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When dark spots occur on the skin, it is called hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation can be treated in a variety of ways but one of the most effective procedures is a laser treatment. While laser can be more expensive than other treatments or remedies, the results may be worth it. Choose an appropriate and well-qualified physician or skin-care specialist to perform laser treatment for skin lightening.
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Hyperpigmentation is a common problem that results in dark or brown patches on the skin due to aging, sun damage, hormonal changes and skin diseases. These dark patches can get worse if exposed to the sun because melanin in the skin absorbs the sun's ultraviolet rays. Several treatments, including laser, can work to diminish or lighten these dark spots. The most common form of treatment, applying topical creams, is less expensive than a laser treatment but can take three to six months for results and cause irritation to sensitive skin due to the chemicals. There are also over-the-counter skin lightening topical creams, but you can purchase more effective creams through a physician. Laser treatment has to be done by a physician.
To lighten skin with a laser, a beam of light at wavelengths of 532 nanometers (nm) or 755 nm is applied to the skin. This high-intensity energy source is absorbed by the water, hemoglobin and melanin in the skin. The absorption destroys the dark spots and lightens the skin. Small dark spots can be lasered in a few minutes. Larger areas may take more than 30 minutes.
The specific laser that is used to lighten skin is called a quality-switched laser or Q-switched laser. It not only removes dark spots but can remove and lighten tattoos and also tattooed permanent makeup. The wavelength of the Q-switched laser can be altered to change the depth at which the laser penetrates the skin.
Laser treatments to lighten skin can cause discomfort, redness, swelling and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation—discoloration on the skin after the skin disease has healed—of the areas treated. Blistering and crusting of the skin may also occur after the treatment for approximately seven to 14 days.
A skilled physician or dermatologist performs the laser procedure. Cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists would have the most training specifically with lasers. The best way to find a good laser physician is to ask your primary care physician for a recommendation. You can always ask the physician performing the laser treatment for references and proof of credibility. If the doctor owns the laser equipment in his office versus using outpatient surgery center or hospital equipment, it is a good sign that they are skilled in what they are doing. Depending on how much skin needs to be lightened, the patient may or may not be numbed with local anesthetic. The treated skin must not be tanned and patients on Accutane (a medication that treats acne) may not have the procedure while on the medication.
- eMedicine: Skin Lightening and Depigmenting Agents
- American Chronicle: Skin Lightening with Lasers to Get Rid of Skin Discolorations and Tattoos: What to Expect; Naweko San Joyz; 2007
- Johns Hopkins Cosmetic Center: Q Switched Yag Laser
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: Dermatologic Disease Database: Hyperpigmentation
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