Medical Laser For Skincare: Early History from the 60’s to the ’80s

We may think of lasers being used in the cosmetic industry as a modern phenomenon, but the history dates back to longer than you might think.

The 1960’s

Dr.T.H. Maiman built the first laser in 1960 at the Hughes Aircraft Company, created using a synthetic ruby rod that was stimulated by high-intensity flash lamps which generated millisecond pulses of coherent 684nm (which is near-infrared) ruby laser (red) light. Not long after, 1060nm laser light was generated by stimulating glass rods doped with Neodymium.

So how long did it take before the potential effect of lasers on the body were explored? Not long. Within a year Dr Leon Goldman began his research looking at the interaction of laser light on biologic systems, featuring early examples of clinical studies on humans.

Interest in laser technology for medical purposes quickly escalated, however naturally for any early technology there were teething problems. In this case, it was the difficulty controlling the output of power and the delivery of the laser energy. Furthermore, there was quite a poor absorption of the red and infrared wavelengths, which led to inconsistent results.

However, the middle ’60s saw some encouraging improvements. In 1964 the Argon Ion laser was developed. This involved a continuous wave 488nm (blue-green) gas laser which was easy to control. Also, its high absorption by haemoglobin meant it was suited to retinal surgery. This soon traversed to clinical systems and the treatment of retinal diseases becoming available.

Also in 1964, the Nd: YAG (Neodymium: Yttrium Aluminum Garnet) laser and the CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) laser were developed at Bell Laboratories. The CO2 laser is a continuous wave gas laser emitting infrared light at 10600nm in a focused beam that is easily manipulated and absorbed well by water. This is significant as soft tissue consists mostly of water, as researchers discovered, a CO2 laser beam could cut through tissue like a scalpel, but with minimal blood loss.

The 1970’s

This laser received a lot of investigation of its surgical potential from 1967 to 1970 by pioneers including Dr.Thomas Polanyi and Geza Jako.

It was in the early 70s when the use of the CO2 laser in ENT and gynecologic surgery became well established, though at first it was limited to use at teaching hospitals.

The 1980’s

Fast forward to the 1980s and more powerful and smaller in size lasers became available. These lasers quickly found themselves in community hospitals. The majority were CO2 lasers and were being used for cutting and vaporising. Also, Argon lasers were being used for ophthalmic use. On the other scale of things Nd: YAG laser systems received use in larger hospitals.

Finally, to close on the 1980’s we have a very big advancement to consider: pulsing.

Pulsing the laser beam meant selective destruction of any abnormal or otherwise unwanted tissue was possible, whilst keeping the surrounding, unaffected film undisturbed.

The 1980’s also provided us with scanning devices which allowed for prevision computerised control of laser beams. This combination of scanned, pulsed lasers changed the face of cosmetic surgery creating a safe, consistent laser resurfacing action that has been one of the major foundations that today’s cosmetic laser scene is built upon.