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The Laser That Erases Summertime Sins

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The Violet Files

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CoolPeel is everything our writer hoped for in a post-sun skin refresh.

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The Laser That Erases Summertime Sins

I used to like my freckles. Over the years, they’ve turned on me, and so has the terminology used to describe them. What was once a smattering of playful dots easily spotted in childhood photos has become blurrier over time, thanks to a hazy mix of sun, heat, pregnancy, and time. When I first heard a dermatologist reference them, they were no longer freckles but hyperpigmentation with a side of melasma. I was a little offended.

But after a summer that left me with blotchy clusters of pigment, acne scars that appeared after I deigned to touch even the tiniest clogged pores, and just general blah about my skin (is that extra indentation around my mouth the first sign of sagging?), I was ready for a tuneup.

My sister and I had recently been debating the virtues of the quick recovery options at the dermatologist’s office: light fractional lasers like Clear + Brilliant and PICO Genesis, and IPL (intense pulsed light) versus the whole hog, no-one-sees-you-for-a-week deep laser life (aka Fraxel). On the one hand, from a pure bang-for-the-buck perspective, isn’t it better to really go for it in the downtime department and forget the non-invasive options altogether? In theory, yes. In reality, less so. (For proof, just Google after photos of patients who have had different laser treatments online. They have range: light sunburn to Freddy Krueger.) And does anyone really have the option to hide for even two days, let alone seven? While I’m sure I’ll scar my young kids in all sorts of unplanned ways, I don’t need them to see me looking physically burned from a voluntary procedure.

Enter CoolPeel. It is the lighter “little sister” version of a traditionally downtime-heavy CO2 laser. It is still ablative (re: it makes microscopic holes in your skin to promote wound healing and gets more collagen, elastin, and fresh skin cells to show up) but doesn’t require you to be asleep, and even topical anesthesia is optional. For Manhattan dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, MD (Madonna’s go-to skin guy), the appeal of the treatment lies in its ability to tighten while also taking care of fine lines, pigment, and overall texture. “It’s that patient in their 20s, 30s, 40s, that needs something [that treats] more than just sun damage,” he says. “They want that, but they have acne scars, and they also want superficial skin tightening.” Sounds like me.

Of the three settings available (mild, moderate, high), we settled on moderate to shorten the brief period of redness and roughness afterward. Christina DeMartino, the physician assistant who performed my procedure, moved the applicator from my forehead to my cheeks, chin and, eventually, the nose and above the lip. With each movement, it felt like getting zapped with a hot, prickly stamp. (It was not pleasant, but it was tolerable and done in a relatively quick 20 minutes.) I sat with ice packs for a few minutes and left with a coating of Aquaphor and after-care instructions. I was told to sleep on a clean pillowcase (good advice anytime, really) and to avoid sun exposure, intense workouts, and sweating for the next day or two. I laid off my regular routine at first but began using the Pigment program on my ZIIP device as well as Royal Fern Phytoactive Anti-Aging Serum after about a week.

I was jokingly told to avoid scheduling a first date, but I did have Friday night dinner plans hours after getting CoolPeel. I showed up with an explanation over why my skin was looking curiously glossy. My dates pretended not to notice, but I knew better.

My skin felt warm and flushed in the hours immediately following treatment, but any tenderness was gone the next morning. Instead, there were tiny light-brown dots (aka scabs) all over my face and a rough, sandpaper-like texture. I avoided foundation over the weekend but found that my mineral makeup looked just fine in time for work on Monday. On Wednesday, I woke to find every last scab gone. The most obvious difference was a new evenness, especially across my cheeks and around my nose. I did notice an overall tightness, especially around the mouth, but the biggest takeaway and reason to do it would be for a seasonal refresh and skin boost without dramatic downtime. My freckles did not disappear entirely, but they did lighten up. My skin is much brighter, with what looks like better circulation. And the best part is I can see my freckles again.