I once saw a friend the day after she’d had a Fraxel laser treatment and her face was so red and so pulpy that I swore that I would never go near a laser. Instead I'd just age gracefully.
When I ran into her a few weeks later, her skin had healed and all the gore was gone and so were the dark spots, the fine lines – all of it. Her now clear complexion literally glowed.
Still, that memory of my friend's oozing face stayed with me. As I got older and "aging gracefully" seemed positively delusional, I began considering lasers. But I kept remembering that raw-looking skin, so I’d just apply more retinol that night.
The thing is that no matter how potent, eventually retinol isn’t enough. Only lasers can turbo-charge collagen production. In addition to erasing dark spots and fine lines, lasers selectively wound your skin (the scary part) and your body responds by jump-starting the healing process, creating new collagen for firmer, fresher juicier new skin. In fact, months after your laser treatment, you are still creating new collagen, so you arguably look even better six months after your treatment. Tempting, right?
But what if you’re like me – scared of the pulpy face and pain? How do you erase sun damage if you're afraid of lasers? Maybe try an entry-level laser?
the laser action
Clear & Brilliant is what the doctors at Compass Dermatology refer to as "baby Fraxel."
Like the Fraxel that scared me so much, the Clear & Brilliant Perméa laser can reduce pore size, dissolve hyper-pigmentation (summer sun spots) and even out skin tone and texture. Also like Fraxel, "Clear & Brilliant is a non-ablative fractional laser," says Compass Dermatology co-director Dr. Julia Carroll.
Non-ablative fractional lasers create a sort of mesh pattern of micro-wounds on the surface of the skin. Put another way, they "aerate" your skin – think of those rollers that poke holes in your lawn. That laser pattern means each micro-wound is surrounded by healthy skin that can knit back together seamlessly fairly quickly.
Ablative lasers, on the other hand, completely destroy the outer layer of the skin; full regeneration is a much, much bigger job. (So despite my friend's startling "next-day Fraxel face," her after-effects were gone within days; if she'd had an ablative treatment, she would have needed weeks to heal. Can you imagine?)
There's an added benefit to the way the Clear & Brilliant non-ablative laser works: In "aerating" the skin, it facilitates the absorption of a mega-dose of brightening, antioxidant serum layered on immediately afterwards.
At Compass they use Skinceuticals CE Ferulic; studies show that after this kind of treatment, you’ll get a 17 times greater absorption of the serum’s vitamin C to neutralize the free radical damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. That's a skin-saving assist we could all probably use at the end of the summer.
Then Dr. Carroll gets really technical: “Both lasers have the 1,927 nanometer wavelength. The Fraxel 1,927 is a one-time treatment for pigmentation, but comes with downtime." (See "Fraxel face.")
“Clear & Brilliant’s 1,927 (Perméa) has a much lower coverage, requires six treatments, but needs no downtime at all.”
Translation: with Clear & Brilliant you're looking at multiple lower-intensity treatments vs just one harsh session, and zero hide-away-to-recover time vs weeks. And apparently you'll see results after the first treatment. Just the baby steps I was looking for!*
Before I've even booked my appointment, I know Clear & Brilliant really works. Dr. Carroll is such a skincare badass that she tries all her lasers herself so she can really compare the before and after. “I’ll do one half of my face –and my husband says, 'Stop! You’re frightening our daughter.'”
She assured me, though, that Clear & Brilliant would not leave me with effects capable of frightening family members.
I jumped right in.
…is short and weirdly feels like my face is being licked by a cat with an electrically-charged tongue. I'm handed a hose emitting cold air to aim at the just-treated area, so I never experience anything beyond mild discomfort. And at roughly the 15-minute mark, it’s completely bearable. In fact, after all that anxiety and nerves, it was nothing! And now I'm no longer a laser newbie.
I look a bit pink afterwards but some tinted Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 after the procedure protects skin and tones down the redness (which dissipates after a few hours anyway.)
The laser temporarily slows sebum production, so skin feels weirdly tight for a couple of days. A post-procedure layer of La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Pro-Recovery (for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and collagen-boosting properties) soothes and protects. (Read Janine’s love letters to Cicaplast here).
The best part? Well, there are two. The glow is real, people. You’ll catch a glimpse of your reflection in one of those so-badly-lit-it-should-be-illegal public-washroom mirrors and the face staring back at you will be even-toned and radiant.
But what’s even better is that you'll likely no longer be freaked by lasers. Me? Now I want to go to the next level.
Another friend and I want to get Fraxel, then hide out in a hotel to loll around our room in yoga pants, drink tea, watch Netflix, and get pedicures. Anyone else in?
*Note: obviously you'd choose between the two laser treatments outlined here depending on what you need. Clear & Brilliant is a baby-steps treatment for increased glow and reduced hyper pigmentation. For hardcore post-acne scar smoothing you'd need Fraxel.
Opening photo: Pinel Island, St. Maarten