What is a Laser?

Dr. William D. Merkel

By William D. Merkel, MD

Special to The Business Times

            People know the word “laser” as a household (even a universal) term, often without the knowledge as to what a laser is. The definition as a noun, in the world of physics, is that a laser is a device that produces a nearly parallel and monochromatic incoherent beam of light by exciting atoms to a higher energy level and causing them to radiate their energy in phases. 

            In common, everyday language “laser” means that the light occurs in straight lines, coordinated together rather than having light emitted in multiple waves. Coherent laser light is somewhat analogical to water being directed over a straight edge that gives a nice ribbon type waterfall where all the water is traveling at the same speed, giving it a perfect sheet of water as it falls into a pool; as opposed to a mountain stream of water, swirling in eddies and in constant turbulence going through rapids, etc. 

            The light emitted from a laser results from an incredible array of electronic ingenuity, referred to as a black box in the language of physics. Each laser has its own wavelengths and each wavelength does not change for the life of the laser. Each wavelength has a certain target that it collides with causing a certain reaction at the collision site where light hits the target.

            The number of uses for lasers has quadrupled in the last several years. The industry uses many different wattages which determine the strength of the laser. In the fields of medicine, computers, entertainment and construction, laser usage is common . Lasers have multiple uses in the medical filed whether in surgery or for outpatient procedures. Others can read data off of CD and DVD discs so we can listen to music or help display the images on the screen so we can watch a movie. More powerful lasers can cut through metal like paper. Universally, the application of commercial lasers can be divided into marking, etching, and cutting or reading and scanning. 

            In the medical sciences and professional industry, nearly 500 uses of medical lasers are now available. Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers are used in many types of surgery because they are more precise and even more sensitive than scalpels. Lasers remove tattoos, which avoids surgery and skin grafting. Laser drilling of teeth is common now as is the removal of certain tumors with laser. The correction vision by reshaping an eyeball lens is done with a computer controlled laser. Lasers can now incise tissues and sear the edges so they don’t bleed and can be used in many parts of the body. This represents a real breakthrough in dividing organs such as the liver, spleen and brain, etc.

            My first experience with a laser was an Argon laser purchased by St. Mary’s Hospital. I was not only urging the hospital to acquire this laser so that certain conditions of the eyeball could be treated, but also because of the fact that the Argon laser could be used for congenital abnormalities of the vascular system, such as port-wine stains. This Argon laser was “state-of-the-art” back in the late 1980’s, and was the only laser between Denver and Salt Lake City that could treat congenital vascular problems. Today, those problems are treated with more advanced and effective lasers, making the Argon laser obsolete.

            In the arena of tattoo removal, multiple different wavelengths of laser are used to treat and pulverize the various colored pigment of inks that are used in tattooing. This makes the removal extremely complicated and more expensive because it takes different lasers and different wavelengths to target these various areas. 

            One of the larger breakthroughs in laser treatment of aged skin is the invention of the CO2/fractional laser that gives rejuvenation of the skin by promoting the re-growth of collagen in the skin. This laser has the ability to tighten and reduce wrinkles, all while evening out the skin’s color. This miracle procedure is routinely performed at my practice and at other practices.

            The fact is, lasers are one of the greatest breakthroughs in overall skin treatments. The provide patients with minimal to no pain, rapid healing and good improvement – all with the use of topical anesthesia.

            I highly recommend you take the time to look further into how this amazing and evolving technology can improve your quality of life. All that is needed is a consultation appointment with a reputable, experienced practitioner to see how lasers can best benefit you and your skin.