If you haven't heard of laser facial treatments, then you're probably of the small percentage that hasn't seen a crazy before and after shot on Instagram in the past month. Even prior to the social media age we're living in, lasers have long been helmed for their ability to zap away virtually any skin problem under the sun—not to mention, those caused by the sun. Still, not every device is created alike, and just like those one-size-fits-all shirts usually have a bogus claim, there isn't a universal laser treatment that works on everyone. We asked Lisa Hartman PA-C of New York City's Soignez-Vous Aesthetics to give us a crash-course on the treatment, the differences between the different kinds out there, and how to determine which one is perfect for you. Read on to get all the info you need to know if you're considering a laser treatment, or if you're just intrigued by those stellar before and afters.
What Are Lasers?
Simply put, lasers are a wavelength of light applied directly to your skin, which travel to the deeper layers to tighten up fibers, or target specific structures and chromophores like melanin, or blood vessels. "Lasers create intense beams of visible, infared, or ultraviolet light. The colors of laser energy are absorbed by different components of skin or tissue, which is why certain lasers are recommended to treat certain conditions or skin types over others to avoid burns and long time sequelae," Hartman tells InStyle. "When laser light is absorbed by your skin, it's converted to heat, which can result in the vaporization, coagulation, or burning of the targeted tissue." In addition to the different wavelengths, ablative and non-ablative lasers are also something to consider. Ablative lasers create small cuts a la microneedling and shoot energy like radiofrequency or ultrasound beneath the surface of the skin, whereas non-ablative lasers don't create cuts and treat everything internally.
Where Are They Used?
Lasers can be used over the entire face to resurface wrinkles and acne scars, reduce redness, remove hyperpigmentation, minimize pores, and zap broken capillaries among other uses. Even acne-prone areas of the face can be treated with red light therapy. While the before and after photos on Instagram have gone nothing short of viral, lasers also can be used on the body to remove unwanted body hair, tattoos, birthmarks, moles, and birthmarks.
Which One Is Right for Me?
This is where your thorough consultation comes in. While resurfacing lasers like the Frax are great for smoothing over deep wrinkles, the treatment could be slightly aggressive for skin that isn't showing advanced signs of aging. In the latter case, a photofacial treatment like the Nordlys Hybrid Laser by Ellipse would be more appropriate. "Each person has to be treated as an individual. The lasers are subjective to each person's skin, and sometimes people follow what another person did without evaluating how it would work on them, or having their skin evaluated first," says Hartman. Looking at before and after photos of the treatment you're considering, particularly those of someone with a similar skin issue and tone to yours, can be helpful when picking your practitioner, but be sure to read the fine print. "Some before and after pictures will note that the results seen are typical after 3 to 5 treatments, which can cost thousands of dollars," she adds. "So, it's subjective to each person's skin situation, financial situation, and the practice situation." Additionally, if you're on any photosensitive medication, you'll want to bring it up during your consultation to avoid any potential complications or reactions from the medicine.
How Much Downtime Will I Have?
Again, this depends on the type of laser you choose, but downtime—meaning redness, sore areas, peeling, or puffiness—can range anywhere from 1 to 7 days, with downtime associated with resurfacing lasers on the 7-day end of the spectrum. "Whenever you have anything that is resurfacing, it requires more downtime because of the heat applied to the skin, and you are taking some of the surface away," explains Hartman. "Photofacial devices like the Nordlys Hybrid Laser by Ellipse has a shorter downtime because light-based therapy has lots of filters to remove unnecessary wavelengths to microfocus on the intended targets. This reduces the amount of energy required."
What Should I Do Post-Treatment?
Your doctor will give you specific aftercare instructions depending on the intensity, and whether or not exfoliants like retinol or glycolic acid are involved, but in general, you'll need to stock up on a good quality sunblock, and a gentle moisturizer. "You kind of want to treat it like a newborn baby, and I always tell my patients, protect your investment," she tells us. "Don't sit in the sun following a treatment, but use a good sunblock when you are, and you need to protect your skin since your natural moisture factor will be lower for a few weeks." Apply moisturizer generously, and stick to gentle cleansers in the days that follow. After your skin finishes shedding, if at all, Hartman recommends adding antioxidants to your product lineup.