Explaining Laser Technology in Plastic Surgery
By Dr. Kenneth Rothaus
There is so much marketing and so much written about lasers and plastic surgery, yet a majority of patients that I see in consultation for a cosmetic laser treatment usually admit that they really don’t understand how a laser works.
First of all, the word laser is really an acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Sounds like something the military would come up with….which they did!
All you really need to know is that a laser emits a form of light energy that is different in three ways from the light from, for example, a light bulb:
- Laser light is a single wavelength of light (monochromatic). The surgeon will pick a wavelength that is absorbed by its “target” (e.g., the melanin in the brown spot on your hand or the water in that wrinkle on your face).
- All the light waves are perfectly parallel (collimated). This means if you shine a laser light on your kitchen wall or on the surface of the moon the diameter of the beam stays the same.
- The wave form of the light waves are also perfectly in sync (coherent). The waves reach their peak at the same time and their trough at the same time.
These last two characteristics of laser light are what give laser light its power and its precision, but also its potential, if used improperly, to harm. Thus, ideally, the surgeon chooses a laser of a suitable wavelength to accurately target the tissue to be treated. The collimated and coherent laser light beam enables the doctor to focus the laser light on the tissue to be treated without damaging the surrounding tissue. The tissue absorbs the laser light and the light energy is converted to heat (much like the sun heats up your car seats in the summer, but much, much faster). The heat will then alter the target tissue so that the brown spot, spider vein, wrinkle, etc. will eventually improve in appearance.
Cosmetic lasers are being promoted to, and can – in most situations – improve the appearance of wrinkles and scars, lighten unsightly brown spots and spider veins, remove unwanted hair, eliminate cellulite, melt fat, and even tighten the skin. The key to getting the best result is choosing a surgeon who is both well-trained and experienced in the use of the laser in question. Before you consent to a procedure, ask your doctor some of the following questions:
- Why this laser?
- What are the alternatives (both laser and non-laser)?
- What are the results?
- How will I look afterwards?
- Will I need more than one treatment?
- Is there any sort of aftercare required?
- What are the complications?
- How many treatments have you performed with it?
- Are you a member of the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery?
In future Rothaus Reports here, I hope to get more specific about the various uses of lasers for topics such as skin resurfacing, liposuction, etc. For additional information, you can go also go to www.RothausMD.com
Please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org ) with any suggestions for future topics or questions about topics covered in the Rothaus Report. I will try to answer as many inquiries as reasonably possible. PLEASE remember that the information covered in here should not be taken as medical advice or suggestions for treatment that should be given to you as an individual. It is not meant to be a substitute for a consultation with a trained physician or surgeon.