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Cosmetic laser procedures are a big hit

Jan 2009
David L. Shenkenberg, Features Editor,

According to statistics released in May 2008 by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery for the year 2007, aesthetic procedures comprise an $11.7 billion market, and Americans are seeking 457 percent more cosmetic procedures compared with only a decade ago.

In terms of minimally invasive procedures, laser hair removal ranked third in popularity behind hyaluronic acid and botox injections. Microdermabrasion and laser skin resurfacing ranked fourth and fifth, respectively. Almost 1.5 million laser hair removal procedures and more than 0.6 million laser skin resurfacing procedures were performed.

illustration.jpgMinimally invasive procedures increased by 9 percent compared with the year before at the expense of invasive procedures, the one exception being a 14 percent increase in baby boomers seeking face-lifts.

Hair removal is probably the No. 1 cosmetic laser procedure worldwide, according to Dr. Eric F. Bernstein, a dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic laser procedures. He is the medical director at the Centers for Laser Surgery in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and a clinical associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“Tattoo removal has been increasing steadily with the increase in the number of people getting tattooed,” Bernstein said. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of people aged 18 to 25 have at least one tattoo.


Laser treatments can make facial veins disappear.

More men are having cosmetic surgery, according to a Freedonia Group market report dated Sept. 4, 2008. “Men come for a lot of the same reasons that women do,” Bernstein said, “What’s interesting is that men are showing up for rejuvenation, which is a big surprise.” Rejuvenation, also called resurfacing, is the use of a laser to remove imperfections in skin appearance.

Lasers can be used to remove scars, spider veins, rosacea, acne and port-wine-stain birthmarks. For acne, topical and oral medications are the best treatments initially, but sometimes patients don’t respond to medication, in which case a laser is the best choice. “There’s going to be great improvements in lasers coming forward to treat acne in the next five years,” Bernstein said.

Sometimes a laser is not indicated. Bernstein does not use hair-removal lasers around the eyes because of the possibility of eye damage. Nonlaser procedures such as face-lifts are good for sagging skin, while botox is effective at removing wrinkles in the upper part of the face. Injectable fillers can enhance the areas of the lower face, such as the lips.

With increasing safety and ease of use of medical lasers, procedures are being performed increasingly by nonphysician personnel trained in the use of lasers and are moving to medical spas, which combine spa treatments such as massages and waxes with laser and other medical techniques.


Say good-bye to the redhead. Laser treatments are the only effective way to remove tattoos, and, typically, multiple treatments are needed. Infinitink is a tattoo ink designed to be removable in fewer treatments. Photos courtesy of E. Bernstein.

A couple of companies could be starting new trends. Freedom-2 makes Infinitink, a tattoo ink that can be removed with fewer laser treatments than conventional tattoo inks require, and Tria Beauty makes the first and only laser cleared by the FDA for at-home hair removal. The Tria laser is less powerful than those used by doctors and contains optics that enable at-home users to operate the laser without protective eyewear. The company believes that the at-home device market will grow exponentially in the next three years.

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