Laser technology has become increasingly popular in the medical field. Developments in technology and technique have yielded laser treatments for a wide variety of skin conditions, among other medical applications, such as vision correction. The alexandrite laser has been used by medical professionals since 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration approved its use for hair removal. It is now one of the most widely used types of laser technology in the medical field, and is versatile in application. Most consumers associate the alexandrite laser with its use in cosmetic dermatology, for the correction of undesirable skin irregularities.
The alexandrite laser was not originally developed for medical use, but for scientific applications. Synthetic alexandrite was widely used in the jewelry industry, and in the late 1990s, a company called AlliedSignal Corp. invested more than $100 million into the research and development of alexandrite laser systems. The technology was first used for military and government applications before it caught the attention of medical professionals.
How It Works
Alexandrite laser technology uses the selective photothermolysis approach, meaning that a timed pulse of an energy-filled laser beam channels through the surface of the skin to the the targeted treatment area. The laser is converted to heat energy in order to dissolve the unwanted skin cells or hair follicle. The laser is tunable, so its power can be adjusted based on the condition being treated. The alexandrite uses a shorter wavelength than other laser types, enabling the alexandrite to be more rapidly and intensely absorbed by melanin and the follicles of fine hairs.
Laser treatment has shifted hair removal from lasers, tweezers, and electrolysis to destroying the hair with energy beams. The alexandrite is most popularly known for its use in hair removal treatments, and is the most widely used laser technology for this purpose. The alexandrite is especially effective on fine and light hair, since the laser energy is so easily absorbed by the melanin pigment in hair. For thicker and darker hair, settings are adjusted for optimal performance. An entire back can be treated for hair removal in only 30 minutes.
Its precision and ability to absorb melanin so easily has made the alexandrite an effective solution for tattoo removal. The lasers are able to substantially lighten and/or remove tattoo ink with a low risk of scarring, particularly for light-skinned patients. Green and black inks are especially easy to remove, since the base laser color ranges from red to yellow. The precision and ability to pass through the skin layers to get straight to the ink enables the correction to leave little to no damage to the surrounding skin tissue.
The alexandrite laser is also used to treat visible spider veins and other veins in the legs. It is also being developed to treat kidney stones.
Even with adjustable pulse durations and wavelengths, the alexandrite laser is still a highly concentrated and highly intense option for laser treatment. Because it is so readily absorbed by melanin and small hair hair follicles, it can pose some risk of unwanted pigmentation. Darker skinned patients, whose treatment may result in hypopigmentation, revealing light or white spots in place of the removed cells, have a higher risk of scarring.