In 2021, it's safe to say we're no longer so afraid of growing older. The beauty industry is slowly phasing out the term 'anti-ageing' as women are feeling immense pressure to look and feel young, while beauty brands are focusing more on glow-boosting rather than completely erasing wrinkles.
Over the years, things like pollution, UV rays and multiple lifestyle factors such as smoking can take a toll on skin, leaving us with a handful of common skin gripes which present in different ways. Noticeable signs often include fine or deep lines, pigmentation (such as dark spots) and crepey skin. As a result, cosmetic treatments to prevent and treat these features are increasingly popular.
At the top of the list is Botox, which relaxes muscles and minimises wrinkles, and chemical peels, which use high strength acids to exfoliate skin deeply. Then there's filler, which plumps up the skin and makes it appear more youthful, not to mention face threading, which lifts sagging skin. While these aren't considered particularly invasive treatments, they do require multiple injections, some downtime and, in the case of face threading, often some kind of anaesthesia. For those who are interested in treating common skin concerns but aren't too keen on needles, skin peeling or downtime, laser might be a much better option.
What are the skin benefits of laser treatments?
"While Botox and fillers can deal with fine lines due to muscle imbalances and volume change over time, they tend not to do much for skin quality," says Dr David Jack, aesthetic doctor and founder of Dr David Jack Clinic. "This is where lasers and energy-based treatments come in." Different types of lasers and energy-based devices can help with lines, pigmentation and a loss of elasticity in the skin, says Dr Jack, as well as things like thread veins and broken capillaries.
Dr Ioannis Liakas, medical director at Vie Aesthetics, says that there are different types of laser treatments you can opt for when it comes to skin rejuvenation. "They all have different efficacy in terms of treating ageing concerns such as wrinkles and scars," he says. "Ablative laser treatments typically involve removal of the outer layer of the skin to make way for rejuvenated skin," he says, "while non-ablative lasers are also used for treating concerns of ageing. They work by warming the deeper layers under the skin and by stimulating production of collagen."
Essentially, the energy of the laser results in a change in the skin tissue, explains Dr Jack. When it comes to things like pigmentation, the melanin is heated and broken apart by the laser, then removed by the body, he adds. In terms of broken blood vessels or spider veins, Dr Jack explains that the heat causes microscopic clotting and sealing, which makes them less visible. In clinic, he uses the Lumecca IPL (or intense pulsed light, which Dr Liakas also rates highly) and the Morpheus8. "The latter is a skin tightening and collagen-stimulating treatment, which helps to lift and tighten lax skin and tackle fine lines and wrinkles," he says.
What happens during a skin laser treatment?
"Lasers can be an excellent adjunct to injectable anti-ageing treatments, not necessarily a substitute, as they tend to tackle different issues," says Dr Jack. To get a true understanding of how the buzzy treatment works, we sent Refinery29's features editor Vicky Spratt along to Skin Laundry for a laser facial. Here's her honest verdict.
"I am now 33. I was born in the late '80s and I came of age in the '00s when, it's fair to say, tanning was life. Specifically, for our collective shame, tanning without a decent SPF and occasionally even a sunbed. I am now embracing (not always easily) the ageing process. I can live with the lines around my mouth, each of them reminding me of the times I have laughed so hard I thought the skin might split. I can live with the lines creeping around my eyes, remnants of all the smiles I could so easily forget. I'm even mostly okay with the lines along my brow for they tell the story of how many times I have furrowed it in an attempt to get my head around a book, tricky text message or complicated email.
What I am struggling with, however, along with enlarged pores are the signs of sun damage: freckles and some light pigmentation. I realise these things wouldn't bother everyone but they bother me, and I am reluctant to do anything drastic. Enter lasers. Increasingly, they are being hailed as the best possible option for those who want to embark on anti-ageing treatments without doing anything injectable or invasive. So I went to Skin Laundry. The clinic offers three types of laser treatments: Signature, Fractional and Ultra Duo. All of these use medical-grade lasers to rejuvenate your skin cells, boost collagen production and improve skin clarity."
If you want to see long-term results, you're going to need more than one session with their standard laser, also known as Nd:YAG. As the laser touched my skin I felt it ping, like an elastic band. It was less painful than a bikini wax and not unpleasant. I was warned by the therapist that I might also smell burning. I did but because I'd been told that this was actually the dirt in my pores being vaporised by a medical-grade laser, it was satisfying. Like squeezing a spot which, obviously, I never do..."
Is there any downtime with laser treatments and how much do laser treatments cost?
Vicky tried the Signature laser facial, which addresses multiple concerns and boosts collagen. "After just one session which lasted for just 15 minutes, my skin was visibly brighter, my pores smaller and fine lines reduced. I'll be honest, the sun damage has barely changed to look at but I wasn't expecting that it would after just one session. The best bit is that there was absolutely no downtime at all. When I left the clinic, I felt like I finally had the no-makeup skin that everyone aspires to these days. That said, the afterglow did fade within around 48 hours. Skin Laundry recommends that you have the Signature treatment twice a month to see long-lasting results. I can see why."
While Dr Jack explains that downtime is fairly low with most laser type treatments, Dr Liakas says this isn't the case for ablative lasers, which are often used to target deep wrinkles and other skin gripes like warts and skin tags. "Use of ablative laser treatments come with a lengthier downtime because of their more aggressive approach," says Dr Liakas. "This can take several weeks and will be accompanied by a specifically designed aftercare regime." Aftercare is simple, says Dr Jack: "No products on the day of the treatment, high SPF from the next day and on an ongoing basis." Depending on the treatment you opt for, your laser technician will advise on the best skincare routine for you.
How many laser treatments do you usually need?
As Vicky mentioned, laser treatments aren't a one-time thing. Dr Liakas says that laser treatments for skin rejuvenation are effective and can produce instant results but multiple sessions are usually required. "In terms of treatment numbers, this really depends on the individual’s case and the type of laser being used," adds Dr Jack. "Some treatments such as Lumecca laser for pigmentation may require two to three treatments, whereas others may need five to six sessions. The Morpheus8 laser (used for skin tightening) is usually done over two or three sessions, one month apart." Again, your laser technician will advise how many treatments you might need.
Are there any downsides to laser treatments?
Dr Liakas says that more intense laser treatments can be considerably more expensive so bear that in mind before committing. Dr Jack encourages people to be suspicious of cheap laser type treatments, too. "Anyone with good experience will charge highly and in a fairly unregulated industry, inexpensive treatments suggest lack of experience," he warns.
Just like injectables and chemical peels, issues can arise. "The major consideration with laser treatments is that the outcome depends as much on the operator of the laser as the laser itself," says Dr Jack. "Complications from any laser treatment can happen even in the best hands, so it is particularly important to go to a practitioner who is experienced in handling the particular device and any complications, and has good medical credentials."
An initial consultation is also always recommended so that you can ask your practitioner any burning questions and settle on the right laser for your skin concern and skin colour. Finally, it pays to get a contact number (even out of hours) should you have queries or worries later down the line.