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How Dermatologists Use Lasers and Other Light-Based Devices

Rocket projected onto the Washington Monument during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

As we celebrate the spectacular achievement of the moon landing 50 years ago, we can reflect on the technological advances that have had an impact on dermatology. In the half century since Dr. Leon Goldman pioneered the medical application of lasers, they have become integral to state-of-the- art dermatology practices. So how do dermatologists use lasers and other light-based devices?

Uses for Laser, Light and Energy-based Devices

Remove unwanted hair

Lasers remove unwanted hair from the face and body by targeting the pigment of the hair and damaging its follicle so that hair growth is slowed. In order for lasers to be effective, the hair must be treated while in its “active growth” phase. This is why multiple (usually six to eight) treatments, spaced four weeks apart on the face, and as much as eight weeks apart on the body, are needed to achieve good results. The same lasers are also effective for excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis. Note: Only specific lasers are appropriate for darker skin types, and those with tanned skin should avoid the treatment.

Do away with those age spots

Sun damage and aging can result in unwanted brown spots, called lentigines, on sun-exposed areas such as the face, chest and hands. Those spots can successfully be treated with Q-switched lasers and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) devices. Several treatments may be required to achieve optimal results.

Treat redness and broken blood vessels

Lasers are effective at treating skin redness from conditions such as rosacea as well as benign vascular growths such as angiomas and broken blood vessels that can occur from sun damage. The treatment works because lasers at certain wavelengths can target hemoglobin that is found in blood. Typically one to a few treatments may be needed for optimal results. It is important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen after the treatment.

Banish those breakouts

Lasers and light-based devices can successfully treat mild to moderate acne. While conventional methods to get rid of acne include topical and oral medications, such as antibiotics and retinoids, the use of photodynamic therapy can be effective in achieving long-lasting clear skin. Photodynamic therapy combines the use of a photosensitizing chemical that is absorbed both by the oil glands and the bacteria that produce acne – followed by a light source or laser to activate the chemical. This results in shrinkage of the oil glands and killing of the bacteria.

Refresh and rejuvenate

A newer generation of devices today allows for skin resurfacing that removes the top layer of skin to eliminate signs of aging and photodamage such as fine lines, wrinkles, crepiness and brown spots as well as reducing enlarged pores – all with minimal downtime.

Soften the look of scars

Lasers can improve the appearance of scars – whether they were caused by acne, trauma or surgery. Some devices – like the pulsed dye laser – can help reduce the redness associated with scars. Fractional resurfacing lasers can successfully improve a scar’s texture and tone. Depending on which device is used, there may be a period of downtime following the treatment and a need for several treatments.

Take care of that ‘turkey neck’

With age comes a loss in collagen, which can result in loose skin on the neck and under the chin – affectionately known as “turkey neck.” Fortunately, there are non-invasive technologies that utilize ultrasound and radiofrequency to stimulate collagen production – resulting in skin tightening and lifting. These treatments also can be used for wrinkles on the décolletage, that crepe-paper look on the upper chest.

Rethink the ink

Fortunately there are options for those 20 percent of people who experience tattoo regret. Q-switched lasers have been used for decades to heat up and destroy the tattoo ink particles, usually over multiple treatments. Newer technology using ultra-short bursts of energy can achieve the same results in fewer treatments.

If you think one of these treatments could be right for you, contact us to schedule a consultation. Located in Chevy Chase, MD, our dermatology office serves the greater Washington D.C. area.

Spring is the Best Time for Sclerotherapy: Spider Vein Treatment

Spring is in the air! As you clear out your closet of winter clothes and try on your new summer wardrobe, check to see if your legs are ready for short skirts and bathing suits. If you notice that you’ve got some red and blue veins that make you reluctant to show your legs, now is the time to do something about it. The good news is that if you treat your spider veins today, you’ll see terrific improvement by the Fourth of July.

When do Spider Veins Generally Occur?

Spider veins can occur at any age and result when the valves in the blood vessels become leaky and fail to prevent the blood from pooling in the feet and ankles. This is a result of a combination of factors including heredity, hormones, puberty, pregnancy, and weight. While women are most susceptible, a quarter of all leg vein sufferers are men.

Although a sun tan can temporarily camouflage these vessels, in the long run the sun will make leg veins more prominent and unsightly as it breaks down collagen. Minor spider veins can be the precursors to varicose veins, which tend to be thicker, lumpy and purple and may lead to swelling and uncomfortable achiness or heaviness in the legs.

How to Treat Spider Veins

Sclerotherapy is a safe and effective procedure used to reduce spider veins. It involves the injection, using a very fine needle, of a small amount of solution into the veins. The solution then irritates the lining of the vein, causing it to collapse. As these veins are a superfluous, “alternate route” for the blood, the body doesn’t miss these vessels and blood returns to the heart via the main thoroughfares.

Who can be treated for spider veins?

With a few exceptions, most healthy people are good candidates for sclerotherapy. If you are pregnant or have had a blood clot you shouldn’t be treated. If your veins are very tiny or too large you might not be treated.

Is Sclerotherapy Painful?

Most patients experience little or no discomfort during the procedure, which does not require any anesthesia. There might be a slight stinging as the solution is injected and the areas that were treated can become red, raised and itchy. You may also experience bruising which can last for several weeks.

How to Prepare for Sclerotherapy

Prior to sclerotherapy, you should discontinue over-the-counter supplements that cause bleeding, such as ginkgo, ginseng, and vitamin E as well as anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and aspirin. Bring heavy compression stockings with you as you will need to wear them after the procedure for at least 48 hours. You will also need to avoid hot baths, whirlpools or saunas, and direct sunlight exposure on the areas treated for at least 2 days.

Usually at least half of all veins injected will disappear with sclerotherapy in 3- 6 weeks. Depending on the number of veins, some people will need multiple treatments. In about 10% of all cases the veins don’t respond and another solution can be tried.

Because it can take a few weeks for the veins to disappear,  it’s a good idea to have sclerotherapy before the start of summer!

Contact us with questions or to schedule your appointment.

Call us at 301-652-8081.