Laser, Light Savers, and other Fanciful Ideas

There are literally hundreds of companies developing, manufacturing, and selling laser systems to treat a wide variety of ailments. Some of these laser platforms actually work, but for the most part they never live-up to the expectations created by their marketing campaigns. There are many companies that sell the exact same technology as others but offer new “bells and whistles” as well as more attractive packaging. Doctors have a bewildering number of choices with conflicting claims of “remarkable” results. Complicating the marketplace even further is that the companies market their laser and other “do-dads” directly to the patient hoping that patient inquiries to their doctors will drive the marketplace rather than scientific studies which determine the efficacy of a specific laser treatment.

Concomitant with the latest marketing schemes a lexicon has evolved to describe the wondrous things these lasers can do. Certain words reappear frequently such as: powerful, pain-free, immediate visible results with superior comfort, fast treatment times, and the ubiquitous product that produces superior results and a great ROI (return of investment).

Besides shooting down enemy missiles (ICBM) and providing the “red dot” for laser guided weapon systems, today’s lasers are useful but not required to treat the following: tattoos, vascular skin lesions, superficial facial wrinkles, acne scarring, and for skin rejuvenation in its most generic form. It is human nature to want to look younger with no surgery, no down-time, and no pain. Unfortunately, this is rarely if ever possible. The best plan is to consult first with a physician you trust that has knowledge about Plastic Surgery and skin rejuvenation. Hopefully he or she can help you make sense of the aesthetic industry and give you useable information regarding your particular wishes. Many times a laser may not be necessary at all when much simpler explanation and recommendation will suffice. Sometimes common sense will lead you to the right answer. It is always true that a claim that is too good to be true frequently is.

There are a number of newer technologies now available that are not lasers but make fanciful claims. Intense Pulse Light (IPL), cold therapy (Zerona®), mesotherapy, and radio frequency (RF) tissue healing are out there with little to no data proving their efficacy. A very thoughtful Plastic Surgeon once said, “I’d rather not be the first to jump on the new technology band wagon, nor do I want to be the last.”

Dr. Paul Howard is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. To learn more about Dr. Howard and his Plastic Surgery practice in Birmingham, Alabama please go to his web site:

PaulHowardMD.com

A Primer on Liposuction

The development of liposuction about 30 years ago was driven by our patients who asked for a method to reduce body fat without the scars associated with the usual tummy tuck procedures.  Our primary focus is the safe removal of isolated pockets of fat to improve body contours.  While the goal (fat removal) has always been the same, the methods of anesthesia for liposuction have changed through the years making the procedure more “patient friendly,” yet achieving the same contour results.  Most of the technological advances are intended to make the fat removal easier and, even more importantly, an attempt is being made to tighten loose skin and improve the appearance of cellulite utilizing the latest surgical laser technology. Most plastic surgeons believe that the skin tightening effects have not been as impressive as the manufacturers claim.  Each manufacturer slightly alters the laser platform so their product can be claimed as “unique” while there is no discoverable clinical difference in the final result.  Laser assisted liposuction is marketed under any number of trademarked names including Smartlipo, Vaser, Slim Lipo, Cool Touch, etc.  The marketing department of the manufacturer uses the trade names to market these laser liposuction platforms directly to the patients.  The laser can be purchased by ANY practitioner, even those with no laser or surgical training.  Regardless of the laser manufacturer, the practitioner is told that the patient referrals will be generated through their web marketing and the practitioner is allowed to use the trademarked name (Smartlipo) in their practice marketing efforts.

This marketing strategy is similar in design to the pharmaceutical companies who advertise their drugs directly to the public and offer the names of certain physicians who prescribe their products.  All of these marketing schemes are evidently legal, but in the laser liposuction example, the machines are sold to any doctor with the money, training is offered but not required, marketing and patients are guaranteed without checking the doctor’s credentials.  The red elephant in the room is that laser liposuction is inherently more dangerous than standard tumescent liposuction techniques and in many instances is performed by non-plastic surgeons who are damaging their patients because of a lack of basic education and the need to market the trademarked product that they own rather than choosing the proper technique for each individual patient.

Many of these doctors ask you to ignore their training and credentials and emphasize their marketing skills.  In the final analysis, patient education is not advanced with unclear or even false advertising and many people have suffered as a result.