What is Laser Treatment?
When people refer to laser therapy for rosacea treatment, they typically mean one of two kinds of technology. The first is in the form of pulsed dye lasers (PDL) and the second is intense pulsed light (IPL). These are both forms of vascular laser. IPL is typically used when dealing with pigment issues. PDL, on the other hand, is used for symptoms such as visible veins.
Laser treatment does not cure rosacea. However, it can effectively correct many of the skin condition’s symptoms in a significant percentage of individuals with rosacea. Among the rosacea symptoms most commonly treated with laser include visible thickened skin on the nose (rhinophymia – Rosacea Subtype 3), visible capillaries and redness.
How Does Laser Treatment Work?
Laser therapy for rosacea uses powerful light wavelengths to target and destroy blood vessels using the laser’s energy heat. That heat builds up within the targeted vein.
The outcome can be an accurate and somewhat painless method of reducing telangiectasia – that is, the visible thread-like “broken capillaries” on the face. Telangiectasia is a common rosacea symptom.
The light wavelengths used in the lasers are easily absorbed by red blood cells (hemoglobin). As the lasers devices send short pulses of light directly to the blood vessels, the damage to surrounding facial tissue remains limited (1).
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (2), another form of laser therapy for rosacea is used for removing the thickened skin from rhinophymia. This form is called laser resurfacing.
Research shows that while laser can be used to treat redness and acne-like pimples from rosacea, this method is not as successful for those symptoms as it is for the treatment of telangiectasia and rhinophymia.
1.Goldberg DJ. Lasers and light sources for rosacea. Cutis. 2005;75(suppl 3):22-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15810807 .
2. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne-and-rosacea/rosacea/lasers-and-lights-how-well-do-they-treat-rosacea
3. Clark SM, Lanigan SW, Marks R. Laser treatment of erythema and telangiectasia associated with rosacea. Lasers in Medical Science. 2002;17:26-33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11845365
What Can You Expect from Laser Treatment for Rosacea?
To start, it is important to know that the successful use of laser therapy for rosacea is based on many factors. This can include everything from the severity of the condition to the skin complexion of the patient (the greater the contrast between the healthy skin tone and the rosacea, the more effective treatments often are), the type of laser used and the experience level and skill of the technician.
Every laser clinic offers its own unique experience. It is up to you as the patient to do your homework, pay attention during consultations, ask questions, verify claims and look into reviews from other patients who have been treated at the clinic(s) you are considering.
Remember that a license is only the jumping-off point in terms of legality. It is very important to confirm that a laser practitioner is licensed. However, a license means only that certain minimum competency and safety requirements have been met. It does not mean that the individual is particularly skilled at what he or she is doing. Moreover, it does not mean that the technician is experienced with rosacea or symptoms like your own.
Ideally, look for a clinic in which only medical professionals operate the lasers. These may include doctors, registered nurses and physician assistants. Alternately, on-site supervision by a doctor, physician assistant or registered nurse can be considered acceptable provided that the medical professional is indeed on-site at the time your laser treatment takes place. If the supervising doctor is present at another location or even in another state while your procedure is taking place, that doesn’t help you if a problem should arise.
That said, it should also be underscored that just because a doctor is operating the laser, it still doesn’t mean that he or she is the most skilled individual for the procedure. Some doctors are positively outstanding at laser surgery, making it into an art form. That said, it is not unheard of for less skilled surgeons to burn and/or badly scar a patient. Again, do your homework.
To undergo laser treatment for rosacea, you should have at least one consultation with the individual who will be operating the laser. You should be informed of what you can expect, how you should prepare, and what you will need to do after the procedure. This differs based on the type of procedure, the clinic and the symptom you are treating.
While you may see improvements after a single laser treatment, it is more common for rosacea patients to require at least 2-4 sessions for results such as the removal of all visible veins and make sure the results last for the longest possible period of time. Treatments are typically spaced by 3 to 4 weeks to allow complete healing in between sessions.
What is the Success Rate?
According to the AAD (4), the success rate for laser treatments for rosacea differ depending on the symptom being treated. For example, when used to treat visible blood vessels, 1 to 3 sessions will typically bring rosacea patients a 50% to 75% reduction in visible blood vessels. That said, some patients will see a complete 100% reduction in their visible facial blood vessels.
The AAD also reported that the best results are experienced by patients who receive laser resurfacing for thickened skin.
A study published in the Lasers in Medical Science journal (5) showed that patients treated with PDL experienced an average of 75% reduction in their visible blood vessels. They also saw a 55% reduction in flushing, as well as a 50% redness reduction. The studied recorded no difference in the appearance of pustules and papules.
4. American Academy of Dermatology. “Lasers and Lights: How Well Do They Treat Rosacea?”
5. Clark SM, Lanigan SW, Marks R. Laser treatment of erythema and telangiectasia associated with rosacea. Lasers in Medical Science. 2002;17:26-33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11845365
Who Can Get Laser for Rosacea?
Most rosacea patients can get laser therapy, though there are some exceptions. For instance, if you are using a prescription medication that increases your light sensitivity, then it may not be possible for you to safely receive laser treatments.
Make sure to speak with both your doctor or dermatologist about whether laser for rosacea is right for you. Be forthright about any medications and medical conditions you may have when you have your consultation at the laser clinic itself.
Whether or not you should have laser therapy for rosacea also has a great deal to do with the person who will be performing it. Make certain to choose someone who is experienced with rosacea treatment, who is experienced with your specific types of rosacea symptoms, who treats symptoms like yours on a regular basis, who considers your medical history and who is willing to take the time to discuss the procedure in an open and honest way. This should include potential side effects and other drawbacks.
The lighter your skin, the more likely it is that laser therapy for rosacea will work for you. That said, this doesn’t mean it won’t work if you have a darker skin shade. Just make sure that you find someone who is experienced both with rosacea treatment and in treating darker skin, as this is a specialty. Laser works best with a higher amount of contrast. Darker skin means less contrast, needing more specialized experience and skill to treat it.
To know if laser therapy is right for you, you will also need to be willing to accept the risk of possible side effects. Most commonly, these involve temporary redness that will fade within two weeks of the session. Some people also experience a purple- or red-spotted rash. Those rashes also tend to clear during the week or two following the session.
Some patients experience sensations of tight skin, itching or pain during treatment, but that will usually be alleviated once it is over.
Though scarring can occur, it is very rare when the treatment is performed by a skilled practitioner.
You will also need to be willing to carefully follow care instructions following your treatments. You will need to care for your treated skin in a specific way in order to keep your risk of side effects and scarring to a minimum. For instance, you will be required to keep your skin fully protected from the sun or it could lead to permanent scarring. If you will not be willing or able to do this, you likely should not choose laser rosacea treatments.
What Does Laser Therapy for Rosacea Cost?
The price of laser therapy for rosacea is affected by many different factors, including everything from your symptom types and severity to your location and even the individual clinic. Mild cases where only a small area must be treated could cost as little as $150 to $300. That said, it is far more common for sessions to cost $500 or more, each (with an average of 2 to 4 sessions). Laser resurfacing for rhinophyma will usually involve a single-session procedure with a cost falling somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000.
How Long do Laser Results Last?
Laser results last for different lengths of time depending on the individual and the symptom that was treated. For instance, when blood vessels are treated, the results will typically last for around 3 to 5 years. While the blood vessels that were treated are gone forever, it is possible for new ones to form.
The thickened skin form rhynophyma does tend to come back. Dermatologists will usually prescribe medication to help slow its return and to extend the time between laser resurfacing treatments.
What are Common Alternatives to Laser Therapy for Rosacea?
IPL must also be administered by a technician at a clinic. On the other hand, LED light therapy for rosacea can be administered in a clinic or spa, or a patient can also self-administer treatments using a home device with the right strength and wavelengths.
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