If time has etched its passage with dark spots, broken capillaries and other evidence of sun damage, you may want to consider having a photo facial at your dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office. I’ve been going every six months for a couple of years and, while it’s not what anyone would call a relaxing spa treatment, it’s definitely effective.
There are several different types of machines; each delivers targeted heat and light to pigmented areas. Stephanie, my esthetician, explained that her office uses BBL (Broad Band Light, made by Siton) because it provides a full range of options for true customization. Many other machines are pre-set, making them somewhat more limited.
Photo facials target the pigment in the skin to lighten areas of damage. The combination of light and heat also strengthens and builds collagen, the main protein in your body that supports your skin and diminishes over time.
Different skin colors require different treatment, and in fact African American skin, which obviously has the most pigment, would burn if subjected to pulsed light. The darker your skin, the more conservative your facialist will be with the setting. Pale and freckled skin like mine can tolerate the strongest heat and often has the most visible results because the initial contrast is so noticeable.
Make sure to discontinue the use of retinol a week before treatment, as it will make your skin overly sensitive. You may also want to stop using glycolic acid, although that’s less of an issue. I also recommend taking acetaminophen before your session.
Here’s what happens:
- Stephanie takes a “before” photo with all my spots on display. Depressing!
- I lie down on the padded bench and tuck in my shirt collar since she’s going to zap my neck and chest. (Your derm might have you take off your top and cover you with a towel.)
- After cleansing my skin to remove all traces of sunblock, moisturizer etc., she puts eyeshades on my eyes to protect them from the intense light.
- She then spreads ultrasound gel (cold and thick) on the areas to be treated. The gel acts as both a heat conductor and protector against burning.
- YOWZA!! Stephanie carefully, thoroughly and painfully zaps each spot with a pinprick of bright light. Some people describe it as like a rubber band snapping against your skin. I won’t lie… it hurts, though some places are less sensitive than others and the sensation lasts a fraction of a second. Again, depending on your skin tone and texture, it might not be as uncomfortable for you as it is for me. For instance, it doesn’t hurt much on my chest or hands.
When the session is done, Stephanie wipes off the ultrasound gook and lightly spreads on a soothing lotion. My face is a bit red and swollen, so I pop some oral arnica tablets and apply arnica lotion when I get home (make sure you don’t go near your eyes since the fumes are strong.) When more heat is used, the more swelling you can expect; it will subside after a few days at the most. Cool compresses help too.
Spots are darker immediately after treatment, but you can easily cover them with makeup. The first time I did this I was noticeably blotchy, especially on my hands; with regular sessions it’s not nearly as obvious. Don’t expect to see results for at least three or four weeks. The dark spots will crust over and fall off on their own. Meanwhile, be extra vigilant about using a broad-spectrum sunblock (at least 30 SPF)– which you already know you should do anyway, right?
By the way, pulsed light doesn’t go deeper than the top layer of skin, so it will not affect fillers or other deep-layer injectables.
Don’t expect miracles and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how nice you look with fewer of those nasty age spots!