Laser toning is a laser treatment that was first developed in Korea as a way of treating melasma and other skin pigment conditions that were previously deemed difficult to treat. Usually, laser treatment that removes skin conditions like moles and freckles use high fluence energy that focused on destroying the melanin that causes the pigmentation. However, pigmentation like melasma when treated with the same laser caused complications like hypopigmentation (whitened patches or spots in the skin). So Korean doctors began using much lower fluence energy multiple times and for multiple sessions, which showed promising practical effect, and is now one of the most popular treatment in Korea for not only melasma but various other skin conditions like acne scars. So how does laser toning actually treat pigmentation?
What is Laser Toning?
Laser Toning is a treatment that involves low fluence energy shot multiple times and periodically onto the skin to reduce pigmentation and improve skin tone.
To whom does this treatment benefit?
- Someone who has darker skin tone and wanting to lighten it
- Someone who has melasmas, blemishes or pigmentation
- Someone who has red or brown acne scars
- Someone who has irregular skin tone
How long does it take?
1~2 weeks intervals, after 3 sessions you can start to see results and normally you go for 10 sessions for maximum effect
Slight pain, no need for numbing cream
Difference Between Laser Toning and other Laser Pigmentation Removal treatments
Laser pigment removal for various skin conditions such as moles, warts, and skin tags involves using high fluence laser to destroy the melanocytes. Laser toning involves a much lower fluence laser shot in multiple intervals, thereby not destroying melanocytes but only the more mature melanosomes. Normal laser techniques were not able to fully treat melasma but laser toning is said to treat it with less complications.
Difference Between Toning and IPL
IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)
- IPL differs from laser in that it is not a ray of light of a single wavelength, but multiple rays of light at different wavelengths shot at once.
- IPL is effective at removing various types of pigments closer to the surface of the skin (epidermis) like freckles, sun spots, age spots, as well as treating acne, acne scars, light wrinkles, and widened pores at once.
- After an IPL treatment, you may get scabs that need to be healed naturally for better results.
- Laser toning involves a ray of light at a specific wavelength to treat pigments located deeper in the skin (dermis)
- Since laser toning is able to reach the deeper dermal lesions of the skin, it can treat more difficult pigment problems like dark freckles, birthmarks and melasmas
- Laser toning does not leave scabs since the treatment occurs deep within the skin.
What Equipment is used for Laser Toning?
A laser involves a single wavelength being amplified and emitted in the form of light. For this to occur, a certain medium is needed. Therefore a laser is determined by the certain medium through which the certain wavelength is amplified. Also, if the length of the emission is short, it’s called the Q-Switched laser, whereas if it’s long, it is called the long pulse laser. Since specific laser equipments use names given by the manufacturer, you need to search to find out which medium is used to amplify the wavelength.
(For example : Ellipse is an IPL, Revlite is a Nd:YAG laser, Fotona is a QX MAX laser)
Laser Toning is not a type of laser, but a method or technique of using the laser. What intensity the laser is used, how long and how frequently the laser is used for are all factors to a technique, and as explained before, laser toning is a technique where low fluence laser is used multiple times.
The common setting used in dermatologists in Korea for laser toning is the following :
- Nd:YAG (medium used in laser)
- 1,064nm (length of wavelength)
- 1.4J/cm2 (fluence of laser)
- 7mm (size of the beam)
- 10 shots per second
Comparison of Laser Types
Q-switched Nd:YAG Laser
Q-switched Alexandrite Laser
Q-switched Ruby Laser
Length of Wavelength
Absorption Rate in Blood Vessels
Revlite, Tri-Beam K, Spectra
Effective Treatment for
Pigmentation deep under the skin. Most widely used laser type for laser toning.
Pigments where melanin is less deep i n the skin. Also used for treating lip pigments and tattoo removal.
Pigmentation closer to the skin.
Are there any side effects of Laser Toning?
Laser Toning became extremely popular in Korea precisely because it was said to be very safe. But there have been some challenges regarding the dangers of side effects of laser toning. One side effect that was addressed as a serious concern is hypopigmentation, which is the opposite of hyperpigmentation, where you develop patches or spots that are lighter than the surrounding skin color (like the article written by Doctor Yisheng Wong, et al.). However, there are also other studies that attempts to alleviate this concern, claiming that earlier practices of laser toning used higher fluence laser in shorter intervals indeed produced such side effects but the current optimal practice has much less likeliness for hypopigmentation (read another article by Young Woon Park and Un Cheol Yeo). Therefore, it's extremely important that patients looking to get laser toning in Korea don't see it as a quick and sure cure but a treatment which you must, under the guidance of a qualified dermatologist, invest for the long term for it to be indeed the safe treatment that it has come to be known as.