Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford
Tina S. Alster, M.D., has been practicing medicine for over twenty years. She graduated magna cum laude from Duke University and completed her dermatology residency at Yale University. She is currently a clinical professor at Georgetown University Medical Center and is the founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.
Dr. Alster has published over 300 hundred articles and 8 textbooks about dermatologic laser surgery, including The Essential Guide to Cosmetic Laser Surgery. Her primary topics of research have been photodamaged skin and birthmarks. She has been featured on Oprah, CNN, the Today Show, 20/20, the Discovery Channel, and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Dr. Alster decision to become a doctor was influenced by many people throughout her youth. Her parents emphasized the importance of education and pushed her to excel in school. In high school, her chemistry teacher recognized her potential and encouraged her to pursue a career in science.
Dr. Alster founded the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery prior to the creation of any similar centers. She recognized the growth potential of laser surgery and believed that a focused center would provide better service to the growing number of clients.
Laser surgery can be personalized to treat most skin conditions. Freckles, sunspots, birthmarks, tattoos, acne scars, burn scars, and moles can all be treated with specialized forms of laser surgery. Dr. Alster mostly uses pigment-specific lasers—which are used to treat freckles, sunspots, pigmented birthmarks, moles—and vascular-specific lasers—which are used to treat vascular birthmarks.
Despite major technological advancements over the past ten years, laser surgery shouldn’t be viewed as a magic pill for all skin conditions. There are risks involved with any type of surgery, and laser surgery is no different. As Dr. Alster says, “Laser surgery is still surgery.” She advocates the importance of clients researching the surgeries their considering as well as consulting with a dermatologist.
Dr. Alster’s Skin Care Tips
Always wear sunscreen when spending time outside in the sun.
Higher SPFs provide increased protection from sun damage. Choose sunscreen with SPF 20 or higher.
Invest in tinted moisturizer with sunscreen.
Use a mild exfoliant daily.
Talk to a board-certified dermatologist about any concerning spots or growths on your skin.
It is essential for patients to carefully choose their surgeon. Patients should ask their surgeon a series of questions to assure that this is the right doctor for them. Most importantly, how much training do you have and how many procedures have you performed? “I personally wouldn’t go to a doctor who has performed laser surgery fewer than fifty times.” It’s also important to check that their experience is specifically with the laser they’re using for your surgery, not just with laser surgery in general. In addition, ask whether they own or rent their lasers. This will indicate whether they occasionally perform laser surgery or if they perform laser surgery daily. Finally, ask to see before and after pictures or talk to past patients who have had the same procedure performed.
Don’t expect to stop by for an hour and immediately return to work. Minor procedures, such as removing a sunspot or mole, may allow patients to return to work the next day with only a minor bruise, but more extensive procedures require at least a week’s recovery time.
Consult with your surgeon to develop the perfect treatment plan for your needs. No birthmark or sunspot is treated exactly the same. Personalizing your treatment for your skin tone and condition will provide the best final results.
In 2009, Dr. Alster won the Mentor of the Year award from the Women’s Dermatologic Society. Dr. Alster is dedicated to mentoring women pursuing medical careers. She has mentored over twenty-five women in the past seventeen years. In addition, she established a scholarship endowment at Duke University’s medical school to support women pursuing their medical degree. “I’ve always believed that mentors learn as much from their mentees as they teach.”
Visit Dr. Alster's website.
Discuss in the Scar1 forums.