Laser: Understanding the discomfort of heat from treatments
It is always surprising to me when I am about to start a service such as laser or a chemical peel on someone and they ask me if there will be any discomfort. I can’t say how many times people are shocked to learn that something as intense as destroying a hair follicle root might include a certain amount of heat. For that matter, a chemical peel may carry a degree of heat or a prickly sensation that is often an unthought-of side effect. Well, we are taking off a few outer layers of the stratum corneum, aren’t we?
I guess I have to always remember that just because I understand the intricate workings of how skin functions and what is needed to achieve specific goals doesn’t mean that my patients do. So, let’s have a little insight on how the treatments work and why a little discomfort is a tiny price to pay for the betterment of the health and look of your skin.
When treating broken blood vessels in relation to rosacea or telangiectasia, the heat or energy from the BBL (broadband light) unit adds heat to the vessels coagulating or solidifying the blood flow in the vessel. The vessel dries up and is metabolized through your system. For pigment, the heat helps to pull the colour to the surface of the skin, leaving what we call coffee grounds (like a tiny scab) and flakes off over the course of a week or so. The side effect of this kind of heat also helps to stimulate collagen, which is a great reward to the quality of the skin. Any discomfort during this treatment is quick to recede immediately after each pulse.
When laser resurfacing is accomplished, we are destroying cells in the dermis to a fractionated portion of the skin. This in turn stimulates new collagen cells to be created, neutralizing the texture of the skin, adding volume and an overall quality of health to the appearance of the treated area. So, we are destroying cells! Of course there is going to be a degree of heat to make this happen. A numbing cream is applied and most people feel very little discomfort due mainly to the numbing cream. But of course when something as intense as laser resurfacing is performed there has to be energy reaching its goal in the dermis and thus, heat.
Whether it is destroying a hair root or a skin cell of some negative condition, the heat or discomfort is generally experienced and discarded within the blink of an eye. Most services require little to no downtime. The use of Tylenol, cold packs, sleeping with an extra pillow and the addition of numbing cream for a select number of services are helpful to negate any worries of discomfort for the patient. In the end, results are positive both texturally and visibly. Understanding the simple, yet complex line of action involved in remodeling the skin or getting rid of unwanted hair may include a little heat, but that little heat is the catalyst between the old and the new, and we couldn’t do it without it.
~ Sheri Roselle, Medical Esthetician at Toronto Dermatology Centre