As a doctor, I get concerned with requests from patients to do laser treatments for their pigmentation problems. Many asked for laser treatments on their FIRST consultation.
Why? Patients generally believed that laser treatments cure pigmentations like magic. However, that is untrue.
Lasers are NOT always the best option
One reason why lasers ALWAYS get pushed to patients is because they are profitable.
“Why are lasers profitable to clinics?”
Lasers tend to be priced higher than other forms of treatment. Google or make a few phone calls and you can see that they cost anywhere from $600 to $1000.
This link shows exactly how much lasers cost in Singapore.
Pushy sales staff might tell you “lasers need at least 3-5 sessions to see results”. That can easily increase your treatment cost to thousands of dollars.
It’s true that certain pigmentations require only 3 sessions to see marked improvement, while others may require 10 sessions or even more. However, something many patients DON’T KNOW is that you might not even need lasers in the first place!
Lasers are also higher in profit margin. Unlike topical treatments, they do not have consumable costs (e.g. syringes, production costs in creams and lotions etc). The only cost for the clinic is the machine, which is a sunk cost anyway.
The different prices between clinics is very much down to the skill of the doctor (think of the BIG price difference between seeing your HDB doctor for a sore throat VS seeing an ENT specialist in Mount Elizabeth Hospital).
“So, do lasers really work?”
Yes, they do. In fact, MOST OF THE TIME, they are great for a variety of pigmentation issues. For example, the Q-Switched NdYag laser is excellent at treating stubborn conditions like Hori’s Naevus and Solar Lentigos etc.
However, they are NOT ALWAYS the best method. In my previous article (click here), I mentioned different types of pigmentation issues like melasma and freckles.
Each requires its own specific type of treatment that may or may not involve lasers.
The severity of your condition can also decide whether you require lasers.
Here’s a recent case I handled which did not require lasers.
Case Study #1: Melasma
Ms TA came to me with extensive patchy pigmentations that she’s been suffering from for many years. My experience in treating Melasma helped me to quickly diagnose her condition.
Melasma is a pigmentation issue caused by hormonal factors and sun exposure. Often, lasers are recommended for her condition but in her case, I genuinely feel that a combination of lightening cream, sunscreen and sufficient sun-protection measures is more effective.
Don’t underestimate these products! For illustration purpose only!
3 weeks later, she came back very pleased. When I showed her before/after photos to her, she was very surprised at how just topical application and sun-protection strategies improved her condition by 70%. (MOH does not allow me to show before/after photos here but interested readers can contact me to learn more)
These products cost her LESS THAN HALF of what she would pay for 3 sessions of lasers.
Case Study #2: Solar Lentigos and Uneven Skin Tone
Notice Mdm ZY’s uneven skin tone and patches of darkened pigmentation (solar lentigos). She spent over $10,000 on facial packages elsewhere before she came to see me.
Earlier on, I mentioned that the Q-switched Nd Yag laser is great against solar lentigos. However, in Mdm ZY’s case, I personally decided that a combination of basic lightening cream, sun screening regimen and adequate sun-protect measures was sufficient for her.
Both her conditions improved significantly.
“Which treatment method should patients pick?”
These 2 case studies are examples of how non-laser treatments can be VERY effective depending on the situation.
- Find a doctor you TRUST and explore all treatment options before asking for lasers
- Seek the doctor’s opinion in treating your pigmentation condition, rather than the kind of laser he is currently using
- Always ask for before/after pictures of MULTIPLE patients with similar conditions to yours
- Seek 2-3 doctors’ opinion and see if any of them are confident in using topical treatments.