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What's New in Laser Technology

By: Deborah Sarnoff, MD
Posted: June 26, 2008, from the July 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

This past year has been an exciting one in the world of laser technology. New improvements are being introduced to the market faster than the speed of light. Here are a few highlights from this past year.

Laser hair reduction

Laser hair removal has improved dramatically throughout the past few years. Major breakthroughs include the development of chilling devices to cool the overlying epidermis, as well as longer pulse durations to allow the beam of light to penetrate more deeply into hair follicles without harming the skin. One of the newest developments is a system that combines both an alexandrite 755 nm wavelength with a Nd:YAG 1064 nm wavelength. The alexandrite wavelength is ideal for light-skinned, dark-haired patients, and the Nd:YAG is considered the gold standard when treating patients with darker skin. This type of equipment covers the gamut of skin types. Research is ongoing to develop light-based technology for light-colored hair.

One of the biggest breakthroughs this year has been U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of several home hair removal systems. One such device uses intense pulsed light (IPL) to selectively target unwanted hair. The machine is available by prescription only under the direction of a physician. This type of device complements professional spa treatments, resulting in increased overall client satisfaction.

Laser lipolysis

Saddle bags, tummy bulges, love handles, an aging neck—these areas of unwanted fat can be removed with a new Nd:YAG laser with a 1064 nm wavelength. Imagine a fiber optic wire, thinner than a strand of capellini, with a tiny laser beam at the tip. Now imagine introducing this magic beam of light into those target areas in order to gently melt away the fat. That’s precisely what this laser can do. It’s a world apart from traditional liposuction. The amazing bonus is that the gentle effect of the laser beam on the overlying skin can break the bands that cause dimpling, increase collagen production during the healing period and improve skin tightening after the fat is removed. This capacity to produce skin retraction is very important in the treatment of patients with skin laxity in the submental region (double chin), abdominal region, arms and thighs, as well as cellulite.

Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating under the arms, is another condition ideal for this type of laser. The heat from the laser produces a collapse of the sweat glands, resulting in significantly less sweating. This year, several companies have released fat-melting lasers utilizing energy from a 1320 nm wavelength. This energy is absorbed by fat two to three times more readily than from the 1064 nm wavelength, but the jury is still out on whether it will be more effective. Another fat-melting laser system that combines the two beams of light—1320 nm and 1064 nm—in a sequential delivery system for maximal efficacy has recently been introduced, as well.

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