What are the Different Types of Skin Laser Surgery?

Drue Tibbits

Skin laser surgery is used for a variety of procedures. Specialty lasers that emit a high-energy light beams are used for scar and tattoo removal, skin resurfacing, and skin tightening. Lasers have pinpoint accuracy that makes them ideal for eliminating spider veins. Port wine stain birthmarks can be made invisible with skin laser surgery.

Raised skin mole.
Raised skin mole.

The word “laser” stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. This concentrated beam of light is capable of vaporizing water and body tissue. There are different types of lasers used on the skin; various color wavelengths and pulses perform different functions. The two main types of skin lasers are ablative and nonablative. Ablative lasers work on the top layer of skin, and nonablative lasers target the tissues beneath the top layer.

Flat skin mole.
Flat skin mole.

The type of skin condition being treated determines the type of laser and the procedure that is used. Pigmented areas of the skin are often treated with pulsed dye lasers. Skin laser surgery for tattoo removal is accomplished by using a CO2 laser, although some types of tattoo ink cannot be removed with this kind of laser. The CO2 laser is also used to reduce or eliminate acne scars. Precancerous skin lesions are removed using ablative lasers.

Laser surgery can sometimes reduce the appearance of scars.
Laser surgery can sometimes reduce the appearance of scars.

Skin laser surgery works by cutting, sealing, or vaporizing tissues. To eliminate spider veins or port wine stains, the laser seals off the blood supply, eliminating the underlying discoloration. Skin resurfacing is done by using a laser to vaporize the top layer of skin. The removal of lesions, moles, warts, or skin tags involves using a laser to cut off a portion of the skin while leaving the rest of the skin undamaged. Almost all types of skin laser surgery result in skin tightening as the underlying tissues swell in response to the laser’s action on the skin.

Laser treatments can reduce acne scarring.
Laser treatments can reduce acne scarring.

Laser surgery is not risk free, although it usually causes less trauma to the patient than conventional skin surgery. Skin laser surgery usually involves only local anesthesia, while some skin surgeries require general anesthesia. There is less risk of permanent scarring and infection with laser surgery than there is with traditional skin surgery, which involves cutting of the skin. Laser surgery is still surgery, however, and some patients may experience burns, unexpected results, scarring, or a worsening of skin texture. The surgery may even trigger dormant viruses, such as herpes or other infections.

Skin laser surgery works by cutting, sealing, or vaporizing tissues.
Skin laser surgery works by cutting, sealing, or vaporizing tissues.

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