For many procedures, lasers are already considered the minimally invasive alternative, yet there’s still a push to use lasers that require even less downtime. Enter non-ablative lasers – technology that can provide dramatic skin rejuvenation results with minimal downtime.
Non-Ablative Lasers Defined
Perhaps the best way to define non-ablative lasers is to first explain ablative lasers. The distinction between the two is essential for patients and doctors to understand as they select laser skin rejuvenation procedures.
Ablative lasers (such as CO2 lasers) use heat and light to vaporize damaged cells from the surface of the skin and to penetrate into the deeper layers. Often referred to as “resurfacing,” these ablative treatments can improve skin texture, smooth moderate wrinkles, and correct pigmentation problems.
Non-ablative lasers use light to penetrate beneath the skin without removing outer layers. The most common types of non-ablative lasers are IPL (Intense Pulsed Light), BBL (Broad Based Light) and fractional laser. When delivered to the dermis, the laser energy encourages the production of collagen and facilitates skin renewal from within. Non-ablative lasers can treat age spots, acne, veins, redness, sun damage, minor wrinkles, scars, and poor skin texture.
During ablative laser treatments, patients often need to be sedated with local anesthesia. After the procedure, a healing period of several days to several weeks should be expected, during which there will be significant discomfort, swelling and scabbing. Patients should plan to take time off work.
Non-ablative lasers, on the other hand, do not usually require downtime or recovery. Unlike ablative treatments, the non-ablative procedure is not performed with general anesthesia or sedation, although some patients report minimal discomfort (often compared to the snapping of a rubber band) which can be mitigated with a topical anesthetic. Post-procedure discomfort is minimal. Patients are generally able to return to their daily activities immediately, although they may appear “flushed.” Even though the impact on the skin is less dramatic, non-ablative lasers are still able to achieve substantial improvement.
However, as with any treatment, there are some minor drawbacks.
Multiple treatments may be necessary, usually spaced several weeks apart. In addition, continued treatments are often required to maintain results.
They cannot treat all skin conditions.
Though non-ablative technology continues to improve, the results that can be achieved may not be as dramatic as those of ablative lasers.
Choosing a Physician
The selection of a qualified physician is as important with non-ablative lasers as it is with any other cosmetic treatment, despite the fact that they are minimally invasive. A physician must have the education and experience to determine candidacy and select from among the many products on the market. In actually performing the procedure, the physician must be well-versed in the details and application of the laser technology to achieve improvement without damaging the skin. Patients should carefully review their physician’s credentials prior to selecting and embarking upon a photo rejuvenation treatment plan.