Laser treatments have been around for decades and remain one of the most recognised and commonly used aesthetic procedures among consumers to treat pigmentation. Naturally, as technology advances and new innovations are developed, there are increasingly more laser offerings in the market.
For those who are not familiar with these laser treatments, lasers are categorised as either ablative or non-ablative. Ablative lasers remove the thin outer layer of the skin and heat the underlying skin to stimulate collagen production. This is also known as laser skin resurfacing, which is commonly used to treat issues such as deep scarring and pores.
Non-ablative lasers are those that are used to brighten the skin, treat pigmentation irregularities, and improve skin texture without removing layers of the skin. These lasers are comparatively less invasive.
With so many options available and certain brand names being marketed heavily, consumers are left in the dust when it comes to understanding the differences and what they should go for.
In this article, we will discuss some of the essential things you should take note of when it comes to non-ablative laser treatments.
There is no one-size-fits-all laser for pigmentation concerns. The most suitable laser for your specific needs depends on the type of pigmentation you have. We get many enquiries about the Pico laser because it is one of the newer and more heavily advertised lasers in the market. This, however, does not mean that it is the best. Different lasers are used to target different layers of the skin and types of pigmentation.
You should consult an experienced doctor who can assess the type of pigmentation you have and recommend the right laser for you.
There are a variety of lasers because they target different pigmentation conditions and skin types. For pigmentation in the superficial layers of the skin, shorter wavelength lasers like the yellow and ruby lasers are ideal. They effectively target epidermal pigment conditions such as freckles, sunspots, age spots, and even certain forms of epidermal melasma.
Deeper dermal pigmentation conditions like dermal melasma, acne marks, horis nevus, and most birthmarks require longer wavelength lasers. These include the Pico and Q-switched laser.
Each of these lasers operates at a different wavelength. The Pico laser is a dual-wavelength laser with both short and long wavelengths. However, the shorter wavelength is not commonly used on Asian skin types due to the increased risk of side effects.
There is a reason why we have both the Pico laser and the Q-switched laser, which share the same wavelength. Even at the same wavelength, these lasers possess distinct functions due to the difference in pulse duration. Pulse duration refers to the duration for which the laser beam’s energy remains on the skin before the next pulse is emitted.
In short, lasers each have different functions based on various technical aspects. It is essential that your doctor chooses the right laser for your pigmentation as everyone’s skin is different.
Lasers are commonly known for their ability to brighten and even out your skin tone by reducing excess pigmentation. This happens when pigments in the skin absorb the laser energy, causing them to shatter into smaller fragments to be cleared away by the skin’s immune system.
Apart from pigmentation removal, certain lasers offer additional benefits such as reducing acne bacteria, exfoliating the skin, reducing inflammation, rejuvenating the skin, reducing redness, and refining skin texture. Consult with your doctor to determine which laser suits your needs.
Non-ablative lasers, like the ones mentioned, do not thin the skin. They work by shattering pigments beneath the skin, similar to tattoo removal.
Not all lasers are suitable for sensitive skin. The Q-switched laser is one of them because it may cause dryness, and likewise for the Pico laser. The yellow laser, on the other hand, is non-drying and can help to reduce redness and can be used to reduce inflammation in sensitive skin.
Most non-ablative laser treatments are not considered painful and we apply a thin layer of numbing cream before the procedure. In fact, lasers like the yellow laser or Q-switched laser can often be tolerated without numbing cream.
However, the downtime varies depending on the laser and the specific skin condition being treated. Shorter wavelength lasers may cause temporary scabbing and redness which may last for four to five days or sometimes up to a week.
Longer wavelength lasers focus their energy in deeper layers of the skin without affecting the upper layers, resulting in less visible downtime. However, the downtime of each laser can be adjusted according to individual settings and this can be discussed with your doctor before treatment.
Pigmentation removal typically requires several sessions, although the number of sessions required for visible results depends on the condition being treated. Superficial pigmentation like freckles may require only one to three sessions for effective treatment, while conditions like melasma may require multiple sessions and may not always achieve complete removal due to the nature of the condition.
The overall condition of the skin also plays a role, as younger and healthier skin tends to respond better and heal faster than older or weaker skin.
Hyperpigmentation is the main potential side effect of laser treatments. This occurs when the pigmentation being treated darkens, either temporarily or permanently. Choosing the right laser and appropriate energy settings minimises this risk, although some people are just more prone to it.
Mild side effects like dryness, itchiness, and redness may also occur but are temporary. Treatment aftercare is also very important, which brings us to the next point.
After laser treatments, avoid prolonged exposure to strong sunlight for one to four weeks, depending on the laser used. Apply sunscreen diligently, and use a recovery cream as recommended for more intense treatments.
In general, lasers are usually considered safe for pregnancy, especially in the first and second trimesters. Laser treatments are localised and target only the skin without affecting the body and foetus. However, we would always advise patients to consult their gynaecologist first before undergoing any laser procedures.
Brighter lasers, such as the ruby laser or yellow laser, are best avoided during late pregnancy as bright lights have a low probability of inducing contractions.
For the treatment of acne, hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy can affect the results of the laser as it may sometimes affect the frequency of acne breakouts. It is recommended to observe how your skin behaves and discuss with your doctor if laser treatments during your pregnancy would be effective.
When used correctly and in the hands of an experienced practitioner, lasers are safe and effective tools to address not only pigmentation concerns but also to improve the quality of your skin. It is a versatile treatment that can benefit a majority of people.
At Mizu, our doctors carefully analyse each patient’s skin through their skin analysis results on the Visia machine and a physical examination to understand their skin type and concerns, before determining the right laser(s) to use and the recommended treatment protocol.
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