Lasers touted as future of skin care
Once reserved for sci-fi shows and coercing your overweight cat into some form of exercise, lasers are the hot new kid on the skin care block. Traditional spas — candlelit rooms with strategically placed bamboo plants and waterfall soundtracks — face serious competition from slick medical spas with minimalist decor and high-tech treatments.
The name of the game is results, and lasers are how you get them.
True, laser treatments have been around for a while, but their historically high price tag, pain factor and necessary downtime kept lasers exclusive to either those with a lot of time and money to spare, or those with serious skin conditions. The rest of us were left to flounder in a sea of mediocre facials concocted from various botanicals that are admittedly very relaxing, but dubious in their efficacy. There’s only so much you can expect from moor mud and pineapple extract.
Thanks to recent advances, the masses are casting aside the facials our mothers swore by in favour of lasers that can address a multitude of skin problems, ranging from acne scars and uneven pigmentation to sun damage, large pores and fine lines.
“Instead of going for a spa facial, you can have a mini laser facial which gives you so much more bang for your buck than investing in foofoo treatments that make you feel good, but don’t do anything,” says Dr. Jack Kolenda of Verso Surgery Centre in Oakville, Ont.
Not only has the technology become more advanced — a number of non-ablative lower-energy fractional lasers entered the market over the last few years — so has the way medi spas combine them with other treatments and “cosmeceuticals” (cosmetic products that use active ingredients, such as vitamin C or glycolic acid, to achieve medical or drug-like benefits) to increase results and decrease downtime.
“We’re evolving toward multiple treatment solutions, not just getting a laser and that’s it,” Kolenda says. “It’s combining treatments like fractionated lasers with IPL, platelet rich plasma therapy and radio-frequency treatments.”
“The way we approach lasers has changed a lot,” says Dr. Diane Wong of Toronto’s Glow Medi Spa. “We do a lot of ancillary treatments pre- and post-procedure to try and decrease side effects and get improved results.”
Dr. Wong’s team, for example, combines Fraxel (a fractional laser treatment) with Selphyl, popularly dubbed the “Vampire Facelift” and made famous by Kim Kardashian. In layman’s terms, they draw blood from a patient, spin it in a centrifuge and apply the resulting platelet-rich plasma on the face to reduce the redness and burning sensation often experienced after Fraxel.
It sounds weird, but it can reduce downtime by days — the difference between a low-key weekend spent watching Netflix and having to hibernate for up to a week.
Dr. Kolenda’s clinic incorporates Skinceuticals products into their patients’ pre- and post-treatment regimens with significant results.
“Think of the laser treatment as making holes in a leaky roof, which is your skin” he says. “When you put Skinceuticals on top of it, the absorption rate is so much better.”
A major breakthrough product came in the form of CE Ferulic, a combination of antioxidants and vitamin C. The product is powerful on its own, but when combined with ablative or non-ablative laser treatments, skin absorbs it at 17 times the normal rate.
“Doctors used to put nothing or only some petroleumbased occlusive to create a protective skin barrier after laser treatments,” says Amy Chen, communications and training lead for Skinceuticals. “Now, we can reduce downtime by up to two days.”
There’s also been a shift in the philosophy of how doctors and customers use lasers: “They’re no longer viewed as corrective procedures; lasers are something to be incorporated in a maintenance regimen,” Kolenda explains.
But it’s not all bright lights and perfect skin. Wong warns that the laser trend has spawned a crop of unqualified operators offering dirt cheap, inferior treatments that come with significant risks.
“It’s not uncommon to see high-powered lasers and medical treatments being done in the mall or in hair salons,” she says.
“These are medical devices and they’re intended to be done under medical supervision. Laser burns are becoming more common because it’s being done in facilities and by people that aren’t well-trained in this area.”