The different types of cosmetic laser surgery can be divided into ablative laser surgery and non-ablative laser surgery. Lasers are most often used in cosmetic surgery to address skin issues. Common cosmetic laser surgery procedures are skin resurfacing and skin-tightening procedures, tattoo removal, hair removal and treatment for acne and acne scars.
The word "laser," though commonly written as a regular lowercase word, is actually an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". Put simply, a laser is a single-wavelength, high-energy light source. Ablative lasers disintegrate the top layer of the skin, while less aggressive, non-ablative lasers penetrate deeper into the skin but do not remove or harm its top layers. Lasers are most commonly used in facial cosmetic surgery, because the laser is able to change the tissue without the need to make a cut. The cosmetic surgeon decides what type of laser to use based on the patient's skin and the extent of the problem to be addressed; for example, deep acne scars may be treated with an ablative laser, while more superficial scars may require only a non-ablative laser.
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Non-ablative lasers are used to improve the texture and condition of facial skin and to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, such as crow's feet around the eyes and smoker's lines around the mouth, by resurfacing and tightening, such as in a chemical peel. Blemishes can also be removed from the face. A similar procedure is used to remove port-wine stain birthmarks, by shrinking the abnormal blood vessels that cause the mark and subsequently lightening the appearance of the treated area. Skin growths, warts, facial tags and certain tattoos can be treated by laser in the same way.
These non-ablative lasers allow surgeons to perform cosmetic laser surgery with a much reduced risk of burns, scars and pigment changes. The low intensity of the laser preserves the health of the skin tissue as much as possible, although this means several treatments may be required before the mark completely disappears. Another advantage of non-ablative laser treatments is that the recovery time is far shorter and there is a lower risk of complications.
Cosmetic laser surgery may be carried out on other parts of the body. Contouring and tightening treatments to the areas of the body where fatty deposits most often accumulate — namely the thighs, buttocks and upper arms — can be done using non-invasive laser procedures. These treat both the deeper layers of the skin, to disperse the fatty pockets, and the upper skin layers, minimizing the appearance of cellulite and improving the skin's overall texture and appearance.