KA Hanna is a technology blogger with a special interest in home, family, health, and internet security.
My Experience With Alexandrite Laser Treatment for Sun Damaged Skin
It began with a simple visit to the dermatologist for my annual skin cancer screening. Dr. T walked into the exam room, greeted me with a 'hello' and then immediately flipped my arm over, pointed to a tiny mole and said, "I don't like the looks of that." After a very complete exam, Dr. T recommended that I have two moles biopsied (one which would turn out to be a pre-cancer.)
As Dr. T finished up with the biopsies, she mentioned that I had an awful lot of sun damage, particularly on my hands and arms. Had I ever considered having the pigmented areas removed? She took a pen and started circling brown spots, noting the difference between moles that she wanted to keep and eye on, and sun damaged areas that she wanted to remove. She went over a couple of possibilities, and then said that the Alexandrite laser would be a good option for me. I looked at the dozens of circles of ink on my arm and agreed that it would be a good idea to have the sun damage removed.
The doctor's office manager quoted a price of $700 to treat both arms and both hands, not covered by insurance, with the likelihood of three treatments ($2100 total) being needed. However, there was no way to know in advance how many treatments I would really need. There was also the possibility that I would have darkened skin at each treatment site due to my type of skin, and that I would need to have skin bleaching done to correct the color once the laser treatments were complete. I signed some paperwork, made the appointment for the first treatment, and left the office.
My First Visit
On my first visit for the Alexandrite laser treatment, I was ushered into a treatment room where a nurse had me sign more paperwork. She then rolled up my sleeves and slathered my arms and hands with numbing cream. I was taken to another waiting area where I sat for thirty minutes, waiting for the numbing cream to take effect.
After thirty minutes, my arms and hands did not feel numb at all, but I was taken back to the treatment room anyway. The nurse wiped off the numbing cream with several baby wipes. After a couple of minutes, the doctor appeared, ready to begin the treatment. Dr. T explained that I'd feel a "stinging" sensation with each brown spot she treated, "And you have lots of brown spots," she said.
I have a very high tolerance for pain, so the actual laser treatment really didn't bother me that much. I was aware of the laser—it felt hot, with a pinpoint type of pain at each treatment site (each brown spot.) There was also a lingering hot pain even as she moved to subsequent sites.
Length of Procedure
The actual lasering took about thirty minutes for both hands and both arms. (There were over a hundred sun spots treated on one arm alone.) As soon as the last spot was treated, the doctor zipped out of the room, saying that the nurse would finish up with me.
The nurse put a lotion on my hands and arms, which she said would aid in the healing process. Then she put on a layer of suncreen and told me to minimize sun exposure until my next appointment, about six weeks away.
At this point, the nurse raised up my chair so that I could sit upright, and I saw my hands and arms. It looked like I was recovering from chicken pox, or perhaps a bad case of poison oak. My skin was angry red and bumpy.
When I got to my car, my skin was on fire. I do have a high tolerance for pain, but this pain was exquisite. I was aware that the numbing cream was taking effect, but the pain was still very apparent. I had planned on grabbing some lunch after the appointment, but I had very little appetite at this point.
The doctor's office is about thirty minutes from my home. I didn't think I'd make it, but miraculously, by the time I got to my front door, the pain had subsided considerably. My arms and hands still looked hideous, but they didn't hurt. The combination of the numbing cream and the healing ointment that the nurse applied made my arms feel cool and detached. Oddly enjoyable.
Within six hours, I felt back to normal, but my arms remained bumpy and red, with a sensation similar to a bad sunburn. The sun damaged spots had darkened considerably, but I had been told that this was normal. Twenty-four hours later, the redness was gone, and most of the bumpiness as well. The sun spots were very dark, though, and I was a bit concerned.
When I Could Tell a Difference
On the third day, I could tell that the sun damaged areas were fading, or perhaps shrinking would be more accurate. A couple spots now looked like tiny dots. Others hadn't changed, but for the most part, I thought that my arms were looking better. The sunburn sensation still lingered, however, and it was still hard to wash my hands and arms in the shower.
Right Hand Two Hours After Treatment
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Right Hand, Three Days After Treatment
Right Hand 5 Weeks
Immediately after treatment, my hands were sore and puffy, like I had a bad sunburn. The treated spots were considerable darker, raised and red. But after three days, my right hand especially was looking a lot better, though the larger sunspots were considerably darker than when they started. The smaller sun damaged areas near my right thumb and index finger were noticeably lightened.
The left hand and right forearm results were more dramatic. The right forearm sundamage was shrinking after three days. The sun spots on the left hand were much lighter.
The left forearm results were slower. After three days, the left forearm was still red in areas, but only a few of the sunspots felt bumpy.
One week after treatment, all the treated sunspots were darker but smaller. It almost looked like I had tiny scabs under the skin. They were dark brownish red in color. The spots on my upper arms were more red than brown, but smaller. I did not yet feel "presentable" out in public, and kept my arms covered.
Although the laser treatment was a somewhat painful and unsightly process, after several weeks, I am pleased with the results of the first treatment. I may get another laser treatment in about two weeks, because the sun damaged areas on my upper arms really haven't changed much. My hands, however, are dramatically better. Most of the lasered sun-spots on my hands eventually scabbed over and then fell off, leaving behind clear skin. On my right hand, only one sunspot on my right middle finger remains, along with one raised "bump" near my thumb. Similarly, on the left hand, only three treated sun-spots remain.
My forearms show darkened skin, which is an expected side-effect of the Alexandrite treatment. I will likely need to bleach my skin to restore an even tone.
Left Hand, Two Hours After Treatment
Left Hand, Three Days After Treatment
Left Hand, 5 Weeks
After about eight weeks, I went for a follow-up visit with the dermatologist. She was pleased with the results I had gotten, but felt there were some spots that needed more treatment. Most of the spots now in question looked like tiny freckles, though there were some dark spots on my hands that had returned several weeks after the first treatment.
For my second treatment, I opted to go without any numbing cream. I don't recommend this, but I tolerate pain well, so it didn't bother me so much. It was about thirty minutes post treatment when the real pain set in, but a Tylenol took care of it. My second treatment was much like the first - about one hundred spots on my right arm were treated, and about one hundred twenty-five on the left.
I think that I am most pleased with the results to my hands. The "liver spot" appearance is nearly gone, though there are two small raised bumps that the dermatologist wants to cut off and biopsy at some point. My arms are much clearer looking, though I have to do some bleaching because of lingering darkened skin caused by the laser. All in all, I think it was worth the $1400 I spent on two treatments. I won't go for the third treatment on my arms and hands, though I may look into a Fraxel type treatment for my face. I'm told there are options to remove the sun damage to my face which includes fine wrinkles, lax skin and sun spots. In the meantime, I continue to slather on the sunscreen, and marvel at my (relatively) clear-skinned hands.
Quick Facts About Alexandrite Laser
- Alexandrite laser is used to treat brown spots due to sun damage. It is also used to treat brown birthmarks and some tattoos.
- Alexandrite laser works by targeting the pigmented areas with light, breaking them up. Over time, the pigmented areas fade away.
- More than one treatment may be needed to completely remove the pigmented areas.
- Some types of skin may darken as a result of the laser treatment. Darkened skin may be lightened using hydroquinone ointment.
- After treatment, it is important to continue using a broad spectrum sunscreen, to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Right Forearm, Two Hours After Treatment
Right Forearm, Three Days After Treatment
Right Forearm 5 Weeks
Left Forearm Two Hours After Treatment
Left Forearm Three Days After Treatment
Left Forearm 5 Weeks
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
almasi on January 25, 2011:
Thanks for sharing very useful info.