layers of skin without affecting the surface. Smoothbeam’s technology cools the upper layers of the skin prior to the laser application, preventing any burning, cutting or peeling at the surface. Commonly reported aftereffects ranged from slight redness and tenderness to brief pigment changes.
Patients who have multiple skin problems can combine therapies to achieve the desired results.
“There are a lot of routes you can take and there are more nonablative techniques out there all the time,” says Fox. “People just need to make sure they go to a physician who has a lot of lasers and actually owns them, so they’ve had lots of exposure to the devices.”