LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, and the underlying principle of laser action was first described by Albert Einstein in 1917. A laser is a device that generates an intense beam of light. Light is a part of the spectrum of electromagnetic energy. The emissions that make up this spectrum travel at the speed of light. Under certain conditions, light exhibits the characteristics of a wave, and the wave length determines the functional properties of laser energy. Medical lasers are generally based on wavelengths in the infrared, visible and ultraviolet portion of the spectrum.
In the early 1960’s the only medical lasers available were those having wavelengths in the visible electromagnetic spectrum. So treatment was generally limited to pigmented lesions. But continued research and comprehension of the significance of wavelength, power density, beam quality, and pulse format, and their effect on tissue cutting, vaporizing, and coagulating have resulted in an explosion of medical laser technology.
There are several types of lasers commonly used in medicine. Based on their specific parameters, some are better suited for certain applications than others. The most frequently used lasers in medicine are the carbon dioxide (CO2), erbium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Er:YAG), homium: YAG (Ho:YAG), neodymium:YAG(Nd:YAG), double neodymium:YAG (KTP), argon ion, krypton ion, helium neon (HeNe), visible dye, and excimer. And within these types of lasers, there are scores of “brands” of lasers.
Lasers have been used in plastic surgery for 40 years, mostly for the treatment of vascular or pigmented skin lesions – those in the visible wavelength. Since the development of high energy pulsed laser systems in the mid 1990’s, laser skin resurfacing has truly emerged as the premier mode of treatment for skin “recontouring” (improvement of roughened surface texture), correction of severely sun-damaged skin including sun-induced wrinkles and pigmentation changes, and improvement of scars.