Skin Care

By Andrea Toochin

(Leslie Rice Hart also contributed to this story)

Just years ago, the word laser inspired images of handheld toys or government operated weapons. Today, a game of word association would link lasers to hair removal. However, hair removal is just one of the many procedures doctors conduct with high-tech laser equipment. Whether you want to rid yourself of hair, scars, birthmarks, or the ultimate sign of aging, droopy skin, there’s most likely a laser out there that can cater to your needs.

Though we usually read about laser centers in metropolitan cities, there are certified doctors everywhere. The three doctors we spoke to all have offices in Manhattan and the suburbs. In addition to convenience, some locations also offer evening and weekend hours. So, with all these options, what’s the best use of your time and money?

Hair removal is still the most popular laser treatment. Contrary to lengthy procedures of the past, such as Electrolysis, laser hair removal usually involves about three visits. Until recently, customers were told the best candidate was a person with light skin and dark hair. This was true because some of the first lasers developed detected the hair follicles best with contrasting tones. However, technology has produced an array of lasers that cater to everyone, from ash-blonds to ebony beauties. As such, individuals like Dr. Stephen Bracci, the owner and founder of VERVE™ Skin Laser Centers, are investing in a few different lasers to accommodate the needs of different patients, in his case, four to be exact – two Diode, one Yag, and one Intense Pulse Light (IPL).

“There are several variables when we look the laser choice – one is the color, but the size of the hair is equally important. Finer hairs are more difficult to treat since they’re smaller in size and do not absorb the light as well as a thicker hair does.” says Bracci. “The color of the hair, the darker it is, the better it absorbs the light. Likewise, with the skin, the lighter the skin, generally the less likely it is to be burnt by the laser.” But, Dr. Bracci insists that it’s not so cut and dry because new lasers like the YAG allow better treatment for darker skin.

The real defining point is the color and thickness of the hair in relation to the skin. “There are long pulsed 1064 ndYAG lasers that are effective for treatment for thick dark hair and dark skin phenotypes. There are new machines such as Aurora which combine diode plus radiofrequency that is effective for treatment of light blond and whitish hair,” says Dr. Neil Sadick, a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and Global Advisor to Christian Dior.

Most places that offer laser services can be defined as one-stop-shopping medical day spas. SkinCentre, a year-old, all- purpose cosmetic facility in Westchester, has a number of different lasers to treat hair removal and hyper pigmentation, and they employ a large staff of dermatologists, plastic surgeons, cosmetic and laser surgeons, licensed nurses, and estheticians to administer topical cosmetic procedures and cosmeceuticals. Like many other medical spas, SkinCentre offers Botox, and fillers including Restylane, Collagen, Radiesse, and even Sculptra™, a Poly-L-lactic Acid filler also known as New-Fill™. Most commonly injected in the cheeks, chin, temporal regions, buttocks, and hands to smooth and plump skin, it was first approved years ago in Europe to treat facial lipoatrophy (facial fat loss) in HIV patients; now it’s also used to fill lines and wrinkles by facilitating the body’s production of new collagen, which plumps the underlying tissue.

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But despite a full menu of services, it’s the laser procedures that offer the greatest variety of treatments for skin imperfections otherwise deemed incurable. According to Dr. Sozio, a resident physician at SkinCentre, lasers use a wavelength of light that is precise to the specific skin concern. Though many offices use the same lasers for very different services, a laser to treat wrinkles might not be as effective, or proper to use on a red birthmark. A red lesion would need a more penetrating, longer wavelength because of the condition of the vessels. Since the energy level for treatment of some scars must be higher, certain lasers are designed specifically for that particular purpose.

Though the cost to operate equipment necessary for such treatments can be costly, SkinCentre’s experts use only the most appropriate laser for each procedure. The Pulsed Dye Laser Treatment of Vascular Lesions or Candela V Beam was designed to treat benign vascular lesions. Among those pigmentation problems laser treatments can successfully correct are Rosacea; facial veins; scars; stretch marks; and port wine stains, vascular birthmarks made of enlarged capillaries that produce a reddish discoloration of the skin.

“Laser treats hyper-pigmentation and birth marks by blasting melanomas which contain melanin, the major substance of pigment,” says Dr. Sadick. “The intense pulse light sources and short wavelengths KTP and Pulse Dye lasers are effective in treating the redness and flushing cause by Rosacea. The studies performed by our research group have shown that maintenance treatments are required at three to four months to maintain the effect. This represents a major advance in this previously difficult to treat problem.”

The V Beam treatment is so safe and effective that it has been used on infants and children to treat port wine stains.

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The Candela V Beam has the dynamic cooling device (DCD), which sprays a cooling mist on the skin before each laser pulse to enhance the comfort of the patient during the treatment. According to SkinCentre associates, there is little to no discomfort during the procedure, and the side effects, if any, are minimal and temporary.

What’s unique about this use of laser is that it caters to clients who want to embrace their adulthood, but are burdened by the physical scars of their adolescence. However, for those plagued with adult acne or routine breakouts, SkinCentre offers CoolTouch, which targets acne at the root of the problem. The laser energy penetrates deep enough to shrink oil glands, decreasing the occurrence of acne without affecting the oils necessary for healthy skin.

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The Cool Touch procedure can improve the surface of the skin caused by acne scarring by allowing the body to rebuild and replenish its own natural collagen to fill in acne scars. Each procedure is relatively short depending on the severity of the acne, but doctors usually recommend a series of three to six treatments, administered on a monthly basis, with suggested follow-up visits to extend the results.

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The CoolTouch laser is also used to improve pigmentation irregularities and reduce wrinkles on areas of the face and neck. There is no downtime after the treatment.

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However, other companies are employing new, more traditional lasers to do the job. This summer, The Skin Spa started offering a similar treatment after putting their new Cutera TITAN machine to work. The TITAN uses infrared light to heat the skin layers below the surface, causing the collagen fibers to thicken over time. Because of the cooling sensation the treatment is so light you can hardly feel it. Insiders claim the TITAN provides more even distribution of energy than radio-frequency lasers. Since the treatment tightens skin, it can be used all over, including around the jaw, under the chin, and on the belly.

If we learned anything last year, it was that quality skin care products and treatments are on their way to the masses, via doctor-developed drugstore brands like Skin Effects and the latest at-home laser systems, such as Nulase. The Nulase system is comprised of a soft touch laser, a small handheld with a red spectrum light; a foaming cleanser; an exfoliator with crushed pearl powder, bamboo extract, and hyaluronic acid; and a rejuvenating cream with 12 regenerating elements including rare root and fruit extracts, sea algae, soy, and yeast and mulberry extracts. The red light delivers energy that permeates the top layers of skin to increase the cellular metabolic rate, which controls how much fuel the cells take in nutrients. Through this process, the cells can absorb more energy and regenerate faster, thereby producing more collagen. The main drawback to this system is that it requires a commitment; the laser must be applied for about 10 minutes twice a day, but it is far more affordable that the professional treatments which start at about $2000 per session.

If you’re supremely overwhelmed at this point, yet craving multiple treatments take a step back. These treatments are meant to offer an alternative to invasive surgical procedures and time-consuming hair removal habits, but they are also about fixing features that may have caused insecurities. Whether you’re self-conscious about sagging skin, course hair, or spots, there’s a manageable treatment in sight, and many patient, knowledgeable doctors at your disposable.

However, the decision to undergo these treatments should be viewed the same way surgery would be. Anything that has the power to make such changes is capable of negative impacts too. This is not the area to be stingy. It’s well worth paying a few hundred more to get a doctor to perform hair removal not only to ensure a positive outcome, but also in case legal action is concerned. A non-medical professional will likely have much less insurance than a doctor. Like any cosmetic procedure, serious treatments should be pursued only after reaching the decision that no exercise, diet, facial, or make-up routine could fix the issue that is causing emotional discomfort. So before you fall in love with a laser, try to love your flaws.

For more information about FDA approved treatments and machines, go to www.fda.gov/cdrh/consumer/laserfacts.html

SkinCentre is located at 220 S. Central Avenue in Hartsdale (Westchester County). For more information call 914.949.6200 or log on to www.MySkinCentre.com

Verve Skin Laser Centers are located in SoHo, Midtown, and Garden City, Long Island 212.888.3003 or 516.222.2002 www.vervelaser.com

Sadick Aesthetic Surgery & Dermatology also offers hair implants and treats skin cancer. Offices are located on the UES and in Great Neck 212.772.7242 or 516.482.8040 www.sadickdermatology.com/sd-drsadick.htm

For more information on The Skin Spa TITAN Treatment, call 212.684.4914, or visit www.loveyourskinspa.com

The complete NuLase system retails for $276 but is currently available at an introductory price of $179 www.nulase.com

Originally published January 2006
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