Researchers in Germany used the device to determine collagen and elastin levels beneath the skin's surface. Collagen and elastin are the proteins responsible for the elasticity, tone, and texture of skin, and levels typically decline with age.
There is no good way to assess skin aging, as measured by collagen and elastin composition, short of removing skin and analyzing it in a lab.
The laser procedure shows promise for making the process a whole lot simpler. That could one day help consumers better evaluate the effectiveness of the antiaging skin products they buy, researcher Martin Johannes Koehler, of Germany's Schiller University, tells WebMD.
"Some cosmetics are thought to change the content of collagen to the skin, but until now to measure that you had to cut out a piece of skin," he says.
Multiphoton Laser Imaging
The search for a noninvasive test to measure damage to the skin from sun exposure and aging is the Holy Grail of the cosmetics industry.
But proving that a skin cream that promises to turn back the clock really is worth $100 an ounce is only one potential application for the experimental laser technique, Koehler says.
It may also prove useful for evaluating skin diseases like that seen in scleroderma, which is a serious autoimmune disease, as well as a skin complication that can occur in transplant recipients, known as graft vs. host disease.
Koehler and colleagues used the technique, called multiphoton laser imaging, on the inner forearms of seven women and 11 men between the ages of 21 and 84.
The researchers used the information gathered from the imaging to develop an aging index of the dermis, an inner layer of the skin. Skin aging was more evident in women than in men of similar age. It was most marked in older women who had been through menopause.
The researchers wrote that menopause-related declines in the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone might explain this acceleration in skin aging.
More Study Needed
But they added that more research is needed to confirm the finding that men and women's skin ages at different rates. The researchers also note that studies comparing their aging index measurements need to be compared to established measures such as skin surface hydration and wrinkle number and depth.
The study is published in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Optics Letters.
Cosmetic dermatologist Eliot Battle, MD, tells WebMD that the laser procedure is one of several promising experimental techniques that could help clinicians more easily diagnose and treat skin diseases.
"Diagnostic tools like this have been used in every area of medicine, but they are only beginning to be used in dermatology," he says. "This [technique] is an attempt to use the latest and greatest in laser imaging, but much more research is needed. This is just the very beginning of what could be an exciting journey."
SOURCES: Koehler, M.J. Optical Letters, Oct. 1, 2006; vol 31: pp 2879-2881. Martin Johannes Koehler, department of dermatology and allergology, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany. Eliot Battle Jr., MD, cosmetic dermatologist and laser surgeon, Cultura Cosmetics Medical Spa, Washington, D.C.
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang