Can Laser Skin Treatment Cause Cancer?
We’ve all heard about the dangers of too much sun exposure. We know that the high energy of ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage skin and increase the risk of skin cancer altogether. So, it makes sense to wonder whether laser skin treatments – for hair removal, cell rejuvenation, and other cosmetic or medical procedures – need the same precautions.
Today, let’s discuss the overall safety and risks of laser treatments. Studies show that they are safe for long-term use and non-carcinogenic, and we’ll explain why.
How Lasers Are Different from UV Light
Every second, the sun emits huge amounts of many different types of radiation. Some of this is the visible light we see, but much of it is invisible to our eyes – including the UV rays that have more energy than the visible light spectrum.
Ranging from the weaker UV-A to the stronger UV-C rays, these rays are known as ionizing radiation because they can interfere with the molecular structure of our cells. This ionization can lead to cancer when it occurs in the atoms and molecules of DNA found in skin cells.
However, this only happens with specific wavelengths and frequencies of light (UV wavelengths are about 10-400 billionths of a metre long). The wavelengths used in laser and intense pulse light (IPL) treatments are all longer than that and are non-ionizing. That means they have no adverse effect on DNA or cellular regeneration, because the energy is not absorbed by anything except the exact chromatophore (colour-based target cell) that the light is attuned to.
In fact, not only has IPL long been considered safe – but it is actually used to treat and remove cancer cells, because the wavelengths can be so precisely targeted!
Studies on Long-Term Effects of Laser Treatment
Since the introduction of laser, IPL, and other light-based treatments in the past few decades, many studies have looked into the potential side effects of their use, with exhaustive research done across many areas.
Here is how an article from the National Library of Medicine summarized the findings1:
- “The existing evidence base of over 25 years of laser and IPL use to date has not raised any concerns regarding its long-term safety with only a few anecdotal cases of melanoma post treatment over two decades of use; therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a credible cancer risk.”
- “Since the first publication of IPL use on skin in 1995, the evidence base consists of over 20 years’ worth of publications and studies were performed with a wide variety of IPL systems and parameters and, to date, there has been no indication that repeated exposure or cumulative adverse events may lead to potential long-term risks.”
- “[Hedelund et al.’s] study advocates that IPL treatment alone has no carcinogenic potential as the wavelengths present in IPL systems are outside of the carcinogenic spectrum in the UV range.”
As well as being an effective skin treatment – as lasers like our broadband light (BBL) therapy machine stimulate the growth of collagen, removes pigmented blemishes, and help with wrinkles and fine lines – more advanced laser units can even target and destroy cancerous lesions.
This can be done through direct heating, which shrinks or destroys the cancer cells by overloading them with energy, or via chemical activation in a process known as photodynamic therapy (PDT). While this is not offered at Bardöt, it illustrates the utility and safety of laser treatments when administered by a professional medical technician.
Risks of Laser Skin Treatment
As with any medical or cosmetic process, there are risks involved – but they are much more immediate and usually preventable. Joseph Prohaska and Marc H. Hohman, two medical researchers from Campbell University and the Madigan Army Medical Centre, respectively, laid out some of the biggest risks in an article entitled Laser Complications2:
- Burns (if the light setting is too high or too long)
- Scarring (often a result of burns or infection)
- Dyspigmentation (due to melanin pigments temporarily spreading out from destroyed cells, or increased melanin production from remaining cells after treatment)
- ocular injury (if the laser is viewed directly or through unintended reflection)
- infection (if burns or other blemishes are not properly cared for after treatment)
These risks can be mitigated and reduced through proper training and experience of the administering medical practitioner. We’re thrilled to say that everyone performing BBL therapy at Bardöt is fully qualified for the procedures you can get, and we will review any associated risks with you beforehand.
Laser Skin Treatment in Calgary
We would be happy to answer any questions you have about treating skin conditions with lasers, or cosmetic procedures with lasers in Calgary. Our team can help you decide what is best for you and what precautions to be aware of before undergoing treatment.
It all starts with a free 20-minute consultation and information session. Reach out today to find out how you can look and feel your best with the possibilities of laser treatment!
1 Caerwyn Ash, Godfrey Town, Rebecca Whittall, Louise Tooze, and Jaymie Phillips. Lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) association with cancerous lesions. Lasers Med Sci, 2017; 32(8): 1927-1933.
2 Joseph Prohaska, Marc H. Hohman. Laser Complications. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing, January 2022. Updated September 9, 2022.