Cosmetic Laser Treatments
is being used for an increasing number of cosmetic treatments. Examples
include hair reduction, skin resurfacing for wrinkle reduction and/or
treatment of acne scars, removal of pigmented blemishes (e.g., age
spots and moles), and treatment of vascular lesions (e.g., port wine
stains and spider veins). Lasers are also used to remove tattoos.
If you are considering
any of these procedures, it is important to look at the potential
risks as well as the potential benefits.
A number of medical
devices using related technologies have been licenced in Canada for
use in cosmetic treatments. These technologies include various types
of lasers, intense pulsed light and radio-frequency energy, all of
which operate on the same basic principle.
Lasers emit an
intense beam of light or energy (visible or invisible) with a specific
wavelength, which is targeted at a type of tissue in the part of the
body being treated. When the beam of energy reaches its target, it
is absorbed and converted into heat. If the procedure is done properly,
the heat inactivates or destroys cells in the target area without
having a significant effect on the other cells that surround it.
For hair reduction,
the laser system targets the melanin (or dark colouring) in the hair
follicle (or root). For wrinkle reduction and treatment of acne scars,
the device targets and damages cells near the surface of the skin.
The results are similar to the skin-tightening effect caused by traditional
skin resurfacing procedures, such as chemical peels and mechanical
abrasion. To treat vascular lesions, including spider veins, the light
from the laser is directed at the blood vessels. If the appropriate
wavelength is used, the vessel wall is injured and is subsequently
absorbed by the body. Treatments for surface blemishes and tattoos
are based on a similar principle.
of cosmetic laser procedures depends on many factors, including:
- choice of the
correct device for a given treatment
- the training
and skill of the person operating the device
- the wavelength
of the beam of energy that targets the tissue
- the power settings
used, the duration of each energy pulse, the amount of time between
pulses, the number of pulses per treatment, and the number of treatments
- the colour
of the skin and/or hair of the person being treated
also affect the type and severity of risks associated with the treatments.
Risks associated with Cosmetic Laser Treatments
Even when the
correct laser instrument is chosen for a given treatment, there is
a risk of temporary effects, including immediate pain, reddening of
the skin, bruising and swelling. Some lasers are equipped with cooling
devices to reduce this risk. Other possible side effects include the
formation of blisters, burns and infection. In some cases, there may
be lightening or darkening of the skin, but these complications are
If the wrong device
is used or if a procedure is not done properly, the desired results
may not be obtained and there is a risk of permanent scarring. There
is also a risk of eye damage if you do not wear proper eye protection
during laser treatments.
procedures can be expensive, and you may be disappointed with the
results if you are not a suitable candidate or do not have realistic
expectations. For example, laser hair reduction works best for people
with light skin and dark hair. It is not as effective on blond, red,
grey or white hair or for people with dark skin. Most people need
multiple sessions in order to achieve good results. Depending on the
operator and the laser system used, there may be some permanent hair
reduction (about 30%), but there are no guarantees that the procedure
will work for every person or on every part of a person's body.
Also, the degree
of effectiveness for many types of cosmetic laser treatments is subjective.
You may not be happy with results that someone else would consider
to be successful. In addition, some treatments, such as skin resurfacing,
require detailed follow-up care, including up to two weeks of recovery
Minimizing Your Risk
The best way to
minimize your risk is to make informed decisions based upon thorough
research. Find out whether you are a suitable candidate for the procedure
you have in mind. Look into the requirements for recovery time and
follow-up care. Investigate the risks, and weigh them against the
benefits expected for someone with your type of skin and/or hair.
If you decide
to go ahead, be sure that the person who will operate the laser device
has the training and experience needed to perform the procedure safely
and effectively. Ask the operator for references. Experts in cosmetics
with proper training in laser techniques should be able to perform
hair reduction treatments with minimal risks to the Canadian public.
Avoid tanning before and after treatments for laser hair reduction.
Tanning increases melanin production in your skin and can reduce the
effectiveness of the treatment.
For any other
type of laser treatment, Health Canada advises you to seek the services
of a licenced health care professional with specialized training in
laser procedures. This is particularly important if you are seeking
treatment for growths or pigmented areas on your skin.
Be sure to wear
eye protection, and ask about cooling the skin during laser treatments.
Also, make sure the laser device has been licenced by Health Canada
for the specific procedure you have in mind. The licenced uses, expected
benefits and potential risks of licenced laser devices are described
in either the Operator's Manual or the Training Manual supplied by
a commitment to participate fully in any follow-up care that may be