Skin Laser Surgery

Written by Scott Harris | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Paul Rudd, MD

Overview

Laser surgery uses the heat from a laser beam to destroy cells that need to be removed. Laser surgery can be a very powerful and effective tool, especially when treating a very small or specific area on a patient’s body. A laser beam is very thin, so it can be aimed at very precise areas and is powerful enough that sometimes it can be used in place of a scalpel.

In short, lasers help doctors make sure that only the problem cells are destroyed, while healthy cells incur as little damage as possible. Laser surgery may be less painful than traditional surgery, and recovery time can be shorter.

When Is Laser Surgery a Good Option?

Laser surgery is mainly used to treat skin problems. Another form of laser surgery, known as “Lasik,” is a very popular and effective way of treating vision problems.

Other issues laser surgery can address include:

  • blood loss (lasers can be used to seal small blood vessels)
  • wart and mole removal
  • removal of some types of tattoos
  • reduction of wrinkles, scars, and blemishes
  • removal of dilated blood vessels from the face
  • removal of unwanted hair, or to help with hair transplants

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), lasers are an extremely effective treatment for “port-wine stain” birthmarks. These birthmarks are a collection of abnormal blood vessels that appear as a dark red or burgundy patch on the skin. They usually shrink or lighten after laser surgery.

Port-wine stains and similar skin conditions often need more than one laser treatment.

What Are the Risks of Laser Surgery?

Possible risks of laser surgery include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • pain
  • scarring
  • skin color changes

If you have the herpes simplex virus, lasers can activate that virus and cause cold sore breakouts.

Laser surgery can be performed safely in a doctor’s office.

AAFPRS points out that insurance does not generally cover surgery that is done only to improve your personal appearance. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before moving too far along in the process.

What Is Laser Surgery Like?

Some doctors will numb the treated area beforehand, or even sedate you entirely. This decision will depend on the type of procedure being performed. Similarly, your specific surgeon and situation will determine whether the procedure is performed in the doctor’s office, a hospital, or some other kind of care facility. If you are given anesthesia, you will probably have to wear protective eyewear while the laser is in use.

Lasers produce an intense beam of bright light that can cut, seal, or vaporize skin tissue and blood vessels as needed. Each laser produces one specific color, which affects the body differently. Laser beams vary in intensity and pulse duration (which you will see as a blinking effect).

Because the surgery is so precise, it is often less painful than traditional scalpel surgery. Some patients report that removing a tattoo with a laser feels like a rubber band snapping against the skin.

What Happens After Laser Surgery?

Swelling and redness for several days after the surgery are common if the procedure involved the skin. The doctor may recommend antibiotic ointments to help with healing. Use plenty of sunblock or stay out of sunlight completely to promote proper healing.

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