The use of lasers in the cosmetic procedure industry has exploded in recent years to treat everything from wrinkles and acne scars to sun spots and melasma. Cosmetic laser treatments have been proven highly effective, and there are more choices on the market than ever before.
But patients with Asian skin face unique challenges when navigating the vast laser terrain due to their skin’s propensity for hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation. Luckily, there are several useful laser options for Asian patients. It is simply a matter of finding an experienced provider with the right equipment for Asian skin.
What are the risks of laser resurfacing for Asian skin?
The two major risks to Asian skin are post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, also known as PIH, and possible hypopigmentation. Hyperpigmentation means that the increased levels of melanin found in Asian skin are drawn to the skin’s surface after a laser treatment and create an uneven or splotchy color. When the melanin cells become damaged, they stop producing color altogether and create a white area on the skin, known as hypopigmentation.
Some cosmetic lasers have a higher risk of burning the surrounding tissue if not used at a low enough setting or if administered incorrectly.
What types of lasers are safe for Asian skin?
There are several different types of lasers on the market that use a few broad technologies to achieve the desired result. The short answer is that Asian skin is most often safe with a laser that is classified with the following characteristics:
In general, fractional lasers have less risk of PIH than flat beam lasers. Erbium lasers have less risk of PIH than CO2 lasers. Non-ablative lasers have less risk of PIH than ablative lasers. Therefore, when considering laser resurfacing, patients with Asian skin should ask their provider if the prospective laser utilizes these three technologies. The treatment is effective for acne scars, wrinkles and the improvement of hyperpigmentation. A series of treatments is usually required for optimal results.
What is the difference between fractional and flat beam lasers?
Fractional lasers treat partial areas of the skin while flat beam lasers treat the entire surface of the skin. Some doctors equate fractional resurfacing to aerating a lawn of grass. Veritical “holes” are channeled into the skin, and the surrounding non-treated skin still improves. Fractional lasers offer a quicker recover time because of the reduced area of treated skin.
What is the difference between erbium and CO2 lasers?
The two most common types of lasers for skin resurfacing are carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium. Each laser vaporizes shallow, damaged cells and both reduce the risk of tissue damage because they limit the amount of heat absorbed by the skin.
CO2 lasers cause more swelling and redness and have a recovery period of about two weeks. Erbium lasers work better for darker skin and often have less side effects and quicker recovery times, often one week or less.
What is the difference between non-ablative and ablative lasers?
Non-ablative lasers heat the layers of skin beneath the surface to promote collagen growth while ablative lasers actually remove the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis. Because the skin is removed, ablative lasers require longer recovery times.
Popular non-ablative lasers:
- Fraxel Restore
- Laser Genesis
- Lux 1540
- Smoothbeam laser
Popular ablative lasers:
- Fraxel Repair
- Active FX
- ProFractional laser
- SmartXide DOT therapy
- MiXto laser
- Pearl laser
While Asian skin requires some “TLC” when undergoing laser resurfacing, there are a multitude of options for safe treatments. Not to be ignored is the skill and experience of the provider in adjusting the settings of the laser to correspond to the patient’s skin. Always find an experienced provider and ask lots of questions. Some patients with darker skin may want to have the laser tested on an inconspicuous spot such as the ankle to check for skin changes before treating the face.
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