Surgery Using Lasers

What is a laser? A laser is a high-energy beam of light that can selectively transfer its energy into tissue to treat the skin. Lasers contain a material that produces and amplifies light. Two mirrors cause the light to reflect back and forth through this material. The result is a light beam that is collimated and intense. This light is either one pure color or several different pure colors. These properties which separate the laser from a light bulb, are important to the medical application of lasers.

Many procedures cannot be done without the laser. Likewise, many procedures are better performed without the laser. Even with the sparkle, pure color, and high-energy beam, the laser is not always the best tool for surgery. The choice of using a laser or other surgical methods is carefully made by the facial plastic surgeon. Your surgeon has the preference to consider the results, the possible complications, and the alternatives.

In this pamphlet, you will find some of the procedures that can be performed with the laser. You are also given a brief explanation of the laser. Always remember that there are very few “right” and “wrong” answers with laser surgery. Many procedures can be performed with different lasers. The choice of the laser depends upon many factors, including the surgeon’s experience, the size of the area to be treated, and the expectations of the patient.

What Can Laser Surgery do for You?

The use of lasers in medicine is complex, and your facial plastic surgeon is trained in the use of lasers and understands how and when to use a laser. Your surgeon will decide if a laser is appropriate, and which laser is best for the situation.

In medicine, physicians can use lasers to make incisions, vaporize tumors, close blood vessels, selectively reduce pigmentation, or even treat skin wrinkles. The laser makes it possible to change tissue without making an incision. So a surgeon can treat birthmarks or damaged blood vessels, remove port-wine stains, and shrink facial “spider veins” without major surgery.

Is it any wonder that many facial plastic surgeons use lasers on a routine basis? They use the laser as a “light scalpel.” The tissue is left sterile, and bleeding is greatly reduced. When the laser is used to treat port-wine stains, no cuts are made. The laser energy penetrates through the skin to shrink the abnormal blood vessels that are the cause of these marks.

Types of Laser Surgery

Laser Skin Peeling

Lasers can be used to reduce wrinkles around the lips or eyes, even the entire face, softening fine wrinkles and removing certain blemishes on the face.

Laser Removal of Birthmarks and Skin Lesions

Port-wine stain birthmarks respond remarkably well to laser treatment. The abnormal blood vessels that cause these marks are reduced in size by the laser. This results in a lightening of the treated area. Skin growths, facial “spider veins,” warts, and some tattoos respond to laser surgery. Most situations take more than one laser treatment, but some respond to a single treatment.

The facial plastic surgeon often uses the minimum laser intensity possible. The low intensity requires many treatments. However, the low intensity also preserves as much of the healthy tissue as possible. This produces an aesthetically pleasing result. Many of these laser surgeries are performed as outpatient treatments in hospitals or offices.

Laser Hair Transplants

In this procedure, lasers are used to prepare the area where the hair transplants will be placed.

New Lasers

There are constant technological advances which lead to even new applications of future generations of lasers. Please ask your doctor to discuss the latest advances with you.

Understanding the Surgery

After your surgeon has indicated that a laser can be helpful in the surgery, your surgeon will explain the laser of choice and what can be accomplished. As with all surgery, the laser has its limitations. Often the results are spectacular. Your surgeon will give you the best judgment for the particular procedure.

Some surgeons may use local anesthetics to numb the treated area before the surgery. Surgery can sometimes be done in the surgeon’s office; other times the surgeries are performed in outpatient facilities at a clinic or hospital. Your surgeon will decide on the appropriate method, dictated by the nature of the surgery.

Because safety is a major component of laser use, your surgeon will describe safety precautions before the surgery. If you are treated with a local anesthetic, you will be required to wear protective glasses or goggles during laser use.

What to Expect After Laser Surgery

After the surgery, you will probably experience some swelling and skin redness for several days. Antibiotic ointments may be used during the healing process. It is important for the patient to follow all the post-operative directions of the surgeon, particularly in using sunblock and avoiding sun exposure.

The full impact of the laser may not be apparent for a month or two, especially with vascular deformities. Additional treatment sessions will not be scheduled until the healing process for a particular treatment is complete.

It is important for the patient to realize that lasers have specific applications. The facial plastic surgeon is experienced in the use of the laser and is the best source of information as to whether laser surgery is appropriate for your condition.

Insurance does not generally cover surgery that is done purely for cosmetic reasons. Surgery to correct or improve congenital deformities or accidental skin injuries may be reimbursable in whole or in part. It is the patient’s responsibility to check with the insurance carrier for information on the degree of coverage.

This section © Copyright 2000 American Academy of Facial and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery