In the past decade, laser technology has revolutionized many areas of plastic surgery. The laser's allure comes from its ability to "blast" away or diminish imperfections or growths with a minimum of bleeding, bruising, and scarring.
Currently, there are many types of lasers available, with many more under development. Therefore, it's important to understand that not all lasers are alike.
If you're planning to have laser surgery, it's best to find a doctor who is well experienced with, and has access to, a variety of lasers.
The yellow pulsed-dye laser uses a type of dye as its active medium. It has a pulsing beam that is heavily absorbed by hemoglobin, which gives blood its red color. This laser is often used for performing surgery on children who have pinkish birthmarks called port-wine stains. The laser destroys the abnormal blood vessels, lightening the birthmark to the point of being barely noticeable. Scarring, which was a problem with earlier laser models, is minimal with the yellow pulsed-dye laser.
The "pigment-blasting" laser family-the Q-switch ruby, the Q-switch YAG, and the alexandrite is a new group of lasers effective in eliminating the black and blue pigments of tattoos, pigmented lesions and the brown patches and spots that often occur with aging. Though the removal of decorative tattoos is considered a cosmetic procedure, the removal of "traumatic tattoos" is a reconstructive process. Traumatic tattoos occur when material particles are forced under the skin through an accident-as in an explosion or a collision.
The carbon dioxide laser, sometimes called the "workhorse" of lasers, is an invisible light absorbed by water, the primary component of human skin. When the beam is focused, it can cut tissue and seal blood vessels simultaneously. When defocused, it vaporizes. These characteristics make it the treatment of choice for removing warts and many types of skin growths.
The YAG laser has been shown to be effective in the surgery of various types of hemangiomas, which are skin growths with heavy concentrations of blood vessels. It delivers highly-focused energy and-unlike other lasers-its tip can be placed directly on the skin, mimicking a scalpel.
The argon laser is similar to the yellow pulsed-dye laser. The argon laser emits a blue-green light that is absorbed heavily by the color red. It is particularly effective in treating abnormalities that have a proliferation of blood vessels, such as blood blisters, "spider" blood vessels on the face, "strawberry" birthmarks, hemangiomas, and bulky vascular tumors.
The copper vapor laser is a newer type of laser that emits a yellowish light. Its uses include treating brown or red pigmented areas.
The number of laser treatments you'll need depends largely upon the size and severity of the defect. A child with a large birthmark may need six to ten laser treatments to achieve satisfactory results. Only one treatment may be needed to remove some small spider veins on the face.
Lasers have a number of valuable uses, but a laser should not be viewed as a "magic wand" that improves the results of any type of surgery. For traditional kinds of surgery and most plastic surgery, the scalpel is still the proven instrument of choice.