University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Christopher Arpey, MD
Associate Director of Dermatologic Surgery
First Published: November 2000
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Do you have a birthmark such as a port wine stain? A tattoo that
is no longer the great idea you thought it would be? Liver or age
spots? Facial hair that is not one of your finer features?
Laser surgery may be the answer for you.
Christopher Arpey, MD, associate director of dermatologic
surgery at the University of Iowa, said the key to success with
lasers is using the right laser for the job. He compared using the
right laser to using the right tool or kitchen appliance.
"You wouldn't use your coffee maker to make toast. The same is
true for lasers. Each type of laser was developed to meet a specific
need, and you need to know what each laser can and cannot do."
Laser surgery uses a narrow band of light aimed at a specific
area. The light is absorbed by specific parts of the body and is
ignored by the rest of the body.
"For example," Arpey said, "some lasers are developed to work on
blood vessels but ignore pigmentation while some focus on
pigmentation and ignore blood vessels." In laser surgery, the light
is absorbed, for example, by red blood cells in visible veins or by
melanin pigment found in an age spot or freckle. The light then helps
to seal the nearby blood vessels, remove unwanted cells or help break
up the pigment and help it fade."
Arpey said laser surgery is not the answer for everything.
"Laser surgery is the way to go to treat a port wine stain." In
fact, he said, most practitioners agree that is the most effective
means to successfully fade them. However, laser surgery is not as
reliable as injection method to treat leg veins. Laser surgery is
improving in that field, but it is not quite as good as the
traditional method in most instances.
There are four main areas where laser dermatologic surgery is
- Vascular - Treat red birthmarks, broken facial veins,
and small varicose and spider veins.
- Pigmented lesions - Remove or lighten liver or age
spots, tattoos and some birthmarks.
- Hair removal - Remove unwanted facial or body
- Resurfacing - Smoothing wrinkles and superficial
The cost for laser surgery varies with each treatment and the
number of times treatment is needed.