If you’re noticing unwanted changes in your skin, whether from too much time sun bathing or age — or if you have a tattoo you regret — laser skin treatments may help.
Lasers can target many problems, including spider veins, age spots, unwanted hair, fine lines and wrinkles, or acne scars. These treatments help by removing or minimizing irregularities in your skin.
There are many different types of lasers, but the technique is the same: A dermatologist uses the laser to direct short, concentrated, pulsating beams of light at a specific target in the skin. The heat and light do the work to improve irregularities in your skin.
Here are various skin conditions dermatologists typically can remove or improve with laser treatments.
Spider veins typically become more noticeable over time. These tiny blood vessels close to the surface of the skin are the No. 1 reason for laser treatment requests, says cosmetic dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD. “The most common cause of spider veins is cumulative sun exposure,” she says. “Most patients are 40 years old and up.”
A laser can specifically target these tiny vessels, heat them up and cause them to collapse. Typically, three sessions will improve your skin’s appearance by about 50 percent. You’ll probably also need periodic touch-ups.
Spider veins generally affect the face, neck and chest. You also may see them on your legs, usually surrounding varicose veins. After varicose vein treatment, a dermatologist can use a laser to touch up the surrounding spider veins, Dr. Khetarpal says.
Brown age spots
These flat, brown spots on the skin, also known as “sun spots,” can occur in all skin types. They usually show up as you age. You may notice them on your neck, face, chest and hands—any area that has been exposed to the sun. “Laser treatment is extremely effective in treating age spots,” Dr. Khetarpal says. “Ninety percent of patients have two sessions and are very happy with the results.”
Whether you have unwanted hair on your lip, abdomen or elsewhere, laser treatments can permanently remove it. The beam targets hair follicles. The heat and light from the laser damage the follicles and stop hair growth.
“On average, four to six sessions can result in up to 100 percent reduction,” Dr. Khetarpal says.
The thicker the hair, the better it responds to laser treatments. You’ll also see better results if you have light skin and dark hair.
“Newer scars do better with laser treatment than older ones,” Dr. Khetarpal says.
Lasers can target blood vessels and help lighten flat or raised scars that are pink or purple. Lasers also help flatten raised scars. A newer non-ablative laser can even help smooth indented scars, she says.
Depending on the severity and type of scar, you’ll typically need four to six laser sessions.
Removing a tattoo can take six sessions or more, depending on the age, size and type of tattoo (amateur or professional), Dr. Khetarpal says. Darker colors, (black and blue) are easier to remove than yellow, orange and pink. Smaller tattoos require fewer pulses; larger ones require more.
Possible side effects
All types of laser treatments may cause temporary side effects such as redness, discoloration, swelling and mild discomfort.
Your dermatologist can tell you what to expect and how long healing should take. He or she may first test an inconspicuous spot to assess how your skin will respond.
Whatever problem you want to treat, make sure you select a doctor who has experience with the type of laser treatment you need, Dr. Khetarpal says. It is important to make sure they are board certified and have knowledge about the laser and condition that is being treated.