When you think of lasers, you might imagine military weaponry, complicated surgical procedures, or even a futuristic sci-fi movie. Did you know that lasers are also being used to repair skin problems and remove unwanted hair?
Once scientists explored the power of lasers, they found countless ways to harness that energy and use it for other purposes, including cosmetic ones. Yes, the same technology used for powerful weaponry, to mend internal organs and for satellites in space is now being applied directly to your skin.
Don’t be frightened by this concept. Quite simply, a laser is a focused, intense beam of light that transmits energy that, in turn, converts to heat. Lasers use different wavelengths tailored to the specific function. For dermatological applications, the beam is decidedly smaller and less potent than those used in larger operations.
This laser method is called intense pulsed light (IPL) and it targets the melanin in your skin. Melanin is the substance that provides pigment to skin and hair. The laser’s light permeates the top layer (epidermis) of your skin, which is 80 percent water. It strikes the melanin in the second layer (dermis). The melanin absorbs the light, which turns to heat. This heat destroys the melanin and the hair follicle.
For skin repair, IPL is being used to effectively treat a wide range of problems, including age spots, acne scars, fine lines, sun damage, large pores, rosacea, and redness from broken capillaries. You can even use IPL to fade an unwanted tattoo if you’re suffering from “buyer’s remorse”. Once the pigment is destroyed by the light’s energy, your immune system disposes of the tiny particles.
IPL also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin in the dermis. These two essential proteins provide structure and firmness in your skin, which helps to even out the texture and fill in indented areas like acne scars. As you age, your skin cells manufacture less and less collagen and elastin, so the boost from the laser is just as beneficial here as it is to repairing the desired skin spots and flaws.
IPL works much the same on hair follicles as it does on your skin. There is melanin in the hair follicles, which provides the pigment to the hair. The laser pulses through the top layer of skin, zeroing in on the melanin in the follicles. The laser’s light heats up the melanin. This heat destroys the surrounding hair shaft and follicle. Once the follicle is deadened, it no longer produces hair.
There are other methods for treating unwanted hair and unsightly skin conditions, but IPL offers distinct advantages:
Quickness: Treatments can take less than a minute, depending on the area. You can remove 20 spots from the back of your hand or get rid of the hair on your upper lip in about 10 to 20 seconds. The larger the area, the longer, the treatment, but you’ll find that it’s still faster than most other methods;
Safety: There is no danger with IPL. The treatment from this type of laser is completely safe. Plus, side effects are rare; and
No downtime: You can return to your daily activities immediately. IPL requires no anesthesia, bandages, or recovery period. You might experience some redness in the treated area but it will fade away within a matter of hours. You can also apply makeup immediately after the treatment to cover this slight discoloration.
Before your IPL procedure, you’ll need to prepare your skin in order to get the best results. Because these lasers attack the melanin in your skin, you need to refrain from any activity that will alter your skin color; that means no tanning — whether in the sunlight, tanning bed, spray tan, or bronzing lotion — for two weeks prior to your appointment.
If you’re undergoing IPL for hair removal, you must stop tweezing, waxing, or plucking the unwanted hair for two weeks in advance so that the hairs and melanin are intact. You can shave, trim, or use a depilatory on those areas to keep the hair under control.
When you go for your treatment, the doctor will apply a cooling gel on the area. The IPL device will then be swiped across the skin, emitting pulses of light. The sensation of each pulse has been compared to a light snap from a rubber band. If the feeling bothers you, your doctor can use a topical anesthetic cream to dull the skin. Once the treatment is completed, the gel is removed and you’re ready to go!
IPL can be found in a variety of names. You’ll see FotoFacial, Smoothbeam, Vbeam, Photo Rejuvenation, and many others. Ask the practitioner about the technology to be sure that it is using intense pulsed light. Also talk about the number of treatments needed to get your desired results. You can expect to undergo anywhere from three to eight procedures, spaced about three or four weeks apart. In the end, you’ll be rewarded with more youthful, healthy, hairless skin!