The Basics of Beauty Lasers

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The Basics of Beauty Lasers

Drugstore beauty treatments come in all shapes and sizes: gels, creams, peels, masks and more. The aisles are endless with perfection-enhancing possibilities. But when you walk into a doctor’s office for laser treatments, or use an at-home device, the list of solutions to proposed problems becomes even larger. With the ability to fix (almost) anything—from acne, to wrinkles, to unwanted hair—it might be worth strapping on a pair of goggles and getting zapped, but before you do, you should know how those little lasers actually work. Read on for the energy-filled answers (ahem, beams) to some pesky and personal complaints.

Hair Removal

Say adios to painful waxes! Instead of yanking hair out, it’s removed safely and effectively with very little discomfort via laser. In most procedures, follicles are targeted and destroyed over the course of six treatments, each six weeks apart. While no formal preparation is needed before getting lasered (read: no lotion, nada), candidates should not wax the area for two to three weeks before treatment. Each session lasts 10-45 minutes, depending on the surface area. Some redness may ensue for 10-20 minutes following, according to Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal in New York City. While results last six to eight weeks, there is eventual permanent hair reduction over time. It’s best to go in during winter when the skin is not tanned (plus, who wants to waste the precious days of summer inside?). The Synchro REPLA:Y Excellium 3.4 —three lasers in one including Alexandrite (for quick treatments, light skin), Nd:YAG (for dark and tanned skin) and IPL (intense pulsed laser, for sun damage)—is FDA cleared and costs $75-$700/session.

Body Contouring 

Running on the treadmill can lead to great calves, but it won’t necessarily eliminate pockets of fat. For body contouring, lasers alternate between hot and cool cycles to bring fat to a temperature where it can be permanently destroyed. Anyone with excess fat is a candidate—even individuals with healthy diets who exercise. Treatments last about 25 minutes per cycle in the targeted area, with no prep or post-treatment recovery (though food and water is recommended before going in). Two to three sessions are usually required, using SculpSure, in which patients wear a belt customized to their bodies, according Dr. Jeremy Brauer, director of clinical research at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. A day or two after the FDA-cleared procedure is performed, patients might feel like they’ve been doing crunches. Once the fat is gone, it’s gone forever. And results are usually seen around the six-week mark, with full evidence by the 12-week mark. The procedure costs $1,000-$1,500+/session.

Eye Wrinkles 

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For mellow nights at home, the term “Netflix and chill” might as well be changed to “laser and chill.” While you can go to a dermatologist’s office to correct eye-area wrinkles and fine lines, we are big supporters for banishing eye wrinkles from the comfort of our couch. Fractional laser technology involves microscopic laser beams pulsed into the skin to stimulate the body’s own natural renewal process, continuously rebuilding new collagen. Results are visible in as little as two weeks and best results are seen in eight when performed 30 seconds every night under each eye. Basically, as you’re scrolling through movie options, your face turns back the clock to yesteryear. Before use, makeup/sunscreen/other products should be removed. Afterward, there is zero recovery or downtime, though some may experience slight redness immediately following use. Staying home never felt so productive! Tria’s Age-Defying Eye Wrinkle Correcting Laser is FDA approved and retails $249/device.

Skin Sagging 

We like going down south—when south means Miami. Not our skin. For lifts and mild to moderate skin tightening on any body part—but especially on the face, neck and chest—there is a solution. Using ultrasound waves, pulses are delivered at a very precise depth of dermal skin and subcutaneous fat to tighten the fibrous connective tissue. The best candidates are women ages 40 to 59 who don’t want surgery (no knife, no problem). According to dermatologist S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute, patients should avoid sun exposure 48 hours before treatment and ice the area 10 minutes before the 15-40 minute procedure (depending on treatment area). After, there’s practically no downtime but possible redness one to two hours after. Tylenol may be necessary for some—but it’s a small price to pay for results that last two to three years! Use of the Ulthera® Ultherapy® Laser runs $1,000-$3,000/treatment.

Tattoo Removal 

At 18 that frat tat seemed like a good idea. Now? Not so much. Thankfully the FDA has approved a laser equipped to rid unwanted tattoos as well as pigmented lesions, acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles. Enter: PicoSure (pictured at top). The picosecond pulse laser creates a PressureWave. It’s transmitted into the skin, and collagen and elastin are then created over time. Anyone regretting their ink choices, or insecure about age spots, dark spots, wrinkles or acne scarring can partake in treatments. Appointment durations and the number of sessions needed depend on client goals, but in most cases, a series is required. Even though getting a tattoo doesn’t demand anesthetics, removal does. For other concerns (acne scaring, etc.), there will be no needles, just numbing cream 30-45 minutes before the treatment, for some. With tattoo removal, some bruising (mainly from anesthesia), redness, swelling, possibly crusting and blisters may occur—but overtime, you can kiss those Greek letters buh-bye. The cost is $1,000+/session.



Dimples are cute, while smiling. Unwanted dimpling of skin, though, on the hips and thighs, is not really regarded in the same way. Most women have cellulite and many wish it wasn’t there. Anyone who wants to get rid of it (on the arms, legs, butt) can do so with lasers, according to Dr. Jegasothy. A no-prep procedure involves radiofrequency wavelengths of electricity in a focused beam to tighten the superficial and deep layers of the skin, as well as the superficial layers of the subcutaneous fat. A 15-20 minute session is required every six to eight months. Recovery is as simple as sipping tea (or a diuretic pill) to reduce swelling. Redness usually occurs 24-48 hours after lasering. 

Using Viora® Radiofrequency Laser (pictured above) will cost you $500/session.

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a thing of the past. During a two to three minute procedure, microscopic holes are drilled in the skin by using heat energy, stimulating new collagen growth. A smoothing of the skin and tightening is the result, says Dr. Jegasothy. People of all ages and with any conditions are qualified candidates. Those looking to alleviate stretch marks typically require two to six treatments, four to six weeks apart, depending on severity. No prep is required, but numbing cream is applied for 10 minutes before treatment. Twenty-four hours of redness and mild swelling is par for the course when the Fraxel® Fractionated Laser, which costs $500/session, is used. Skin is completely healed within 24 hours, though it might remain pink.

Hilary Sheinbaum is a travel, health, food and lifestyle writer.