Are you confused about lasers? Are you afraid to admit that you don't know the difference between "Q- switched" and "pulsed dye"? You are not alone and we are here to help "shed the light" on the confusing array of lasers and light devices.
The laser industry has blossomed from the first laser invented, in 1960, by T.H. Maiman at the Howard Hughes aircraft company, to a multimillion-dollar industry. Each month a new laser hits the market. Some of these new lasers are based on entirely new principles in laser science while others are just a new marketing spin. Understanding and using these new devices is very difficult unless you are a laser specialist who has the time to attend all the conferences and keep up-to-date on these issues.
As the number of devices and operators increase, so does the incidence of complications.
Misunderstandings and misuse can also result from the fact that we can use a single laser or light device for much more than its original purpose.
For example, the ruby laser was invented in 1960, yet it was not until Anderson and Parrish explained the term selective photothermolysis that we were able to use this device for hair removal in 1996. Less than 10 years later the ruby is no longer even used for this purpose. Understanding the physics behind how we remove hair with lasers has led us to safer and more effective options.
It is remarkable that in any field to see such a dramatic change in such a short period of time. Wonderful as it may seem, the rapid advances in laser technology make it very difficult to stay abreast of the changes. A device that is the latest and greatest today may be obsolete tomorrow. Before investing in one of these devices, some basic knowledge is necessary, and we are prepared to give it to you.
At the University of Miami we train 21 inquisitive residents and many international dermatologists each year. We have found that there is much confusion about laser technology. As companies remarket old lasers for new indications, it's impossible to know what is really "new." Inflated marketing claims are partially to blame, and let's face it — not everyone loves physics.
The goal of this column will be to take the questions we are getting from our students and colleagues, and combine that with our experience with the various laser and light technologies.
Lasers are amazing devices with possibilities to do things that we had never imagined.
A goal in teaching is to bring enough awareness to the possible downsides of lasers, so that we can accurately choose which procedures to perform, and which not to perform. Patients believe that lasers can do anything and are the answer to all of their problems. It is our job to give realistic expectations and explain all the risks and benefits, so that patients are not disappointed with the outcome. Lasers do have their limitations, and safety is one of them. Because we are a university, many cases of laser complications get referred to our center.
Lasers and light emitting devices will continue to be a dominant part of our field, and this technology will continue to mature. Let's embrace the possibilities and make safe users out of all who wish to use them.
The topics of this column will be directly related to lasers and other light sources.