What is a Picosecond Laser?

As I write this, there are only nine PicoSure lasers in Texas. Dr. Kimberly Finder is bringing the first PicoSure laser to North San Antonio. There is one other PicoSure in San Antonio, on the
Southside and it is being used primarily to remove tattoos. Our PicoSure will help you look younger by reducing your wrinkles, improving the clarity of your skin, and do it with no downtime and markedly less discomfort. This is why it is a revolution.

To understand what makes this laser unique and why Dr. Kimberly Finder felt she needed to offer this laser is the purpose of this blog article.

Lasers do one thing and one thing only. They create a beam of light energy (in the form of particles called photons) that are all the same wavelength (same color) and traveling in the same direction. These allow lasers to do incredible things. For example, we can bounce a laser off of a bar code and read that bar code, which is done millions of times a day in grocery stores around the world. We can use lasers to cut material in manufacturing plants. We can bounce a laser off the moon to measure the exact distance to the moon. We can use lasers in medicine to treat disease and to make us more attractive.

The amount of power in a laser beam is based on the number of photons in the beam. More photons mean more power. Less photons is less power.

Now think of these photons all traveling together in the beam. The time it takes for the first photon to pass a point to the last photon is called the pulse width and is measured as time. This is just like a bunch of cars traveling down the freeway. The time it takes from the first car to pass a point on the road to the last car is like the pulse width. With cars it is measured in seconds or minutes. With lasers it is measured in thousandths, millionths, or even billionths of a second. Last year, the first picosecond laser (PicoSure) was released for tattoo removal. It took ten years to develop this laser.

What is a picosecond?

A picosecond is a trillionth of a second. I find that number very hard to fathom, so the following table perhaps gives you a better appreciation of what that means. The table is based on the speed of light, the fastest thing in the world. Light travels 186,282 miles per second. In one second, light will travel seven and half (7.5) times around the earth. Light will travel from the earth to the moon in 1.3 seconds.

So let’s see how far light travels in various time intervals.

UnitIntervalDistanceHow far light travels in interval
Second186,282 miles7.5 times around the earth
MillisecondThousandth186 milesStraight distance between San Antonio and Houston
MicrosecondMillionth984 feetJust over 3 football fields
NanosecondBillionth11.8 inchesAlmost a foot
PicosecondTrillionth.011 inchTip of an extra fine point pen

As you can see from the table, a picosecond is so short that light, the fastest thing in the universe, only travels the distance of the tip of a extra fine point pen. A picosecond is an unbelievable short period of time.

Why is the PicoSure revolutionary?

We’ve all had this happen. We accidentally knock something over. Often it falls before we can react but occasionally we react so quickly that we grab it before it falls. When you think of all the steps that have to happen for your brain to process what is going on and then to move your muscles to react, we can see that our bodies react very quickly. Chemical reactions in our bodies are very quick, in the millisecond and even microsecond range.

When the pulse width is long enough (distance from first photon to last photon), the energy is absorbed slow enough to heat the target and we use this heat to destroy cells, such as hair follicles, or remodel collagen. In almost all cases, the laser is used to create heat. It is this heat that creates wounds and that causes the pain with treatments.

The PicoSure is different. The pulse width is so short that all the photons in the beam hit the target at almost the exact same time. Not quite, but so close that for all practical purposes the photons in the beam all arrive together. The photons arrive so fast that rather than a heating effect it creates a shockwave in the target. We can create this shockwave without having to use as much power, which reduces discomfort and any reactions (downtime).

When the target is a tattoo particle, it breaks up the tattoo ink into smaller particles allowing the body to remove the ink. The shock wave created by the PicoSure is so efficient that it can remove a tattoo in 3 to 4 treatments when conventional lasers need 12 to 15 treatments, or even more.

But it turns out that there is something even more revolutionary about the PicoSure.

How does laser resurfacing work?

Laser resurfacing is a process by which we create precise wounds to the skin allowing the skin to heal and create new cells. The process helps smooth wrinkles and even improve the texture of skin. The problem is that in creating these wounds, we also break the skin’s surface and it takes time for the skin to heal. With a broken surface there is risk of infection, scarring, plus discomfort and pain. The greater the amount of skin that is wounded, the better the possible results but the longer the downtime, the more pain, and the greater the risk.

To help solve these problems, fractional resurfacing was developed. Using special lasers that created pinhole sized wounds, surrounded by healthy skin, it reduced the time it takes to heal from one month to just about a week. It was still very painful, but is a much safer procedure than traditional laser resurfacing. This has been the state of the art for the last several years, as manufacturers create newer lasers that tweak the fractional resurfacing concept. The best example of fractional resurfacing is Fraxel. Dr. Kimberly Finder uses two different kinds of Fraxel. Though they are both good laser systems, they can cause complications and are not for everyone due to the downtime and pain.

Enter the PicoSure which creates a shock wave rather than heat. A special Focus hand piece was developed to focus that shockwave at a specific depth in the skin. Using this hand piece the shockwave creates a precise wound deep within the skin but leaving the surface completely intact.

Without breaking the skin’s surface, there is no risk of infection. There is no injury to heal and there is practically no down time. One of our patients was easily able to attend an intense gym class four hours after their treatment. The results from the use of the PicoSure are incredible. In 3 to 4 treatments the results are as good as a fractional laser and almost as good as the best traditional resurfacing treatments. And with no downtime.

An added benefit is that because of the mechanism of action, the PicoSure can also be used to remove pigment abnormalities and clear up skin tone at the same time it is revitalizing your skin. This is something that traditional resurfacing can not do.

There is also another truly revolutionary bonus. Because there is no heat absorption and no destruction of the skin surface, there is much less discomfort compared to Fraxel or traditional laser resurfacing pain. Many people do not consider the PicoSure treatment to be painful, describing it as a pulsing sensation. Others say that there is some discomfort (3-4/10) but by no means is it painful. For those who feel some discomfort, numbing medicine is available to reduce even this little discomfort.

The PicoSure Focus hand piece has only been out for a few months. We are still learning how to best use this laser to maximize the benefit to our patients. Because this is so new, we are running an introductory special to let our patients and San Antonio try out this treatment. If you are interested in improving your appearance and revitalizing your skin, come in and speak to Dr. Kimberly Finder and her staff. They will be happy to tell you more about this revolutionary laser and what it can do for you.

By |2019-02-18T00:47:27-07:00June 23rd, 2015|Articles|2 Comments
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