Laser technology offers a wide range of tools for facial rejuvenation. Ablative laser treatments are minimally invasive treatments that break the skin surface, and gentler treatments—non-ablative lasers—improve skin quality and tightness without wounding or breaking the skin. Fractional lasers straddle the ablative-non-ablative divide with many common features.

Fast Facts

  • LASER is an acronym that stands for ‘light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation’.
  • Laser treatments can be broadly divided into two categories: ablative and non ablative.
  • If we learn to look at the different types of lasers as complementary treatments rather than as competing technologies, we can appreciate the fact that non-ablatives help broaden the scope for laser facial rejuvenation.

How do non-invasive laser treatments produce results? How long do the results last? What are the potential risks and complications? Read on.

LASER is an acronym that stands for ‘light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation’. Lasers are intense and orderly beams of bright light that can be varied in intensity. Depending on the requirement and the laser beam frequency, lasers can cut through skin, seal blood vessels, gently vaporise or ablate skin tissue or work on deeper layers of the skin to stimulate collagen activity. Lasers are used in various ways to rejuvenate and improve skin tightness, to treat wrinkles, scars and many other blemishes.

Laser treatments can be broadly divided into two categories: ablative and non ablative.

Ablative or wounding lasers

The carbon dioxide lasers that were used commonly in facial rejuvenation in the 1980s and 1990s were ablative lasers, which damaged the outer skin layer, the epidermis. Frequent and predictable side effects of these lasers included redness, swelling and skin discolouration. Eczema, skin infections, scarring and skin eruptions on the treated areas were common.

The next generation, such as pulsed and scanned carbon dioxide lasers, were developed to reduce the heat damage to skin tissue by controlling how skin layers were removed. The pulsed Erbium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser, better known as Erbium:YAG laser, has better overall efficacy than the scanned type. Both these systems are ablative, wounding the top layer of skin, while also affecting the dermis underneath.

Laser skin resurfacing with ablative lasers works by removing the outer layers of skin in order to promote the growth of new and healthy skin. Laser resurfacing can thus treat a broad range of cosmetic issues including wrinkles, facial scarring, age spots or sunspots and acne marks.

Non-ablative lasers

A number of non-ablative systems are now available. These lasers can penetrate the surface skin without damaging it in order to reach deeper layers beneath the skin surface. The controlled thermal energy produced by the non-ablative lasers allows them to stimulate and induce collagen remodelling in the skin. The resulting changes in the skin collagen, including new collagen growth, helps tighten the skin, improving skin tone, removing fine lines and repairing mild to moderate skin damage.

Despite their ability to stimulate collagen growth and tighten underlying skin, non-ablative lasers are considered less effective than the ablative laser resurfacing achieved through more traditional techniques such as carbon dioxide laser or Er:YAG lasers.

Other popular treatments, such as fractional laser and plasma work in a manner different to the non-ablative systems.

If we learn to look at the different types of lasers as complementary treatments rather than as competing technologies, we can appreciate the fact that non-ablatives help broaden the scope for laser facial rejuvenation. The key point in their favour is the non-invasive nature of treatment that requires little time for recovery. They are increasingly finding a market among those who prefer non-wounding means of rejuvenation.

In seeking non-wounding laser skin tightening treatments you are likely to come across a number of various non-ablative devices currently available in Australia. Each brand offers a unique safety profile and level of efficacy.

Reasons for choosing to have non-ablative laser rejuvenation

Those who want to firm up the sagging skin on their face and neck can benefit from non-ablative laser skin tightening treatments. Fine lines and wrinkles on the forehead, around the mouth and the eyes can be treated with non-ablative lasers. But they also work equally well in tightening skin on all areas of the body, including the arms, legs, abdomen and buttocks. If you want firm skin and gradual improvements without surgery or long recovery times non-ablative facial skin tightening treatments are for you.

Non-ablative skin tightening laser treatments are suitable for men and women of all skin types and skin tones. They are extremely well tolerated by those with darker skins who generally encounter problems with laser treatments.

Research shows that successful laser skin tightening treatments will produce permanent results and collagen regeneration, which produces a more youthful appearance to your skin. It is possible to experience some tightening of loose skin immediately after treatment. There will be less wrinkles and a more firm and healthy looking skin.

The changes that occur in the collagen fibres will continue to produce gradual improvements for some time afterwards. Most systems that promise skin tightening promise to deliver results that may last up to two years, with or without maintenance touch up treatments. Usually after two years, it may be necessary to repeat treatment sessions.

What to expect

There are different laser skin tightening and rejuvenation systems in the market. Better known ones include ReFirme and Aluma, Lux1440. They promise to deliver different results, use different frequencies and require a differing number of sessions for achieving good results.

Some systems promise results that last up to two years. In that time touch ups may be recommended. After that time, treatment sessions may have to be repeated to promote growth of new collagen since collagen is reabsorbed into the body after a while.

Every system has its own preparation methods, technology, mode of delivery, frequency of treatment and results. What to expect under each system is different.

Laser skin tightening is typically not a painful procedure. Usually, some anaesthetic cream will be applied to the area to be treated. This should minimise your risk of discomfort. Most people report experiencing only minor discomfort as the skin heats up during laser treatment. This is because most systems are equipped with efficient cooling mechanisms designed to minimise your discomfort and potential damage to your outer skin layer. You may also experience a stinging sensation similar to a rubber band being snapped against your skin. Any pain or discomfort should subside within minutes of the session end.

Before and after

The success of your treatment and minimising of side effects may depend on your disclosing key medical facts to your doctor before treatment.

If you are prone to keloids and scarring it is necessary to inform your doctor about it before treatment.

Those who have cancerous skin lesions should also discuss the idea of laser treatments with their doctors before undergoing treatment.

If you are on acne medications such as Retin-A or Accutane your doctor should be informed about this beforehand.

You should not undergo laser skin tightening if you are pregnant.

After treatment some people experience temporary side effects, including localised bruising and warm and slightly reddened skin. The warmness and the redness will go down within a few hours. In some cases the warmth and redness may remain for up to 48 hours afterwards. You can easily return to work after treatment by applying makeup to mask the redness.

Usually there will be little or no pain during laser treatment with non-ablative lasers. Should you feel any afterwards, inform your doctor and ask for a prescription for over the counter pain medications.

Your skin may continue to feel very sensitive for a few weeks after treatment. For at least two weeks make sure to wear sunscreen to protect treated areas when going out.

Some people may experience prolonged redness and swelling. If you experience this, or encounter other disruptions in the skin in the areas treated, you should contact your doctor without delay.

Possible risks and complications

The risks and complications of non-ablative lasers are insignificant when compared with more invasive laser treatments or with cosmetic surgery. Minimal as they are, here are the side effects, risks and complications you need to be aware of before undergoing laser skin tightening:

  • Infection – Non-ablative treatments have been known to cause herpes virus flare-ups.
  • Hyperpigmentation or temporary darkening of skin colour in the treated area may occur in those who have darker skin.
  • Redness and swelling occur, but are mild compared to what occurs following ablative resurfacing. Both redness and swelling generally subside within hours or days.
  • Blistering and scarring can occur in rare cases.

Rough costs involved

Prices for non-invasive laser skin tightening treatments depend on the area(s) treated and the specific device/system chosen by your doctor or dermatologist. The costs will also need to be calculated for the number of treatment sessions you will need. The number of sessions and how much time should lapse between sessions depends on the chosen system.

Costs will also depend on where you are and where your doctor practices. Different doctors and other providers may also have varying rates for the same treatment.

This information is correct as of 2019.

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