ABCs of laser energy, radiofrequency and ultrasound

October 13, 2011

A “controlled” injury causes a healing response.
A “controlled” injury causes a healing response.

Beauty is now spelled TECHNOLOGY. If your technical know-how is limited to plugging in your curling iron, you may miss out on face-saving treatments. For starters, you need to have a basic idea of what they are and what they can do for you.

Laser energy, radiofrequency and ultrasound have something in common. All three create a controlled injury to the skin. You may wonder why anyone would want, let alone pay for, an injury. Quite simply, injury sets off a healing process; a “controlled” injury causes a healing response that spurs collagen formation and cell regeneration, plumping up your skin.

For mild problems, such as freckles or rosacea, try intense pulsed light (IPL). IPL gives off a wide spectrum of light wavelengths in high-intensity pulses over a short period. Light penetrates the tissue, creating a mild injury. The body's natural processes then remove the injured tissue, giving the skin a more even and youthful appearance. This is a great treatment if you’re fair and freckle-faced.

If you’re 35 plus, wrinkles, sagging skin and sun damage can make you a perfect candidate for nonablative fractional laser resurfacing. According to the October 2011 issue of Marie Claire, this is “laser energy that delivers heat deep into skin by drilling microscopic holes in the skin with hundreds of fractionated laser beams. The skin’s surface is not completely scorched since there are tiny untouched spaces interspersed amid the lasered pinholes.” This treatment also protects against skin cancer by removing damaged skin cells. Treatment pain is somewhat mediated by numbing cream, but it still may be significant.

If you’ve been around the block a couple of times, you may be too old for short shorts, but you may have enough wrinkles to qualify you for ablative laser treatment. This stronger resurfacing option ablates or planes down deep wrinkles, creating enough thermal damage to stimulate collagen formation and firm the skin. Because these new carbon-dioxide (C02) powered lasers are fractionated (leave untouched spaces), they are less destructive than the original C02 lasers and, usually, you need only one treatment. Post treatment is not a great time for that high school reunion, but TV is a good option during a week or two of swelling, redness and peeling.

Thermage and Ulthera don’t work by injuring the skin. Instead, they deliver heat to tighten tissue and stimulate collagen deep within the skin, without injuring the epidermis. Thermage, the older treatment, has the advantage of being time tested, but a prominent dermatologist prefers Ulthera, the new kid on the block, because “It contracts the connective tissue covering the muscle, so you’re able to sculpt the face.”


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

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