I started in medical laser clinical research in 1986 as part of my Ph.D. studies in the Bioengineering Unit, Strathclyde University and in Canniesburn Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit.
After gaining my degree in Physics and Astronomy from Glasgow University in 1984, I decided not to get a ‘proper job’ for a few more years, and instead, go back to university.
I was roped into the medical laser research program because, as a physicist, I ‘knew about lasers’ (I didn’t!!). I joined the group which was the first in the world to develop the scar-free removal of tattoos using Q-switched laser technology.
Unfortunately, the NHS did not see tattoo removal as a priority and so a 16 year waiting list developed!
So, in November 1988, myself and a colleague, set up the world’s first laser company to sell the Q-switched ruby laser across the planet, primarily for tattoo removal. This company was DermaLase Limited. I sold the first laser to a GP in Bradford in 1991, and the second to a dermatologist in London.
We opened the world’s first laser tattoo removal clinic using this type of technology in Glasgow in 1989.
Soon, we started to receive requests from doctors around the world for this technology. At the time, we hadn’t really thought about selling it – only the treatments. So we quickly put a business plan together and tried to figure out how best to sell the QS Ruby Laser….
We launched the DLR-1 at an ASLMS meeting in San Diego to great interest from around the world. In particular, many distributors from Asia were very keen to use the laser to treat benign pigmented lesions. As a result, I became the ‘Sales Director’ for South East Asia and Australasia.
Shortly after this, we set up an American company, DermaLase Inc., based in Boston, to service the US market. We achieved FDA approval via our clinical collaborater in Chicago, Dr Jerry Garden.
Whilst at Canniesburn Hospital, I also worked in the Port Wine Satin removal program using a pulsed dye laser from Candela (the second laser that company ever made, by Dr Horace Furomoto (in his garage, allegedly!!).
My boss, Plastic Surgeon Mr Bill Reid, wanted to remove PWS from children without scarring. In the video below, we see him and my colleague, Dr Brid McKibben, using her automated scanning system to deliver the dye laser pulses to the skin.
Whilst treating many, many tattoos, we noticed that the ruby laser also vaporised hair. At that time, we were at pains to inform our patients that their hair would definitely grow back. We knew this from the previous ten years of doing this treatment. It never occurred to us, at that time, that this was potentially a new treatment altogether!
In 1993 (I think) we began work on developing the world’s first Q-switched Nd:YAG laser with our US partners, Big Sky Lasers in Montana. We eventually launched this new device in 1995.
It was called the ‘MultiLine’ system because it could output both the fundamental 1064nm and first harmonic 532nm wavelengths, in a pulsewidth of around 5 nanoseconds.
It was at another ASLMS meeting in 1994 (I think!) that I met Morgan Gustafsson, from Sweden. He had come up with an interesting idea using lamps and a solid ‘dye cylinder’. He claimed that this could be used to remove hair! We didn’t know it at the time, but we were discussing the future technology, now known as ‘IPL’!!
We designed and built the ‘Supraherent 2000’ for CACI (see photo – we termed this device ‘Quasimodo’!!!). This was launched at a birthday party held by CACI for the English TV presenter, Dale Winton, in their London office. (This was before the term ‘Intense Pulsed Light’ had been coined!)
The SupraLite 2000 never went into production, but we did work on a newer, slimline version, which was eventually released as the Plasmalite. This device sold all over the world, but could only serve to remove hair.
At that time we had no other filters for conditions such as blood vessels or pigmentation, or anything else!
Whilst working with Morgan in Sweden, I met my longtime collaborator and friend, PA Torstensson.
Sadly, DermaLase Ltd went bust in 1996 thanks to poor management in our American offices.
I continued in the medical laser field for a few years before leaving it for pastures new…. (researching pain relief and wound healing).
In 2012, I was asked by a company to ‘check’ their laser – it wasn’t working properly. I fixed it and was drawn back into the industry, because I was concerned at their lack of understanding!
I also started to do a little research on tattoos and QS lasers. In 2013 I ‘discovered’ that minute ink particles fly out of the skin at high speeds during laser treatment.
I published these findings in the Lasers in Surgery and Medicine.
I also continued my researches into tissue denaturation due to laser-generated heat, in collaboration with PA Torstensson. This is with a view to improving treatments such as hair removal and the destruction of blood vessels.
Many people don’t really understand these processes properly because they have based their thinking on the original theory of selective photothermolysis. However, we have found that this theory tells only half of the story! It does not discuss the actual chemical denaturation processes, which are very important.
We discussed our findings in this report.
We are still working on this stuff and plan to publish more results in the near future…
In the meantime, I continue my interest in improving laser/IPL techniques. A couple of years ago I came up with the idea of ‘masking’ some of the light energy from IPL tips. Often these tips are too large for the smaller vascular or pigmented lesions – like ‘blood spots’ or freckles.
I figured that a wee hole in a wooden spatula would mask off much of the energy, that is not required, for small targets. I tried this idea my wife and it worked! I wrote an article about it here.
The good thing about this idea is that it allow for higher than usual fluences and/or longer pulses, without damaging the skin, since much of the energy is blocked (it is absorbed by the stick).
I call this the ‘Hole in a Stick‘ technique!!
An imprint of tattoo particles on a glass slide after a laser treatment.
In 2014 I became a Laser Protection Adviser and a member of the Association of Laser Safety Professionals. As an LPA I can offer advice on laser, and IPL, safety and also check that your clinic/salon is following the current rules and regulations surrounding these technologies. You can visit my web site here.
In 2019 I joined Dr Zambia Kader in setting up the UK Council for Surgical Plumes – an organisation to help raise awareness about laser or IPL-generated plume and their hazards. I also wrote an article for Aesthetic Medicine on this topic.
We are currently writing an eBook which discusses the basics behind medical laser technology, some of the more common treatments and other aspects such as laser safety, legislation and some of the practices of some laser suppliers…
I now provide training in laser/IPL treatments, plus the ‘Core of Knowledge’, laser safety training, LPA services and I can also guide you in terms of clinical air safety (particularly important in this time of Covid!!)
Don’t forget to visit my training site for a list of the courses I can provide.
My Publications… Throughout the years I have written various articles and papers on a number of topics. You can peruse them here, if you wish.
I firmly believe that all laser/IPL operators MUST understand the basics such as wavelength, fluence, pulsewidth, skin cooling, penetration depth, scattering, spot size – if they don’t they cannot possibly perform good treatments – see my training web site for more details.
I also despise many of the ‘sharp practices’ that happen in this industry routinely. Too many people are ripped off by ‘dodgy’ companies and ‘snake oil’ salesmen. We will be discussing this in our book…
I also like music….
That’s all for now folks,