If you collared a group of people on the street and started to talk to them about light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, their eyes would probably start to glaze over or they would look for the nearest taxi. But if instead you expounded on the uses of lasers—in medicine and otherwise—you might have a captive audience.

How many other acronyms can you think of that have become so much a part of the language that they’re expressed as a “real” word—that is, in lowercase letters? The only ones that come quickly to mind are snafu and scuba. I’ll leave it to you to come up with others.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary even recognizes the verb form “to lase,” meaning to emit coherent light.

But I digress. We’re here to sing the praises of lasers. First, let’s take note of laser-based devices used in everyday life: laser printers, laser pointers, laser levels, laser light shows, laser-guided missiles . . . well, maybe you don’t come across some of these every day, but you get the point. They’re everywhere.

The laser is the basis of CD and DVD players, supermarket scanners, and modern surveying equipment. It’s also incorporated in machine tools, measuring devices, automotive wheel-alignment tools, and holograms. And, of course, it’s employed in medicine.

The laser is used in the eye to improve vision or to reattach a retina. It’s used on skin to smoothen it, tighten it, change its pigmentation, or remove tattoos from it. It’s also used in dentistry to repair cavities, bond filling materials, whiten teeth, and reshape gums. And if you Google the exact phrase, “laser plastic surgery,” you will get 23,200 hits at last count. If you leave out the quotation marks, you’ll get almost 10 million hits.

Laser plastic surgery . . . exactly what does the term mean? Google comes up mostly with eye lifts and facelifts. The eye lift seems to be legitimate enough—using a carbon dioxide laser to perform a blepharoplasty. How­ever, its use is not without its critics, who claim that the laser can harm the eyes and that the quality of the surgery and its recovery time are similar to the conventional blepharoplasty.

What about the laser facelift? In the vast majority of sites I found, the “facelift” was really skin resurfacing or tightening. I did find one physician who actually went more than skin deep. In her method, the laser energy stimulates the blood cells to produce collagen, which accomplishes pretty much the same thing as fillers and other injectables do. So it’s still basically a skin treatment.

Where does this leave laser plastic surgery? That’s something I’d like to know . . . from you! Are you using lasers to actually cut into tissue, much as you would use a scalpel or other mechanical equipment? If so, does it look promising? And would you like to share your work in pro­gress with your fellow plastic surgeons? Get in touch with me, and we’ll talk.

In the meantime, go to Boston next month for the annual meeting of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. If you aren’t using lasers in your practices, you probably will be in a few years, so you might as well start thinking about them now.

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