This letter reports on the self-organized growth of nanoscale dot-like CdSe-based islands during molecular beam epitaxy of CdSe/ZnSe nanostructures with a CdSe thickness between 0.75 and 3.0 monolayers. An increase in the nominal CdSe thickness results in a higher density of islands (up to 2×1010 cm−2) and is accompanied by dramatic enhancement of the photoluminescence efficiency. The density of large relaxed islands appears to saturate at a value of (3–4)×109 cm−2. Room temperature (Zn, Mg)(S, Se)-based optically pumped lasers with an extremely low threshold (less than 4 kW/cm2), as well as (Be, Mg, Zn)Se-based injection laser diodes using a single (2.5–2.8) monolayer thick CdSe active region, both demonstrating significantly enhanced degradation stability, have been fabricated and studied. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.