Once upon a time, I didn’t care for fancy facials. Cleansing and moisturizing was all I needed to keep acne at bay. Then, the stress of work assignments, planning my future, boyfriend and friend drama, and lack of sleep began to manifest little by little on my once-clear skin. Now, I’m at a spa almost once a month (twice if I’m feeling really generous).
On a mission to whip my skin back in shape, I’ve tried it all: classic European, 24K gold treatments, and Dermalinfusion facials. Then, I heard of Skin Laundry‘s signature Laser + Light laser facial, which claims to clean deep into the pores, brighten skin, and improve your skin’s texture for under $100. Bonus: The treatment only lasts 15 minutes. It seemed too good to be true.
Skin Laundry launched in 2013 with laser facials that use a combination of nd:YAG laser and IPL to “reduce acne, wrinkles, and improve skin texture.” I walked into Skin Laundry’s Midtown branch thinking of the laser facial befores and afters I spent hours researching before my appointment. The women in those photos look refreshed, bright, and lifted. But, most of my search didn’t yield a single face that looked like mine. It made me wonder: Would a laser facial help or hurt my deeply pigmented skin?
The process is pretty simple: I signed in on an iPad-esque machine at the front desk, then my esthetician handed me cleansing wipes to clean my skin and led me to the room where the procedure would take place. I lied down on the bed in a little room and explained my skincare concerns before my esthetician gave me a step-by-step breakdown of my specific treatment.
“The first part is the YAG laser, which targets underneath the surface of the skin so bacteria, dirt, oil, decreases pore size, stimulates collagen and also helps with hyper-pigmentation,” she said. Ah, the H-word. I winced at the thought of the laser potentially making the hyper-pigmentation-prone parts of skin (around the mouth and along the sides of my cheeks) even worse. “The second part is the IPL light, which works on everything on the surface of the skin including redness, inflammation. Essentially, it’ll help to even out your skin tone. Since you have more pigment in your skin, we’re going to omit the IPL portion and instead, add the hydration boost, a serum made of hyaluronic acid.”
I walked the esthetician through my skincare routine as she zapped the laser on my skin, making sure not to do too many passes in one area. The treatment was as painful as toddler’s pinch and had a slight burning smell (it’s normal), which subsided once the hydration boost was applied. Then, it was over and while my skin felt a bit sensitive (again, normal), I looked radiant, which was later confirmed by a chorus of compliments from co-workers and friends.
How long will my glowy skin last? How often can I do the treatment? Ahead, NYC dermatologist and Skin Laundry Global Medical Director Dr. Adam Geyer explains everything you need to know about laser facials.
What is a laser facial?
“It’s a treatment that elevates the basic facial, providing a safe and effective means of stimulating collagen and evening skin tone. At Skin Laundry, the laser and light facial provides the benefits that one might typically associate with going to a dermatologist, but given in a more accessible setting.”
What types of lasers are used for the treatment?
“There is no one single agreed-upon laser that’s used for a laser facial. Non-ablative lasers are a resurfacing device that stimulates your collagen and improves the skin’s appearance without damaging the surface. Ablative lasers, which are more aggressive and typically burn the skin, are not going to be associated with the word ‘facial,’ because a facial is implying gentleness and safety.
Then there are IPL devices, intense pulse light devices, what have also been called “photo facials.” So when people talk about what a photo facial is, it’s a treatment with an IPL, or an intense pulse light device. That’s now been expanded to include other layered treatments with other low energy, high impact, non-ablative resurfacing agents, such as an Nd:YAG laser. At Skin Laundry, when we refer to a laser and light facial, we are pairing an IPL treatment with a longer wavelength, collagen-stimulating Nd:YAG laser treatment.”
What types of skin concerns does a laser facial treat?
“Someone wouldn’t come in for a laser treatment for hydration, because lasers in general are focusing on targeting structures in the skin like pigmentation, decreasing red and brown spots. These treatments can certainly provide suppleness to the skin but if someone has severely dry skin, I wouldn’t recommend this as a direct treatment for dryness. Steps can be added to provide a hydration boost, but in general lasers are more focused on pores, wrinkles, texture, tone, and firming of the skin rather than hydration.
Since the Laser + Light facial is mild, can it be combined with other basic facials at spas?
“Absolutely. You can alternate between them. You can have a laser facial one week or once a month, and then go for a more extraction-based facial at a traditional spa where the skin is steamed and blackheads are expressed.”
Are there products that you should stop using in the days leading up to a laser facial?
“When you’re going in for a facial, it’s best to keep your skin as hydrated as possible. I do usually recommend stopping retinoids, like Retin-A, or Retinol, at least three days before the treatment (ideally up to a week). It’s not a mandate, but if someone has very sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to stop the retinoid before going in for a laser treatment.
In addition, treatments that contain glycolic acid or anything that might make your skin more flaky or more irritated than usual should be stopped a few days ahead of time. Skin Laundry gives each client a visual exam before each treatment to make sure that someone’s skin is intact and not irritated enough to be able to safely proceed with the laser treatment.”
Has there ever been an instance where you had to tell someone, “Maybe this treatment isn’t what you should be doing?”
“Laser facials really can provide great results to those looking for prevention, correction, those with sensitive skin and more acneic skin. I don’t think that there’s anyone that should stay away, but if the chart and photographs are reviewed and there are conditions like an active cold sore outbreak, or if there is a medication that’s photosensitizing, or if there are clear areas where the skin is broken and inflamed, then it is advised to come back when either the patient or client is not on that medication, or when the cold sore is resolved, or when the skin barrier is intact. So, there are times when a treatment either has to be deferred or declined, because there are times when people can’t come off of medications that are necessary that they have to be on. It’s rare, but it’s just something to be aware of.”
For those who have dark skin but suffer from acne, dark spots, would a laser facial be beneficial?
“If you are at all blemish prone, the Carbon Facial could be excellent for you. It is deep pore cleansing, collagen-stimulating, and accelerates renewal, but we would skip the IPL treatment. For anyone with darker skin tones, we have to be very careful with IPL, intense pulse light because it’s the energy in the settings and the number of passes that have to be modified in order to make sure we protect the amount of melanin that’s in the skin. So, for the standard laser and light facial, we remove the IPL treatment so as to not overheat the epidermal melanin, and we another pass of the Nd:YAG laser.”
What does the after-care look like?
“The beauty of the standard laser and light treatment is that you walk out looking better than when you walk in. Your skin looks dewy, it glows, it looks supple. The added hydration from the application of the products afterwards really makes any temporary or transient heat from the laser treatment diminish right away. Added sun protection for a few days and bumping up your hydrators and your SPF can be very helpful, but there’s no specific products you have to use afterwards. Your skin is more amenable to the penetration of active ingredients after a laser treatment. So, it’s a great time to focus on utilizing antioxidants and non-irritating anti-aging ingredients. Definitely avoid retinoids or glycolic acid for maybe 48 hours afterwards.”