Can Lasers Be A Safe Part Of A Holistic Skin Care Routine?

Photo: Ryan Ahern

During a holistic facial, it's common to expect the following: cleansing, massage, steaming, extractions (sometimes), masking, lasers, and a final serum treatment complete with SPF. Yes, lasers are being integrated into holistic treatments as casually as a mask. Especially with skin newly treated and sensitive, should this be cause for alarm?

Holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., who routinely combines holistic practices with medical-grade therapeutics like lasers and peels for her patients, clarified that cosmetic lasers don't impart UV rays—so there's no need to worry about getting sun damage or sun spots—but that doesn't mean they're clear of risk. "There are risks with every laser," she said. "Some ablative resurfacing lasers have higher risks of infection and alterations of skin pigmentation. Burn is a risk of every laser I can think of." Ablative lasers remove some of the outer layers of the skin.

That said, she maintains that lasers can be a safe and effective part of your skin care routine, as long as the professionals wielding them understand exactly how to use them. Different lasers target different materials or areas that, when zapped, produce a desired result. For example, lasers for hair removal target melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color. It doesn't work on lighter hair, and would target the melanin in darker skin tones, so it's a fit for a smaller range of skin types, at least for now, she said. A Fraxel laser targets water to resurface the skin, and a laser that improves the appearance of blood vessels targets hemoglobin.

Dr. Fishman points out that many inexperienced estheticians are tacking on a cheaper laser alternative called IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light. Many of her patients have reported burns from these types of lasers from established spas and treatment centers. Laura Kaiser, esthetician at Shen Beauty, agrees and typically adds LED light to her facials instead. "IPL is the next step on the spectrum between LED and lasers, and it can lead to a sunburned feeling that's sore to the touch," she said. "LED is like yoga in that it's good for you and has a cumulative effect. It's anti-inflammatory, the red light boosts collagen production, and it's good for everybody, even sensitive skin or clients with rosacea." In other words, for a nonmedical facial treatment, LED is your best bet.

Bottom line? Make sure your doctor or esthetician knows her stuff. If she whips out a laser without your consent, ask what it is and why she's using it. If it's IPL, be sure to warn your esthetician if you have sensitive skin and ask about her training. Dr. Fishman recommends the brands Clear & Brilliant and Varilite, both of which are low-risk (and happen to be the ones she's employed in her practice).

On a quest for clear skin holistically? Try masking with this superfood ingredient.

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