Are lasers and IPL's worth it?

My clients have always asked my opinion about lasers and IPL’s.   I used to love them.  I’ve personally had both IPL and Fraxel and can’t deny how instantly the skin seems refreshed and renewed.   But now I know better.  Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s a quick fix rather than solving the underlying cause.   

Lasers and IPL’s use multiple wavelengths of high intensity light simultaneously (think extreme heat) to induce a wound healing response, stimulate collagen and elastin and speed up cell renewal. The promise?  A more youthful and clear complexion.  Lasers and IPL's are marketed to treat visible capillaries, scars, rosacea, pigmentation.  It's now being understood that the process using such extreme heat to stimulate an "emergency repair response" actually damages the skin further and accelerates aging. 

Let's take a look at laser and IPL treatments to eliminate redness of the visible or "broken" capillaries. The visible redness is usually caused by trauma, cystic breakouts, over sun exposure, DNA damage, or rosacea.  To eliminate redness, the intense light beam will essentially cause the broken capillaries to collapse. Literally making the redness vanish. The instant gratification makes it difficult to undermine the process.  

Normally, blood vessels in the skin are fairly well hidden in the deeper layers of our skin.  When our skin thins with age or from excessive inflammation, the blood vessels become more visible. When lasers are used to collapse capillaries, the immediate effect on the skin is an inflammatory response.  A blood vessel has been shut down and the body has gotten an emergency message that an entire region of the skin is not receiving nutrition or oxygen. Your body then attempts to create new blood vessels, your skin health and age determines the success & quality of this process.  In the meantime,  as cells die off due to lack of oxygen and circulation, thinning of the skin begins in that localized area.  Any time we cause an intense "emergency repair" in the skin, we are robbing the dermis of the resources it needs to sustain itself.   In addition, collagen production is reliant on oxygen and blood flow. Any time we experience diminished circulation in an area, it lessens collagen production.  Thus, weakening our skin and actually accelerating aging.

Laser treatments are used to treat acne scars with prolonged redness using the same approach for visible capillaries. Shutting down blood vessels to make erythema (redness) disappear. Erythema is a natural part of wound healing. Its your body’s way of providing blood to the area, delivering the immune cells and nutrients needed to repair scarring.  Depending on the health of your skin, it could months or even a year for the wounds to fully heal. Although lasers will make your redness disappear, you are shutting down the skin’s natural repair process before it has its job finished. This essentially disrupts the final phases of wound remodeling. As a result, the texture of the skin in that area will vary,  possibly collapsing leaving pits and scars.

Additionally, this extreme heat also creates massive inflammation which causes a cascade of damaging events to our DNA, melanocytes (which will result in increased pigmentation issues in the future), loss of stem cells and higher risk to skin cancer. 

Hmmm, I’m going to go out on a limb here but it just doesn’t seem worth it.  Thankfully, there is a growing number of ways we can successfully rejuvenate our skin more naturally.  I’m so happy to live in this progressive time where new developments and discoveries are always adding to ancient wisdom that provide our skin with the help it needs to flourish.   The good news?  We can have flawless skin without depleting our dermis of its natural resources. Causing LOW intensity repair such as microneedling or LED light therapy and providing it with consistent bio-available nutrition will help create healthy and vibrant skin without creating future damage.