The Lowdown On Lasers From Redness To Hair Removal
Forget what you think you know about lasers. The latest treatments can do it all—with little to no downtime.
FOR HAIR REMOVAL
WHAT IT IS: Laser hair removal, which works by destroying the hair follicle, thus preventing new hair growth, has come a long way in terms of speed (we’re talking a 10-minute Brazilian), efficacy (fewer treatments are needed to yield better results) and the diversity of people able to receive the service (everyone, except those with hair lacking pigment—i.e., white or grey—because the laser can’t pick it up). The last point was particularly important to Canada-wide hair-removal chain WAXON Waxbar when it expanded into laser services late last year. Each of its treatments begins with the use of a Skintel device, which measures melanin density to ensure that the laser is set to the most effective wavelength for every part of each client’s body. “We can treat anyone from Nicole Kidman to Whoopi Goldberg,” says Amy Finnegan Burns, director of operations for the brand. “It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is—as long as there is depth to your hair colour, we can laser.”
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: I head to WAXON Summerhill in midtown Toronto to have my legs lasered. Pain-wise, it’s a totally tolerable sensation—a simultaneous blast of heat and quick rubber-band-like snap—over most of each leg, except around the veins on the backs and sides of my thighs; when the laser goes over those, the sensation is magnified tenfold. My sensitive skin is left with red marks from the edges of the device being pressed firmly against each leg (it needs solid contact to work properly), but they fade within the day. Four sessions later, my hair isn’t totally gone (WAXON recommends about six sessions, eight weeks apart) but it’s sparse, and the growth has slowed down enough that now I only shave once a month, which preserves the life of my self-tanner—and brings me a lot of joy. VICTORIA DIPLACIDO
FOR YOUNGER LOOKING SKIN
WHAT IT IS: Clear + Brilliant is a resurfacing laser—but don’t let the term put you off. While older laser technology used to leave scabbing that took weeks to recover from, new fractional technology causes only minor dryness and pink-toned skin that could last a few hours. “When Clear + Brilliant came along, we were able to use laser energies and wavelengths that made a meaningful change in surface collagen and brightening with, really, no downtime,” says Dr. Robert Anolik, a New York City-based dermatologist. “Fractional-laser energy touches the skin in a pixelated way, like tiny dots on a screen, which leaves behind untouched, healthy skin that allows for rapid healing.”
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: A numbing cream is applied to my skin for about 20 minutes, and by the time Anolik returns to hand me a pair of protective glasses, I’m at The Weeknd levels of not being able to feel my face. He runs the laser methodically across my skin, making extra passes over dark spots; it’s prickly but not painful. Afterwards, my face feels really warm, but other than a bit of pinkness, there’s no sign of what I’ve had done, so I’m able to put on a tinted moisturizer and hit a business lunch within the hour. The next day, my skin has a sandpapery texture—a common after-effect as dead skin cells rise to the surface. After a week, the glow is unmistakable. My skin looks more refined, even-toned and super-smooth (which is what makes it a must for those with acne scars or sun spots). VANESSA CRAFT
WHAT IT IS: You may have heard of PicoSure from friends looking to remove a regrettable tattoo. While that was the laser’s original purpose, it is also an effective method for removing hyperpigmentation. The best part: It’s safe for people of colour. PicoSure works by mechanically disrupting pigment—think of a vibration—unlike other lasers that use heat and can actually cause hyperpigmentation in deeper skin tones. This process signals the creation of new collagen deep in the skin and has been shown to improve acne scarring, fine lines and overall skin texture. It’s also a “lunchtime” treatment, meaning there’s no anaesthetic used and you can quickly get on with your day post-procedure.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: I am prone to redness (see right), but that’s not my only affliction: A lifetime of acne has left me with significant scarring and hyperpigmentation. Since I have no active acne, Dr. Diane Wong, owner and medical director of Glow Medi Spas in Ontario, suggests that I start with PicoSure before moving on to intense pulsed light (IPL) laser. While both lasers help with hyperpigmentation and will improve the overall appearance of my skin, Wong says that the effects are more significant with PicoSure. “One of the few things it doesn’t treat is redness, and that is where the IPL can help,” she explains. I abstain from all active skincare ingredients (retinols, acids and the like) for two weeks before my treatment. When it comes time for the laser, I am offered a hose that blasts a cool stream of air at my face, and I find the experience to be painless. Post-treatment, I do get a few pimple-like bumps, which I’m told can happen with oily skin types, but they resolve within a few days. VDP
WHAT IT IS: BroadBand Light (BBL) is a patented type of IPL laser. Many different wavelengths of light are utilized simultaneously, and specific wavelengths can be selected to treat a variety of concerns like acne, pigmentation and redness, which it is particularly good at correcting. One report published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that BBL treatments were able to change the gene expression in aging skin to resemble that of younger skin. “It validated what clinicians have been seeing for many years: more youthful skin, with fewer lines and wrinkles,” says Wong of the report. “We are now recommending BBL treatments three times a year as an anti-aging and preventive treatment.”
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: My face has always been quick to turn—and stay—red with any type of exertion. At Glow Medi Spa in Aurora, Ont., I’m prescribed a series of four BBL treatments to deal with my everyday flushed look, or, in medical speak, my “vascularity.” The laser isn’t exactly comfortable, but I’m able to chat through the procedure, wincing only slightly as it passes over certain areas. (Inexplicably, the areas I find sensitive are different with each treatment.) Afterwards, my cheeks are slightly swollen, but it looks like the redness has been airbrushed off my face. Now, when I go to the gym, my face turns more peach than tomato red and I no longer feel heat radiating from my face. VDP
POST-TREATMENT MUST HAVES
Sunscreen: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Tinted SPF 50 ($34)
Hydrating moisturizer: Pixi pHenomenal Gel ($34)
Gentle cleanser: Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Gel ($19.90)
Repairing serum: Vivier GrenzCine Serum ($314.50)
Cooling mask: SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Masque ($70)
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.