BEAUTY: Laser procedures put spiders on run.

BEAUTY: Laser procedures put spiders on run.

New laser technologies make it possible to thumb your nose at Mother Nature and Father Time. Dermatologists use the intense light beams to zap the effects of genetics, gravity and aging from the skin. Fate no longer dictates who has birthmarks, stretch marks, spider veins, wrinkles, sunspots, acne scars or unwanted hair. Once irrevocable, such ‘character marks’ are now regularly blasted into obscurity.

Used by dermatologists for medical procedures as well as cosmetic improvements, modern lasers offer advantages over traditional surgery. First of all, no knife is involved. Second, laser procedures usually are performed on an outpatient basis and require little to no recovery time. And they’re often less painful and sometimes less costly than traditional surgical procedures. Lasers have come a long way in the past 40 years. The first medical use of a laser – a CO2 laser – was for cutting, says Lian-jie Li, M.D., director of dermatological surgery at University Hospitals of Cleveland. ‘The C02 laser is just heat. Think of it as a hot knife. You focus the heat so you can do the cutting.”

New developments go far beyond cutting. Today dermatologists wield lasers that break up tattoos and sunspots, stimulate new collagen to minimize scars, and suppress glands that cause acne. Physicians guide lasers that obliterate or seal spider veins and eliminate warts and skin discolorations.

Another recent application is high-powered hair removal. Developed in 1996, “hair-removal lasers are noninvasive, virtually painless, and you see immediate effects,” says Paul Weiner, chief financial officer for Massachusetts-based Palomar Medical Technologies. Palomar researches and develops light- and laser-based systems for hair removal and other cosmetic treatments. Until development of the hair-removal laser, most folks had to rely on electrolysis. ‘With electrolysis it would take six months of weekly treatments. They’d do a couple of hairs each time and it would be painful,’ says Weiner. “Now it takes about five seconds for the whole upper lip with the laser, and the pain level is lower.’

Because large areas can be done quickly, new hair-removal treatments are surfacing. For example, some men undergo the treatment to remove back hair.

Of course, hair-removal treatments still require doctor visits every two to four weeks for a while. And “permanent hair removal” doesn’t necessarily mean hairless legs, bikini lines or backs. Some fine, noncolored hairs may continue to grow.

Weiner uses hair removal to explain how rapidly new technology continues to develop and become more accessible. The first hair-removal laser created by Palomar in the mid-1990s weighed 700 pounds, used 220-volt electricity, and had a list price of $150,000. At a manageable 30 pounds, today’s version plugs into a regular 120-volt wall outlet and costs about $40,000. That makes it easy for a doctor to carry it from exam room to exam room or transfer it to different offices. Because of these changes, over a mere six years laser hair removal became a $2.2 billion enterprise. And the marketplace will continue to change as new medical tools receive the FDA go-ahead. Palomar currently is working with razor-giant Gillette to develop a hair-removal product for home use.

Other new treatments also continue to race forward. “Laser procedures have changed significantly in the past three or four years,” says Paul J. Carniol, M.D., a New Jersey physician who also serves as vice president of research and development for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS).

“Back in 1995 when we did things for skin fines and wrinkles, you’d have pinkness afterward says Dr. Carniol. ‘You lost seven to 10 days of your life to pain, redness and downtime. Now we have lasers that don’t do quite as much as fast, but they result in no downtime.” While older lasers worked by damaging the skin’s top layer, thus causing new skin to develop, newer lasers stimulate collagen growth below the skin, Dr. Carniol explains. The increased collagen helps smooth wrinkles for a younger look. Of course, collagen takes a while to grow so results may take 10 months, he warns.

Even newer treatments are poised to come into the market says Joshua Fox, M.D., spokesperson for the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery and American Academy of Dermatology. Fox is director of the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery on New York’s Long Island. ‘We have a new laser for psoriasis,” says Dr. Fox. And a forthcoming radiofrequency treatment will tighten skin without a traditional facelift.

Given the pace of change you need to consult a medical expert, advises Marlene Willen, M.D., interim chair of the department of dermatology at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She notes that many spas that advertise laser treatments are likely to have less powerful light devices, not necessarily lasers unless they are working with a staff doctor. Even then, she urges patients to make sure the doctor has experience and training. “Spas offer light treatments,” Dr. Wiflen explains. “They have different filters to simulate lasers, but not true medical lasers.” She describes most spa treatments as being “intense pulse-light therapy.”

Fox echoes Willen’s concerns and gives a practical reason for seeking a specialist. “You want to go somewhere where they have multiple lasers and a lot of experience,” says Dr. Fox. “You have to have the right laser for the right problem. I have one laser for a white scar, and another for a pink scar. I have four lasers for permanent hair removal: one for black skin, one for tan-colored skin, and so forth.”

When it comes to results, the experts are cautious about making promises of perfection. Depending on the person and the treatment, improvements may vary from 10 percent to 90 percent or more. For instance, Dr. Li offers this caution regarding laser hair removal: “In my opinion it’s not permanent, though it’s marketed that way. You’ll still get fine, noncolored hair.” But most patients find the virtually invisible hair regrowth to be acceptable.

To learn more about these nonsurgical treatments, watch bookstores this summer for ‘Non-Surgical Facelift Book – A Guide to Facial Rejuvenation Procedures” (July 2003, 164 pages, $14.95, Addicus Books). Written by Cincinnati cosmetic surgeon Jon Mendelsohn, it covers laser and other nonsurgical procedures.

No doubt the popularity of such procedures and the remarkable results they bring, are sure to increase as America’s aging population continues to discover the restorative power of laser technology. It may not be the fountain of youth, but it’s the next best thing to it.
New laser technologies make it possible to thumb your nose at Mother Nature and Father Time. Dermatologists use the intense light beams to zap the effects of genetics, gravity and aging from the skin. Fate no longer dictates who has birthmarks, stretch marks, spider veins, wrinkles, sunspots, acne scars or unwanted hair. Once irrevocable, such ‘character marks’ are now regularly blasted into obscurity.

Used by dermatologists for medical procedures as well as cosmetic improvements, modern lasers offer advantages over traditional surgery. First of all, no knife is involved. Second, laser procedures usually are performed on an outpatient basis and require little to no recovery time. And they’re often less painful and sometimes less costly than traditional surgical procedures. Lasers have come a long way in the past 40 years. The first medical use of a laser – a CO2 laser – was for cutting, says Lian-jie Li, M.D., director of dermatological surgery at University Hospitals of Cleveland. ‘The C02 laser is just heat. Think of it as a hot knife. You focus the heat so you can do the cutting.”

New developments go far beyond cutting. Today dermatologists wield lasers that break up tattoos and sunspots, stimulate new collagen to minimize scars, and suppress glands that cause acne. Physicians guide lasers that obliterate or seal spider veins and eliminate warts and skin discolorations.

Another recent application is high-powered hair removal. Developed in 1996, “hair-removal lasers are noninvasive, virtually painless, and you see immediate effects,” says Paul Weiner, chief financial officer for Massachusetts-based Palomar Medical Technologies. Palomar researches and develops light- and laser-based systems for hair removal and other cosmetic treatments. Until development of the hair-removal laser, most folks had to rely on electrolysis. ‘With electrolysis it would take six months of weekly treatments. They’d do a couple of hairs each time and it would be painful,’ says Weiner. “Now it takes about five seconds for the whole upper lip with the laser, and the pain level is lower.’

Because large areas can be done quickly, new hair-removal treatments are surfacing. For example, some men undergo the treatment to remove back hair.

Of course, hair-removal treatments still require doctor visits every two to four weeks for a while. And “permanent hair removal” doesn’t necessarily mean hairless legs, bikini lines or backs. Some fine, noncolored hairs may continue to grow.

Weiner uses hair removal to explain how rapidly new technology continues to develop and become more accessible. The first hair-removal laser created by Palomar in the mid-1990s weighed 700 pounds, used 220-volt electricity, and had a list price of $150,000. At a manageable 30 pounds, today’s version plugs into a regular 120-volt wall outlet and costs about $40,000. That makes it easy for a doctor to carry it from exam room to exam room or transfer it to different offices. Because of these changes, over a mere six years laser hair removal became a $2.2 billion enterprise. And the marketplace will continue to change as new medical tools receive the FDA go-ahead. Palomar currently is working with razor-giant Gillette to develop a hair-removal product for home use.

Other new treatments also continue to race forward. “Laser procedures have changed significantly in the past three or four years,” says Paul J. Carniol, M.D., a New Jersey physician who also serves as vice president of research and development for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS).

“Back in 1995 when we did things for skin fines and wrinkles, you’d have pinkness afterward says Dr. Carniol. ‘You lost seven to 10 days of your life to pain, redness and downtime. Now we have lasers that don’t do quite as much as fast, but they result in no downtime.” While older lasers worked by damaging the skin’s top layer, thus causing new skin to develop, newer lasers stimulate collagen growth below the skin, Dr. Carniol explains. The increased collagen helps smooth wrinkles for a younger look. Of course, collagen takes a while to grow so results may take 10 months, he warns.

Even newer treatments are poised to come into the market says Joshua Fox, M.D., spokesperson for the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery and American Academy of Dermatology. Fox is director of the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery on New York’s Long Island. ‘We have a new laser for psoriasis,” says Dr. Fox. And a forthcoming radiofrequency treatment will tighten skin without a traditional facelift.

Given the pace of change you need to consult a medical expert, advises Marlene Willen, M.D., interim chair of the department of dermatology at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She notes that many spas that advertise laser treatments are likely to have less powerful light devices, not necessarily lasers unless they are working with a staff doctor. Even then, she urges patients to make sure the doctor has experience and training. “Spas offer light treatments,” Dr. Wiflen explains. “They have different filters to simulate lasers, but not true medical lasers.” She describes most spa treatments as being “intense pulse-light therapy.”

Fox echoes Willen’s concerns and gives a practical reason for seeking a specialist. “You want to go somewhere where they have multiple lasers and a lot of experience,” says Dr. Fox. “You have to have the right laser for the right problem. I have one laser for a white scar, and another for a pink scar. I have four lasers for permanent hair removal: one for black skin, one for tan-colored skin, and so forth.”

When it comes to results, the experts are cautious about making promises of perfection. Depending on the person and the treatment, improvements may vary from 10 percent to 90 percent or more. For instance, Dr. Li offers this caution regarding laser hair removal: “In my opinion it’s not permanent, though it’s marketed that way. You’ll still get fine, noncolored hair.” But most patients find the virtually invisible hair regrowth to be acceptable.

To learn more about these nonsurgical treatments, watch bookstores this summer for ‘Non-Surgical Facelift Book – A Guide to Facial Rejuvenation Procedures” (July 2003, 164 pages, $14.95, Addicus Books). Written by Cincinnati cosmetic surgeon Jon Mendelsohn, it covers laser and other nonsurgical procedures.

No doubt the popularity of such procedures and the remarkable results they bring, are sure to increase as America’s aging population continues to discover the restorative power of laser technology. It may not be the fountain of youth, but it’s the next best thing to it.

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