Updated 24 April 2014

A - Z of laser therapy

The latest wave of dermatological lasers, lights and energy devices promises effective fixes for almost every imperfection from wrinkles to cellulite.


Years ago there were only cut and pull facelifts that required a lot of recuperation. These new non-invasive, wash and wear techniques are fast becoming routine upkeep like manicures and haircuts.

With the tide turning against the pulled-tight look that says "facelift" from a block away, the well-heeled are turning to high-tech non-invasive treatments.

People still want to look better and fresher without resorting to the knife, that’s why the latest laser treatments are enjoying such a boom across the world.

These dermatological gadgets are constantly evolving to offer more efficient:

  • skin rejuvenation,
  • acne treatment
  • sun spot treatment,
  • hair removal
  • and vein removal.

You can get these treatments in a few sessions during your lunch hour.

Not just the face, but other parts of the body like flabby arms, the thin skinned décolleté etc., are being treated as these machines are upgraded to reshape the contours of your body.

Trouble is that there is so much new technology it is hard to get a handle on what works best.

Here’s a brief overview of the evolution of dermological devices and a rundown on the latest lasers.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) lasers
IPL lasers have been around for about 20 years and is one of the most popular devices for smoothing red and brown blotches on the face, chest and hands. This was followed by the Pulsed Dye Laser that was used as a treatment for red port-wine stain birthmarks. Then came the ND: YAG used to treat brown spots on the body in a single shot. Soon after the FDA approved Photo Dynamic Therapy (PDT) – which uses a topical acid Levulan to maximise laser absorption – for skin cancer treatment, dermatologists discovered that it also had the potential for sun spots and acne.

The CO2 laser
This laser was heralded and feared in the nineties for its resurfacing, blowtorch effect on the skin. It is very rarely used today after scores of patients were left with permanent scarring. While effective for some, they still had to endure two weeks of crusting and oozing.

Collagen stimulating lasers
Collagen stimulating lasers (brand names include Cool Touch, Polaris and Titan) may do wonders for some and nothing for others. Up to 33% of patients have an excellent response while another 30% report no change.

According to dermatologists it's unpredictable to say who will be disappointed. For whatever reason some women’s collagen is more resistant than others.

TDeep heating radio frequency device
The Thermage, a deep heating radio frequency device, was heralded as a breakthrough in the nineties as non-surgical lift treatments turned out to be something of a disappointment.

Not only was the treatment long and very painful, but only 30% saw an improvement.

Radio frequency plus laser
Newest kid on the block is the safe FDA approved radio-laser which delivers a one-two punch of radio frequency and laser that is able to treat both deep and shallow wrinkles simultaneously, stimulating collagen renewal while smoothing and repairing the signs of ageing. An example is the e-Max laser.

This laser has a number of applications that treat vascular lesions and leg veins, acne, sun spots and includes the fastest hair removal to date, including light and grey hair.

Fat-targeting lasers
These lasers, while in their infancy, are also evolving extremely fast.

Examples of these lasers include:

  • the VelaSmooth that employs heat, radio frequency and massage to dislodge cellulite, and
  • the UltraShape Contour that uses ultrasound to dislodge melt fat. While claims that a single treatment can reduce waist circumference by an inch, it’s a two-hour process to be used with caution. If too much melted fat is metabolised through the liver at one time, it can place a strain on the heart. Highly-trained personnel should administer the treatment.

White pigmentation marks and stretch marks are also being treated overseas with the new Multi Clear that sends out beams of UV light to stimulate melatonin production. Chalky marks, famously resistant to treatment can be regimented but the machine is not as yet available in South Africa.

Micro-ablative fractional lasers
These procedures create a lattice of micro-wounds next to untouched skin. But rather than tightening deep below the surface, it works more on the top layers of the skin.

The most hyped of these is the Fraxel laser. According to some dermatoligists, the results in terms of wrinkle reduction have been a little disappointing.

In terms of diffused pigmentation, very fine lines and acne, the Fraxel and newer Lux IR seem effective, but treatments are pricey and fairly painful. Some doctors consider it a far better alternative to the CO2 that can cause permanent loss of pigment during ablative procedures.

A patient comments
Tracy Hamlet (39) regularly goes for tightening treatment with the eMax or its younger sister, the e laser, that also treats wrinkles, and leg veins and removes dark blonde and grey hair.

“The texture of my skin improved dramatically, my jawline and neck are firmer. The dramatic results showed after just three months,” she says.

Compiled by Lorraine Forbes, for Health24.
Sources: Dr Sandrasen Chetty, an Aesthetic Practitioner of the Renew Clinic at the Wellness Centre in Johannesburg, Dr Tracey Bergstrom, Dr Alek Nikolik and Dr Bradley Wagemaker.


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