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If you have a brown birthmark, you’ve probably heard of q-switched lasers. But you may not realize that this is not a specific type of laser or the name of a single laser. Rather, q-switching refers to the way a laser delivers light energy to the skin. Q-switched lasers achieve very high peak powers by using very short bursts of light, making them a group of lasers designed for this purpose. This is possible because the q-switch is an amplification system that shortens the length of time of a single burst of light (the pulse width). For q-switched lasers, the pulse width is measured in billionths or trillions of a second!
Think about the strength of a pulse of laser light in this way. It’s kind of like swinging a baseball bat. If you swing slowly, a longer pulse width, the baseball doesn’t go very far when hit. But if you swing very fast, a short pulse width, and hit the ball, you can generate more power to send the ball much farther and at a faster speed.
So, why do we need a laser with this much “pop” for birthmarks? It comes back to our intended target, excess melanin in the birthmark. The Q-switched laser perfectly absorbs the wavelength of melanin, and we generate power with a short burst of light to break up excess pigment-containing cells. This combination of short bursts of high powered light is what makes (permanent) removal of brown birthmarks—or any darkly pigmented spot—with q-switched lasers the gold standard.
Not all brown birthmarks can be completely removed with these devices and not every q-switched laser is safe to use on any skin type (color). Although we’d love to see your brown birthmark completely disappear after treatment, this result isn’t always possible. Sometimes, we are only able to fade it significantly. At Celibre Medical, we only use specific q-switched lasers that are safe for every skin color. Not every practice does this, however. You need to be aware of this specifically if you have a darker skin type (Hispanic, Asian, African), and make sure that you ask about which q-switched laser would be safe to use on your skin type.
While they may not be a perfect answer for all pigmented birthmarks, q-switched lasers offer you the best chance at getting rid of your brown birthmark. Or at the very least, fading it significantly.