If you keep up with the news — or, er, the Kardashians — you've probably heard the concept of lasers. As one of the most requested forms of dermatological treatments to fight problem areas and aging, a plethora of options and promises make it tricky to weed through. Many first-timers aren't sure if they're old enough, if lasers are the right solution or if they can afford the often expensive price tag. But as the supply-and-demand process goes, with an uptick in curiosity, more practices are finding ways to make laser therapy accessible. Before you opt in to this procedure though, it's essential you understand what you're prepping your skin to experience and to set realistic expectations of what lasers can achieve. From the technical to the practical side, consider this your beginner guide to lasers.
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What are lasers?
At its purest, least complicated state, "laser" is defined by light amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Since you probably didn't go to med school like board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, here's what that means: a very narrow and intense beam of monochromatic light excites your atoms and molecules. In practice, this means laying in your doc's office as they use a device over scarring or fine lines and wrinkles on your face, using light to alleviate the symptom. If you've thought about laser hair removal, the process is the same, except the laser will target your hair follicles.
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What do lasers do for our skin?
You probably didn't realize energy-based technology could do more than light your home or power your car but actually improve your skin, too. Dermatologist Dr. Quenby Erickson says lasers are used to treat several concerns on our body and face, which is why they're so commonly used and recommended. From reversing the signs of aging, regenerating our skin to look smoother and other benefits, various lasers fulfill different needs. There are many types of lasers (more on that later), but Erickson says they fall into two categories: non-ablative, which gently and effectively improves minor issues with little downtime, and ablative lasers, which do the opposite. The more intense regimen is meant for serious ailments and does require rest for up to a week.
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Why might you consider lasers?
There's no age minimum to begin a laser treatment, but dermatologist and co-founder of the Precision Skin Institute Lesley Clark-Loeser, MD, recommends talking to a trusted professional before starting the process. Because lasers can morph and transform our pores, the choice shouldn't be taken lightly. "An individual may consider lasers for improvement in a particular skin condition. Our current armamentarium of lasers allows us to treat an extremely broad spectrum of both medical and aesthetic skin conditions," she says. What do they include? Everything from acne, rosacea and skin cancer to unwanted hair growth, scarring, uneven pigmentation, wrinkle reduction and much more, Clark-Loeser says.
When you speak with your dermatologist, they'll decide which type of laser to use for your specific skin woes. This is why you don't have to be a certain age to begin since many uses for lasers are as appropriate when you're 25 as when you're 65. "It really depends on the problem that is being treated. For scars, poor texture and uneven skin tone, patients can be treated in the teenage years. For fine lines and wrinkles, you can start in your 20s, 30s or 40s," says dermatologist Dr. Kristina Goldenberg.
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What's a good laser to start with?
There's no one-laser-fits-all solution for everyone, but if you don't have anything specific you're stressed about, Erickson suggests talking to your derm about a prejuvention treatment like a BBL, or Broad Band Light, in your late 20s to early 30s. "Starting these treatments early on will ensure less wrinkles and aging later in life if maintained properly," she explains. If you're already up to 40 candles on your birthday cake and only now considering this procedure? Don't sweat it since Erickson says lasers are also fantastic for correcting skin conditions that were caused by previous sun damage and aging and are very effective for people in their 40s and on.