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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Lasers for skin woes

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- For years, lasers have treated problems with the human body such as eye surgery procedures to correct vision, but increasingly they also are being used to eliminate everyday skin problems.

CNN's medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, discussed the trend Wednesday with CNN anchor Bill Hemmer.

GUPTA: [About] 7.5 million people have cosmetic procedures every year in this country. A lot of those -- an increasing percentage of those -- are done by lasers.

Lasers have been around since 1958, but a lot of people really haven't used them, specifically for skin lesions. Let's [discuss] some of these specific indications as to why people actually use lasers -- dermatologists and plastic surgeons specifically.

Enlarged blood vessels on the face, on the legs, places like that. You can actually ablate those with lasers. Wrinkles, aging skin on the face, neck, unwanted hair, birthmarks, port-wine stains, hemangiomas. All of these things can be potentially treated by lasers. Also, now scars and tattoos can be taken off by lasers. ...

There is a society, an American Society for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery. It's a good thing to look for in terms of your doctor actually being a member of that society before using the lasers.

They look pretty easy to use, but they obviously can have some disastrous consequences.

HEMMER: How do these things work?

GUPTA: They are pretty high tech, and if you actually look at how they work, it looks pretty easy. The real key to these lasers is actually being able to set that little parameter on a certain mark when you're lasering certain parts of the body.

The skin is thick or thin, depending on where you're lasering. If you go too thick, you can actually cause burns as opposed to just taking off the specific lesion that you're targeting. That can happen if the laser is not set properly, and that is a really important thing for doctors to know how to do.

HEMMER: People have concerns about stretch marks that they obtain over years. Would it work for that?

GUPTA: The way these lasers work, they actually sort of "vaporize" the superficial layer of skin. That superficial layer of skin may be a wrinkle, may be a stretch mark, so it's almost like crafting this laser across the skin. ...

Eventually you can take away some of the wrinkles, but there are risks. No question about it. Again, you want to look for somebody who's done lasering before.

Here are some of the things that can happen:

  • Besides some redness that you will actually just see on the face and skin, you might have that redness be prolonged.
  • Tenderness at the area that just doesn't go away.
  • Easy flushing of the skin, blushing almost that doesn't go away. It's kind of a new characteristic.
  • Your skin can actually change pigment. [It] can become darker. And so you might have little dark spots now, just the very thing that you were trying to get rid of.
  • And perhaps the most concerning -- scarring actually from one of these lasers that can occur as well.
  • Again, these are rare things. I'm not trying to scare people, but those things can happen. There are people that know how to use lasers. There are people who don't know how to use lasers, but you'll see them everywhere now. Make sure they know what they're doing.

    HEMMER: So the bottom line is, the technology gets better and more widely used?

    GUPTA: Absolutely. If you look at medical practice, we are going to be less invasive, less costly and all of that sort of stuff. Lasers are a way to do that.

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