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Using a revolutionary laser procedure, specialists at the University of Utah Hospital are able to erase port-wine stains and other skin imperfections that have blemished the skin of thousands of Utahns - oftentimes causing them great embarrassment.

Although nearly 100 medical centers around the world are using the Candela flashlamp pulser dye laser to treat dermatological conditions, it's the first time the procedure has been performed in the Intermountain West. The average cost of the procedure ranges from $400 to $800.Using the new laser, U. dermatologists erase vascular lesions (skin blemishes made up of red, superficial blood vessels) such as port-wine stains and spider veins from the face, neck, arms and other parts of the body.

And there's no scarring.

The laser procedure offers a new treatment to thousands of people who previously had no alternative, said Dr. Mark Taylor, clinical instructor in the Department of Internal Medicine's Division of Dermatology.

According to Taylor, the flashlamp laser produces a yellow-colored laser beam that is absorbed by the blood vessels without heating the skin. The energy of the laser destroys the tiny blood vessels that cause the blemish.

During the treatment, the lesion is treated with multiple laser pulses, lasting 450 microseconds, less than a thousandth of a second. The doctor can adjust the energy in the laser beam to accommodate for variations in the lesion's color and thickness.

Taylor said the procedure causes minimal discomfort because a mild, topical anesthetic often is placed on the skin near the area to be treated. Patients report that the treatment feels like a needle prick or a rubber band being snapped against the skin.

Positive results aren't immediately evident.

The port-wine stain temporarily changes color after the laser treatment, turning a deep purple for about two weeks before the lesion lightens.

Taylor said patients may require anywhere from two to eight treatments before the birthmark fades to their satisfaction. Treatments are usually done several months apart with dermatologists using photographs to chart the progress.

Although hopeful about the potential of the new laser, Taylor is also cautious. "Thinner, pinker port-wine stains typically improve more with the procedure than darker thicker ones," he said.

Taylor estimates that about 30,000 people in the Salt Lake metropolitan area have port-wine stains. The new laser technique can also be used on hemanogiomas and telangiectasias, abnormal blood vessels in the skin.

Previously, argon and carbon dioxide lasers were used to treat vascular lesions, including port-wine stains.

"This is the only laser we've ever had to really safely treat young people and infants without fear of scarring," Taylor said.