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A primer on the most effective treatments, beauty concern by beauty concern.
Written By Fiorella Valdesolo

— PHOTOGRAPHY BY TXEMA YESTE / TRUNK ARCHIVE

Après summer sun spots? Post-baby stretch marks? Name almost any skin-care woe, and there’s a laser for that. And there’s no better time to take advantage of their skin-transforming effects than when sunshine is at a minimum (read: fall and winter, for most of the country). Here, a dossier of high-powered lasers organized by what ails you, as outlined by leading New York City dermatologists Dr. Robert Anolik and Dr. Amy Wechsler.

Using beams of long-wavelength infrared light, laser treatments function by heating collagen beneath the skin in order to target specific dermatologic concerns. Lasers of different colors, or wavelengths, produce different desirable effects, such as tightening skin, treating pigmentation issues, or stimulating collagen regrowth. 
THE LASER SOLUTION: Sun-inflicted brown spots and discoloration are among the most common complaints dermatologists hear, particularly right after summer. Anolik’s antidote? “We target classic sun spots and freckling with Ruby, Yag, and PicoSure lasers, all of which use different wavelengths to cause superficial pigment to vaporize,” he says.

TREATMENT PLAN: With pigment-specific lasers, Anolik says that while one treatment will usually yield great results, sometimes three or four may be needed. Results are permanent, but further sun exposure can cause problem spots to resurface, so future touch-ups may be required.

BURN DEGREE: If you can tolerate a Brazilian bikini wax, this will be no problem—it’s more annoying (think repeated rubber band snaps) than painful.

RECOVERY: Expect a little flat scab to form at the site of the spot. Anolik recommends applying Aquaphor to the area twice daily to nudge healing along.  
THE LASER SOLUTION: Aside from the usual spots and freckling, sun damage can present as larger areas of brown splotchiness. This brand of diffused pigmentation may also be driven by hormonal changes. It can be addressed with fractional rejuvenation lasers (like Fraxel Clear + Brilliant, Fraxel Dual 1927, and, for more severe cases, Fraxel Repair). “These target the production and remodeling of collagen in the skin, taking advantage of skin’s ability to repair itself,” explains Anolik. “By improving the collagen it also has an exfoliation process that releases the superficial abnormal pigment.”

TREATMENT PLAN: With Fraxel 1927, Wechsler usually likes to do two treatments per area at least one month apart. And although C+B has been studied and deemed safe for weekly use, Anolik says most of his patients will do a few in one month and then sporadically after that (a few times a year) to keep skin looking fresh.

BURN DEGREE: Best done over Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday (depending on the laser), when you’re out of office. In the new year, claim a sunburn from that “trip to Tulum.”

RECOVERY: Expect skin after treatment to appear as if it’s been peppered. “All the pigmentation comes to the surface as tiny brown dots that look almost like coffee grounds,” says Wechsler. Recovery time varies depending on the intensity of the laser. “With C+B I expect them to be pink for about five hours and feeling dry the next day, while with Fraxel Dual usually people are pink and puffy for two or three days then dry and flaky on the third, fourth, and fifth,” says Anolik. With Fraxel Repair, which should be reserved for only the most serious sun damage, downtime is longer. “It’s a carbon dioxide laser, which means it superficially wounds the skin in a controlled way, so there can be scabbing and significant swelling for a week and people can be pinkish for a month.”
THE LASER SOLUTION: “I love treating acne with lasers,” says Wechsler, who favors either Regenlite or Isolaz for her patients. “They use different mechanisms for reducing inflammation from acne,” she says. “Regenlite uses a pulse dye laser and Isolaz uses a blue light and suction.” Often Anolik will even tack on a light chemical peel post-Isolaze to up the acne-fighting benefits. “It helps to further open the pores and exfoliate the skin,” he adds.

TREATMENT PLAN: Wechsler says that with Regenlite patients can expect to come in about three times. For scarring, she favors five or six treatments with Fraxel 1550. Anolik recommends that his acne sufferers come in monthly for Isolaz and keep up a skin-care regimen with the appropriate prescription products (his go-to’s: Differin, tretinoin, Acanya gel, and Duac).

BURN DEGREE: Party-ready by nightfall.

RECOVERY: “The good news is neither of the lasers requires any downtime,” says Wechsler. Although, as with any such treatment, you should treat your skin to extra TLC post-appointments.
THE LASER SOLUTION: The sun, rosacea, hormonal shifts, or genetics can be the culprits behind various forms of facial redness, but all can be treated with various brands of vascular lasers. “The V-Beam Pulsed Dye laser is helpful for diffused pink or flush on the skin, while the Excel V laser is particularly valuable for the wiry red vessels that look like they were drawn on with a fine pen,” says Anolik. 

TREATMENT PLAN: You’ll need a series of treatments to see an improvement in redness, and typically need to come in for maintenance visits two to three times a year.

BURN DEGREE: More rubber band snaps—i.e., unpleasant but bearable.

RECOVERY: Expect to look flushed for a few hours after treatment, but there shouldn’t be any dryness or flakiness.
THE LASER SOLUTION: While there’s still no wholesale antidote for stretch marks, their appearance can be taken down a few notches. Options vary by the type of mark: “Red stretch marks, called striae rubra, improve with the V-Beam pulsed dye laser,” says Anolik. What remains are less noticeable thin white stretch marks called striae alba. For women who experience only the latter, Anolik goes a different route. “For those, we use non-ablative fractional lasers like Fraxel Dual and Picosure. The combination can help restore collagen and elastin, which makes the stretch mark appearance less noticeable.”  

TREATMENT PLAN: In either case, multiple visits are recommended (plan on at least five or six) in order to see a noticeable improvement.

BURN DEGREE: Summertime in Savannah. For Fraxel, you’ll be slathered with topical numbing cream to dull the sensation to a rolling prickling heat, but it’s still painless enough to do without popping a pre-appointment Percocet.

RECOVERY: With V-beam, there will likely be a few days of bruising, Anolik says. Fraxel “can leave skin pink and dry for about a week or two, while Picosure leaves it pink for just a few hours.”
How you care for the skin after any laser treatment can contribute significantly to the result and the healing time. Avoid the sun—even ambient sunlight—and always wear sunblock. You may also need to adjust your regular skin-care regimen. “Stay away from exfoliators, peels, retinols, or anything with lactic or salicylic acid in the days after treatment,” says Anolik.

He advises using gentle cleansers by brands like Neutrogena or Cetaphil and a soothing, ceramide-rich (“the ingredients help relieve the inflammation”) moisturizer like CeraVe. And last fall, Chanel released Solution 10, a treatment that Wechsler was instrumental in helping to develop, designed especially for sensitized skin. Formulated with only ten ingredients, including rare Silver Needle Tea, it has powerful antioxidant properties and is extraordinarily soothing. “I’ve been using it on all my patients post Fraxel and it’s awesome,” she says.

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