ICYMI, it’s officially laser season. Ask any dermatologist and they’ll tell you that fall and winter are the perfect time to head into a dermatology practice to talk about your laser options. That’s because oftentimes, lasers require some downtime indoors and out of the sun — which means no summer vacation to the Italian coast, no poolside margaritas, and no long walks on the beach. That, and typically the summertime comes with a little bit of skin damage, even if you’re religious about SPF application (which, by the way, you should be).
If you spent a bit too much time in the sun this summer — or you’re starting to see the first signs of sun-related skin damage from the accumulation of multiple summers well-spent, then you may want to consider a laser treatment. Lasers are extremely effective at treating an array of skin concerns — anything from redness, to hyperpigmentation, to fine lines, and beyond. But of course, there’s no such thing as a “catchall” laser that fits each individual and their specific needs. There are tons of lasers on the market, but there are five lasers that are most commonly used (and that have the most research to back them up). Curious which one is best for you? Ahead, discover everything you need to know about the most popular laser treatments, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban.
Fraxel is considered to be one of the most effective — and most intense — lasers on the market. “Fraxel is highly beneficial when used for patients who are experiencing more advanced skin aging,” says Dr. Shamban. “It helps with skin tightening as well as resurfacing lines and wrinkles and more advanced signs of aging-induced by chronic UVA / UVB exposures.” She notes that Fraxel can also be beneficial for those with significant facial scarring from acne or surgical procedures, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Post-treatment, patients should expect around 7 days of downtime, which can include some mild facial discomfort and rough, peeling skin. Sun avoidance is absolutely crucial during this time (expect to stay indoors), and your dermatologist will have you avoid all skincare and makeup except for a dermatology-grade post-treatment cream. If you can handle the recovery, the results will absolutely blow you away.
If you have hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, or skin redness, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is likely the laser for you. “Also referred to as a photofacial, layered in series, IPL will help to blast summer skin damage or visible signs of photoaging,” says Dr. Shamban. “Unlike most laser treatments, IPL uses one wavelength of intense pulsed light to help remove hyperpigmentation,” she continues. “It targets only the color in the dermis including red spots and brown spots, dark hair/follicles, and dilated blood vessels which will improve the texture, tone, and help overall canvas to look more even-toned and youthful.”
Compared to Fraxel, downtime for IPL is a breeze. You’ll likely spend a few days avoiding makeup and your typical skincare routine, but shouldn’t experience any discomfort post-treatment (and you’ll see results right away).
An important note, however: Dr. Shamban advises that those with deeper skin tones should avoid IPL, as it can be more likely to worsen hyperpigmentation than to improve it.
“Fractional laser — which can be ablative or non-ablative — is an effective resurfacing technology for fine lines and wrinkles, complexion improvements, sun damage, scars, or even hair removal,” says Dr. Shamban. “The concept of a fractional approach means that the beam itself is broken into thousands of tiny beams targeting only a fraction of the skin. The pixelated entry to only a portion of the dermal area allows the benefits of faster, more efficient skin healing than if the entire area was treated.”
On the upside, Dr. Shamban notes that this strategic technology can also reduce potential complications (which can sometimes occur with lasers that treat a less targeted dermal area). On the downside, she says that you’ll typically need multiple treatments before you see results; in most cases, her patients receive 3-4 treatments spaced 6 weeks apart.
Clear + Brilliant
If you’re brand new to laser treatments and not sure where to start, Clear + Brilliant is a great launching point that produces impressive results and little-to-no downtime. According to Dr. Shamban, this fractional laser can be used to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, pores, texture, and overall reduce the signs of premature aging.
“Laser genesis is a non-invasive procedure that heats the skin to smooth the complexion, reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and diminish dark spots,” says Dr. Shamban. “Similar to Clear & Brilliant, it benefits those with mild acne or scarring, redness, broken blood vessels, or rosacea.”