Going Clear: I Lasered Off A Layer Of My Face, And I'd Totally Do It Again

by Gillian Fuller

The quest for flawless skin is never a straight, simple line.

As a beauty writer with access to the market’s newest and buzziest skincare products, you’d think I’d have it easier than most.

It turns out, however, there’s only so much topical treatments can do, and transforming my skin into clear, poreless perfection is apparently not one of them.

I’ve never had “problem skin” per se, and for that, I’m lucky. But like most, I do have my fair share of frustrations.

For one, my skin is both super-oily and super-sensitive; every time I treat a break out, I end up with angry, irritated, red splotches on my face.

I’ve also been known to pop a pimple or two, a guilty habit that's left my light olive skin with more superficial acne scars than I’d care to admit.

My teenage years may be over, but the memories live on... my cheeks.

So, when I received the opportunity to try out a Fraxel Laser treatment at Sadick Dermatology, owned by Dr. Neil Sadick in Manhattan, I jumped at the chance.

I’m never one to turn down free anything, and the prospect of waking up with baby-butt skin outweighed any fears I had about a laser melting my face off.

Though I was nervous, I managed to score the best dermatologist around. Dr. Sadick has performed several thousand Fraxel treatments during his 30 years as a dermatologist.

He’s written a book, "The New Natural," and heads Sadick Research Group, pioneering new methods of clinical dermatology and providing lab work for brands such as L’Oéal and Estée Lauder.

Suffice it to say, I was in good hands.

The treatment uses fraxelated lasers to resurface the skin, minimize fine lines and wrinkles and eradicate hyperpigmentation.

According to Dr. Sadick, the lasers work by burning little holes in the skin’s surface. Heat stimulates the production of collagen (which eliminates wrinkles) and burns off the top layer of the skin.

When the skin sloughs off, it takes acne scars and discolored patches with it, leaving fresh, clear skin in its wake. It’s a long, painful process, but the results speak for themselves.

It's always easy in the beginning...

When I arrived, I filled out several forms detailing my medical history, skincare routine, skincare concerns and more, sort of like you would at a doctor’s office.

I thought it was all a bit much — all this for a skin treatment? — but then again, I underestimated just how intense said treatment would be.

The medical history, it turns out, is extremely important; some medical conditions (and medications) can exacerbate the side effects and prolong the healing time.

Moral of the story: Don’t lie on your medical history.

Once I finished, my dermatologist, Genevieve (Dr. Sadick was away at a conference for the weekend) brought me into a room, where she photographed my bare face for the “before” picture and asked me about my concerns and what problems I’d most like addressed.

She examined my skin, making note of any “active pimples” (she’d have to avoid these, as the laser could make them worse) and explained the two-step process in detail, emphasizing how painful the treatment would be, though I, ever the cocky one, ignored her warnings.

Finally, we started.

The first hour of the treatment consisted of me sitting in a room with numbing cream smeared all over my face and a magazine in hand.

The goal of the numbing cream (as I’d later learn) is to dull the pain from the lasers. Though she warned me ample times about pain, I figured she was being dramatic — tons of women get laser treatments — how bad could it be?

When the numbing hour was up, Genevieve — sweet, sweet Genevieve — warned me the laser would be extremely uncomfortable; she told me to speak up if I needed a break.

I rolled my eyes and laid back, ready for flawless skin.

If beauty is pain, I better be a goddamn goddess.

With each pass of the laser — she did eight per section of my face — I felt my skin burning more and more; my eyes watered as if she’d poured sriracha into them.

Even the cold-air blower, which she'd pointed on my skin as she ripped it apart with the laser, failed to soothe.

“Do you want me to stop?” she asked.

I did, but I quickly realized it was better to get it over with than to delay the pain and draw it out.

The entire process took about a half hour, and after each section, I held an ice pack to my skin. It was my lone savior.

The worst part is the pain didn’t end when the laser lifted: My skin continued to burn with the heat of a dozen hells for hours after.

Genevieve likened it to “a bad sunburn;” I liken it to “dying.” Apples and oranges.

Some patients experience micro-bleeding; luckily, I was not one of them. Still, my skin was red and extremely tender when I walked out of the office that afternoon.

Redder than Rudolph (and not in an endearing way).

With my skin freshly lasered, I went home to lie in bed and moan to the delight of my boyfriend, who was tasked with serving as my bitch for the day.

Genevieve gifted me a small bag of Cetaphil and a noncomedogenic skin ointment to apply whenever my face felt tight (which was often).

The week following the procedure, I was to use the gentlest skincare products – nothing fragranced, no acids, no retinols, no scrubs, no peels, etc.

My skin was burning and pink well into the night; by Sunday, the pain had subsided, but my skin had become redder and splotchier.

It was also extremely tight, so much so I was applying ointment almost every hour. Dr. Sadick explained to me most patients experience peeling and scaling, though it usually clears up within a few days.

In the days that followed, my red skin turned into a tanned brownish color; if I looked close enough, I could see a grid-like pattern of dots on my face from where the laser had made contact.

It felt rough, sandpapery and continued to feel very tight and dry.

The kicker? I did it all makeup-free. (I was told to skip the morning routine for at least three days.)

Lucky for my coworkers, they were treated to a rare viewing of horror-movie Gillian, although it certainly made for interesting conversation.

Within a few days, my skin started to flake and peel off — the beginning of the healing process. Finally. 

It took about a full week for most of the brown, dead skin to flake off; another week passed before the signature Fraxel glow started to show.

Plus, I still had that f*cking pimple.

You may go for broke, but you'll love it.

For all the pain of the treatment, it was still worth it. My skin looks f*cking awesome: glowy, fresh, plump (in a good way) and smooth.

Because I only had one treatment, it’s not perfect — there are still spots I’d like to see cleared up — but the results far surpassed my expectations.

According to Dr. Sadick, I’ll continue seeing results for three-to-six more months as my skin continues to heal and remodel itself.

He advised me to continue caring for my skin with light acids — like glycolic acid, an exfoliant — and to always wear lots of sunscreen (the laser treatment will leave skin hypersensitive to sunlight).

For someone my age, Fraxel is most certainly a splurge; costs range anywhere between $900 and $2,000 and, according to Dr. Sadick, usually requires three-to-four sessions to achieve optimal results. The payoff, though, is major.

I don’t have to wear foundation (the whole #nomakeup look has become my new signature look), and I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for my skin.

Now, I want to keep it looking this good.