Picture an Indiana Jones-style saga of an explorer in search of the secret to achieving glowing skin without applying highlighter, and you'll have a good idea of the quest that led me to the Skin Laundry clinic in Manhattan's Tribeca neighbourhood. The international chain also features a London clinic, although it is temporarily closed due to Covid-19. It's known for its laser facials and was recommended to me by a friend who swears by the treatments for her sensitive skin. Her before-and-after pictures showing her dark spots replaced by bright, luminous skin convinced me that perhaps my dry, breakout-prone complexion could enjoy the same results.
What is Skin Laundry, anyway?
The company was started in 2013 in Santa Monica, California, by Yen Reis, and has since grown to 23 locations worldwide. After struggling with acne, she turned to laser facials and discovered they were the best treatment for her skin concerns. Reis worked with skin-care and medical experts to create Skin Laundry with the intention of making laser treatments that were results-driven and affordable. The prices range from £200 to £600 for non-members (which is still lower than other similar treatments — some can cost upwards of £1,000), but the company encourages clients to invest in a monthly Laundry Club membership rather than one-off facials. With a membership, you can cut the price of all services in half, which helps make it easier for some clients to book regularly.
Skin Laundry offers three types of laser treatments: Signature, Fractional, and Ultra Duo. The Signature Laser facial, which regional director Jacob Lahr describes as "the workhorse treatment" because it addresses multiple concerns, uses a Nd:YAG laser that promises to fade skin discolouration, treat acne by targeting bacteria, and reduce inflammation. "The signature facial breaks down old collagen and stimulates new collagen to help with fine lines and wrinkles leaving our client's faces to look brighter, younger, and glowing," Lahr says. "The laser also zaps away bacteria and dirt, resulting in clean skin, while reducing pore size." It's a quick procedure — about 15 minutes — and you can have it done weekly. Lahr says clients can expect to see fresh, healthy skin resurfaced a few days after.
The Fractional can be done as frequently as the Signature, but it works a little differently. Lahr calls this one the "Instagram filter" because it focuses on the top layer of skin, producing a "microchannel" that allows a customised serum selected by the client based on their skin concern to penetrate deeper into the skin. He describes it as "a bit spicier" than the Signature — and after my experience, I'm inclined to agree, so it's reserved for those who've already undergone the Signature facial. To get the best of both worlds, Lahr recommends clients do both facials because "the Signature helps below, and Fractional on the surface of the skin."
Lastly, the Ultra Duo Laser facial combines both Skin Laundry's in-house lasers and serums to work against hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and sun damage. Anyone can get the Ultra Duo Laser, but Lahr says it's intended for clients who really, really love their laser facials, and are ready for significant results by getting both aforementioned treatments at once. "This treatment has around thirty minutes of downtime and thus I always recommend that clients wait to have it done if they have something to do that evening," Lahr explains. "That being said, we have seen so many clients come out loving it and coming back for more, as the results are simply amazing." This treatment can be done every two weeks.
No one at Skin Laundry knew I was going there to write a story, so the treatment I got from the front desk staff and nurses was by default which made my recurring appointments comfortable and welcoming.
What does the Signature facial feel like?
I went in not knowing how a YAG laser would feel on my skin, but my curiosity quickly turned to a very real feeling of heat and mild discomfort. Instead of cucumbers on my eyes, I got a cleansing wipe for my face and a white headband to wear during the service. After running through my medical history that I submitted along with my intake photos, I told my nurse about my main skin concerns. Then, she started the facial, which felt like someone snapping small rubber bands against my face accompanied by heat. I have sensitive skin and definitely flinched here and there, but after about three passes with the YAG laser, I was done. My nurse used a glycolic acid serum, followed by an SPF moisturiser, and told me to avoid spending too much time in the sun unless I was reapplying my sunscreen frequently.
What I really liked about this facial was the lack of downtime. I went home and was able to do my work for the day without worrying about peeling skin or pain, like a chemical peel can cause. My acne didn't clear up overnight, but I did notice some of my breakouts shrink in size. This is a treatment I would happily undergo again — it wasn't too painful and there was absolutely no downtime.
What does the Fractional facial feel like?
My Fractional facial changed the game. Thinking I’d experience the exact same level of tingling and heat, I walked into the studio at the end of September feeling overly confident and invincible. All too quickly, my confidence disappeared and I was holding back tears. This facial feels like someone running tacks across your face... accompanied by heat. Needless to say, I was struggling to get through the first round, and when it was done, my skin was dry and red. The nurse told me it was normal, but my skin was burning the whole train ride home, and when I got home the pain was still there. I used a cold washcloth to soothe the sensation and later that night cleansed my face and added Skin Laundry’s Brightening Serum With Glycolic Acid, £46.
I knew the facial was supposed to help any products I used penetrate deeper into my skin, but actually seeing the glow for myself was amazing. My moisturiser and serums left my face glistening like a lightly glazed donut and I finally felt like I'd achieved the goal of my endless Indiana Jones quest. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of that manifestation, but I did take pictures of my skin right after my last treatment. Along with my acne treatment, my pimples became smaller and clustered to the middle of my forehead and my cheeks were smoother. Ultimately, if the Fractional wasn't so painful, I would have booked it again.
So, how do the Skin Laundry facials really work?
I spoke to two dermatologists to get their opinion on the treatments — because, as great as the results look, I wanted to be sure this was an effective treatment and not just short-term results multiplied by the power of the placebo effect.
Board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, summarised his thoughts in just a few words: “Laser facials are not really a thing." He explained that, while there are devices dermatologists use to help remodel collagen, like Laser Genesis, they have to exercise caution that it does not overheat and damage the skin. "We have a 1064 Nd:YAG laser used for hair removal that you can turn on the wand feature to delivers heat and energy, but you hold it farther away from the skin," he said. "You have to be really careful with that, because to get the collagen to remodel you have to get to 44 degrees Celsius. Before you do that, you risk burning the epidermis on the surface of the skin. So it's a procedure that never really caught on in medical circles."
I also spoke to Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who had a different take on laser facials. He noted that while lasers can be used for various skin concerns — redness, brown spots, and fine lines among them — if the treatment is performed in a spa, it's most likely going to have a milder effect compared to one done in a doctor's office. "A lot has to do with who is administering the treatment. Your dermatologist may be using different devices at different settings that should be used only under professional guidance," he said.
When it comes to the efficacy of the treatment as it pertained to my primary skin concern, acne, there's no guarantee you'll emerge with clear and glowing skin. "The laser treatment may offer improvements in skin tone and texture. It does not get to the root of what causes acne, so it will not treat it or prevent it, but it can improve marks that it leaves behind," Dr. Zeichner told me. He doesn't rule out laser treatments completely, saying that, if you can afford the down time, a Fraxel laser can help resurface new and refreshed skin cells — but be ready for the weeklong peeling process.
I'm not sure how much I can solely attribute to Skin Laundry's treatments, but I noticed that the big pimples I had, while they didn't go away overnight, went down without much scarring. Between the treatments and my topical acne prescription, my skin's texture looked smoother overall. Undergoing the laser facials also just made me more conscious of my skin, which made me more diligent with moisturiser, and I started incorporating a serum at night to round off my routine.
While the proof of their efficacy isn't exactly conclusive, I still think the Skin Laundry facials are worth trying if you have the means. The services that I chose during my membership were reasonable for my budget, especially when compared to other laser options, and the experience as a whole made me more interested in understanding the science behind skin-care treatments. Not everyone may have the same results, but I found what I was looking for on this particular crusade.