Lasers and light devices are everywhere. They can be found in DVD players, grocery store scanners and traffic lights, and are used in almost every area of medicine, including dermatology.
LASER is actually an acronym that stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Different lasers emit different wavelengths of light, allowing us to reach targeted layers of the skin to treat specific areas of concern without damaging surrounding tissue. To be considered a laser, the light must have certain properties. First and foremost, the beam of light must be one uniform color. Since not all of the devices that we call lasers meet these criteria, many fall under the broader category of light devices. Light devices use several colors of light.
Dermatologists have access to powerful and specialized lasers and light devices that can remove tattoos, scars, sunspots and varicose veins, as well as to tighten sagging skin, stimulate collagen production, improve skin texture and dramatically reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks. These treatments are best left to the professionals, and none of the many devices marketed for at-home use are designed for these uses. However, there are a handful of at-home laser- and light-based devices that can give you a helping hand.
We’ve seen a great number of at-home hair removal devices in recent years. These devices can rely on laser energy, pulsed light or heat, and prices start at about $200. A few words to the wise before running out to buy one — they do not work as well as lasers used in your dermatologist’s office. If you have darker skin, home-based laser hair removal is not for you as the light is attracted to dark pigment and you may be left with burns. Instead, look for a doctor who specializes in skin of color and ask if they have the CoolGlide Laser. Keep in mind that at-home and in-office hair removal will not work on blond or gray hairs.
Blue light has been proven to improve acne by minimizing the bacteria that cause breakouts. But one of the pitfalls of in-office blue light treatment is the need for frequent trips to the office, because acne bacteria should be targeted twice a day. I recommend TRIA’s Acne Blue Light for my patients. This device allows patients to treat as often as necessary without side effects, and it also helps avoid irritation associated with many topical acne treatments. If you are considering blue light treatment at home, I recommend seeing a dermatologist before purchasing a device. This way you can determine the cause of your acne—and the best course of treatment, which includes the proper skincare regimen.
Yes, it would be nice to sit on the couch and smooth away wrinkles while watching your favorite TV show. Unfortunately this is one problem that at-home devices just can’t fix. I have yet to come across a technology that is effective enough to justify the price, and you’re much better putting your money toward professional treatments or even a nightly retinol product whether prescription-based or an over-the-counter option such as SkinMedica’s Retinol Complex.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.