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Vascular laser

Vascular lasers are used to treat skin discolorations that result from overgrown blood vessels.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: June 26, 2012

Treatment Basics

Regulatory approval: Pulsed dye lasers have been approved by the FDA for more than three decades, while it wasn't until 1995 that the intense pulsed light was cleared for use.

The term "vascular" refers to the body's network of blood vessels. Vascular lasers target malformed blood vessels that can leave discolored marks on the skin. The lasers target the red color in blood and transmit a focused beam of light on blood vessels, heating and destroying selected vessels.

Vascular laser therapy can reduce the red-blue appearance of spider veins, for example, by intentionally forcing the affected vessels to clot. Most vascular lasers emit a wavelength of 500 to 1064 nm, the range which is required to penetrate the reddish cells. One such laser is the pulsed dye laser (PDL), which was introduced in 1989 with a wavelength of 585 to 595 nm.

Other vascular lasers/light sources, from shortest to longest wavelengths, include the intense pulsed light (500-1200 nm), the potassium titanyl phosphate (simplified as KTP) laser (532 nm), diodes (940 nm), and the neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (simplified as Nd:YAG) laser (1064 nm).

What It's Good For

Since many vascular lesions are superficial (close to the surface of the skin), the short wavelength of the pulsed dye laser has made it particular popular for attacking vascular blemishes. As a rule of thumb, the longer the wavelength, the deeper the laser will penetrate. Vascular lasers can be used on any part of the body, but they are most effective for lesions that appear on the face, neck, and chest.

When used to treat spider veins, vascular lasers can be used on the calves and legs. The Nd:YAG is the most common laser treatment for spider veins. Vascular therapy can treat hemangiomas (tumor-like growths of the blood vessel lining), angiomas (benign tumors of the vascular walls), lymphangiomas (malformed vessels in the body's main drainage system), nevus flammeus (port wine stain or birthmark), venous lakes (dark blue veiny patches of skin), telagiectasias (small blood vessels near skin's surface), spider veins, hypertrophic (raised) scars, and erythema from rosacea (facial flushing).

Who it works for: Vascular lasers treat skin discolorations that result from overgrown blood vessels. They are especially handy for treating ruddy imperfections like spider veins, port wine stains, and rosacea. Certain vascular lasers may be used by pregnant women. (The IPL, for example, is an acceptable treatment.)

Recommended age range: Children with port wine stains should be treated as soon as possible, as their skin is thinner and treatment is thus more effective. Yet laser therapy is more common for middle aged individuals. In 2009, for example, fewer than 2% of the procedures were performed on individuals who were 18 years and younger.

When will I see results?: Oftentimes, two to six treatments are needed in order to achieve the best results for some vascular lesions. Sessions can be spaced four to six weeks apart. For the treatment of rosacea, at least three sessions are required to reduce redness.

Port wine stains are a bit more stubborn. An estimated 40%-45% of cases improve by at least 75%, but it can take up to 10 treatments or more to achieve this improvement.

How long it lasts: Slain veins disappear within four to six weeks after treatment.

Key benefits of Vascular laser: Intense pulsed light laser treatment was the number four most popular means of facial rejuvenation in 2009, with 452,210 procedures performed. Of all of the surgical procedures that year, IPL made up 4.5%. 89.5% of these procedures were received by women.

Licensed uses: Pulsed dye lasers have been approved by the FDA for more than three decades, and IPL was approved in 1995.

Did you know?: Intense pulsed light laser treatment was the number four most popular means of facial rejuvenation in 2009, with 452,210 procedures performed. Of all of the surgical procedures that year, IPL made up 4.5%. 89.5% of these procedures were received by women.

Who's Done It?

News correspondent Hannah Storm is an advocate for children born with port wine stains, insisting that they be treated at an early age. Storm herself has a port wine stain under her left eye. "My birthmark essentially looks like I have a black eye," she describes. In college, Storm attempted laser surgery to remove the birthmark, however, at the time, vascular laser devices were not as effective as they are today. The lasers actually burned her skin. Richard Gere is not as secretive. His birthmark had a cameo in Pretty Woman.

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