As we head into a brand-new year, outdated phrases such as 'anti-ageing' and 'anti-wrinkle' are slowly but surely being replaced by healthier, more inclusive ideas. Phrases like 'slow ageing' and even 'pro-ageing' are entering the beauty vernacular as we focus less on how to erase fine lines and wrinkles and take more interest in caring for and enhancing the skin we're in. As a result, skin specialists are pioneering countless buzzy new beauty treatments.
There's mesotherapy (infusing vitamins for plump, glowing skin) and microneedling (a great option for improving scarring) but it's fair to say that neither one is as revered as laser among beauty experts. If you're a beauty enthusiast with an Instagram or TikTok account, you might have spotted a handful of facialists or dermatologists on your discover page — and we can bet that most of them extol the virtues of laser facials. Whether you have acne, pigmentation, uneven texture or another skin gripe, there isn't much laser can't zap — and the results are incredible. But the treatment isn't solely for the face.
Body-focused laser is also popular among those looking to minimise the effects of years of sun damage, particularly on the neck and chest area. This may present as crepey or leathery skin, dark spots and deep lines. Though entirely normal, they can be a point of insecurity for some. R29 is a judgement-free zone and rather than cast aside popular beauty treatments like these, we prefer to delve into the benefits and potential risks in the hope that we can help you make informed decisions. To find out how body-focused laser treatments really work to minimise the effects of sun damage — especially on the chest and neck — we sent features editor Vicky Spratt along to Dr Joney de Souza Skin & Laser. Here's her honest verdict.
"Let me be clear: I do not want to reverse the effects of ageing. I am proud of every line on my face and body; they each tell a story of places I've been, times I've laughed so hard it was painful and frowned because someone said something daft on Twitter. That being said, when I was a teenager I did not use sun cream. I know. I didn't listen to my mum. I didn't listen to anyone. As a result, at 33 years old I do have some sun damage on my chest: crepey lines and marks from where I have burned in the past. I am also noticing some lines on my neck, which are an inevitable part of getting older, but because I totally neglected to slather that in factor 50, too, I wanted to know whether laser could reduce some of the marking on both my neck and chest. I'd heard laser was like real-life retouching. While it doesn't completely remove marks, it can lessen them and improve the overall appearance of an area. This appealed to me because I don't want to undo the ageing process but I do want to lessen the damage I have done by sunbathing unprotected."
What are the skin benefits of laser treatments for chest and neck?
"I've had laser treatments before, on my face," says Vicky. "This time, I was going for the big guns: PicoSure, which is manufactured by Cynosure. This had been sold to me by friends who had used it for similar reasons (sun damage and a teenage aversion to SPF) as 'the laser to end all lasers'. While most laser machines use heat to stimulate new collagen, PicoSure lasers send a vibration down into the deeper layers of skin to trigger collagen production and repair. Dr Joney de Souza's expert laser practitioner and specialist, Roma, put me at ease. She told me that PicoSure is her favourite laser to work with because 'the results speak for themselves'. She said they even use the laser in tattoo removal because of how effective it is."
In general, Dr David Jack, aesthetic doctor and founder of Dr David Jack Clinic, explains that lasers and energy-based treatments can be used in many different ways to treat all the visible signs of skin ageing. "Generally speaking, lasers and IPL (intense pulsed light) use particular wavelengths of light to target specific things," says the highly qualified laser expert. "For hyperpigmentation and dark spots, the skin's pigment — melanin — is generally the target. Lasers and IPL (such as Lumecca IPL) specifically target this using high energy light, causing it to break apart and be absorbed into the bloodstream and removed by the body." Dr Jack says this also targets broken blood vessels, which often accompany areas of hyperpigmentation or sun damage. "It does this by interacting with the haemoglobin in the red blood cells flowing through these tiny blood vessels, causing the vessels to heat up and seal off."
Lasers work for sagging skin, too, says Dr Jack. "They usually target water molecules, creating tiny areas of heat injury in the skin to induce a tissue healing response, where the skin is stimulated to produce new collagen and elastin molecules." There are also more advanced treatments (Dr Jack recommends the "much lauded" Morpheus8) which thicken, lift and tighten areas of skin. "Superficial fine lines and wrinkles can be improved with this, too," says Dr Jack.
What happens during a skin laser treatment?
Vicky says: "I was handed a long plastic tube which I could angle at my chest to pump cooling air out as the laser was applied. Roma told me the clinic uses PicoSure for pigmentation sun damage as she got ready to begin. She said that it's also really good for acne scarring but would never say that it can remove any marks or pigmentation because they like to think of it as improving the skin. This is a crucial point. Even at Dr Joney de Souza's clinic in Marylebone, nobody is talking about erasing the signs of ageing. Instead, Roma was clear that she would always tell clients this is about improving and enhancing what you already have."
Like lots of lasers, this wouldn't be classed as a relaxing treatment. "I can’t lie, this was uncomfortable," says Vicky. "As Roma applied the laser I could feel pressure but I wasn't in pain. The cooling air really helped. Afterwards (and ironically, given my reasons for getting this treatment) it felt like I had sunburn. I was red for around six hours but Roma warned me that my skin would look worse before it looked better and not to be alarmed."
Is there any downtime with laser treatments for chest and neck?
In Vicky's experience, the treatment itself was over quickly (around 30 minutes in total). "The real magic happened in the days that followed," says Vicky. "Immediately afterwards, my lines were deeper and more pronounced. Freckles and sun damage were darker. Roma explained this was because the laser shatters pigment and then the body has to eliminate it before it can rejuvenate." Vicky noticed good results after three or four days. "My chest looked brighter and marks began to fade. The crepey lines that had been bothering me have definitely lessened. This was after only one session and Roma recommended three in order to see results."
Dr Jack reiterates Vicky's experience with downtime. "With IPL and laser treatments for pigmentation (such as Lumecca), pigment will usually get darker for about five to seven days post-treatment as it is removed by the body," he says. "Usually after a week to 10 days, the results will start to show. For the first 12 to 24 hours post-treatment you might expect a little skin sensitivity and redness so it's important to be cautious with skincare during this time." Dr Jack recommends avoiding strong skincare products such as retinoids and vitamin C, and hits home the importance of wearing sunscreen if you're outside.
Certain lasers come with their own downtime. Dr Jack adds: "With fractional laser treatments such as CO2 laser [fractional laser resurfaces the skin], downtime can be fairly extensive, with redness and sensitivity lasting up to a week post-treatment — sometimes with peeling and redness." Dr Jack is incredibly skilled and uses the highly esteemed Morpheus8 laser, which is more modern. "Treatments like these have inbuilt mechanisms, which reduce skin surface effects and cut down the period of downtime significantly, despite being deeper treatments," he explains. "Usually after Morpheus8, the skin will be a little red and sensitive for a few hours post-treatment but by the next day this should have settled down. Sometimes the skin can be a little itchy and sensitive for a few days later but most patients will have recovered fully by day three or four. Occasionally a little bruising happens in certain areas, too." Dr Jack concludes that aftercare is pretty minimal. "Usually I advise no skincare products for the first day post-treatment and SPF if the skin is exposed, then it's okay to use your skincare as normal on day three," he says.
How much do laser treatments cost?
At £500 a session for the face and neck, PicoSure isn't cheap. However, Vicky explains: "When I tot up how much money I've spent on creams, serums and, recently, a neck spray (yes, a spray!) over the years, which have barely changed the appearance of my neck and chest, three sessions of this laser combined with a pledge never to leave the house again without factor 50 seems like the right way to move forward for me."
Dr Jack adds that the cost depends on the area being treated. "Generally speaking, IPL or lasers for pigmentation will cost around £350-550 per session in good clinics with experienced staff," he says. "Usually two to five sessions will be required around three to six weeks apart depending on the laser or IPL being used." When it comes to fractional lasers like Morpheus8, prices are higher. "This will usually cost anywhere from £950 to £2,500 per session, per area, depending on the experience and location of the practitioner," says Dr Jack. "For Morpheus8, two or three sessions are usually required, a month apart."
Are there any downsides to laser treatments?
Dr Jack mentions that since the neck and chest area are more fragile than the face, your chosen practitioner may use a lower energy setting. "This is likely to be the case over more sessions," says Dr Jack, "so results may take slightly longer than when treating the face. Caution is always important when treating body areas so be patient with your practitioner."
Dr Jack also advises being very cautious of cheap laser treatments. "This suggests either poor quality machinery or low experience of the practitioner," he says. Don't be afraid to ask your chosen laser technician about their qualifications. Ask to read client testimonials and to see before and after pictures, too. It's also important to book an initial consultation with your chosen qualified professional to understand how many treatments might be recommended and how best to look after your skin post-treatment.
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