The Laser Face Treatment That Changed My Life

It was painful, but oh so worth it.

The ta-da! 'after treatment' pic.  Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

I’ve gotten a lot of things from my dad: the ability to cry within seconds at a sappy commercial, his dad-joke humor, and my proclivity to red skin and broken capillaries (thankssomuch on that last one, dad).

And when it came to covering up redness or the capillaries scattering around my face, I was obsessed. I’ve had a broken capillary or two since my early 20s, and while the first few were chill, as they kept creeping up, one after the other, my frustration grew as well.

I had gotten really efficient at covering them up. I was practically a professional makeup artist at strategically placing a few swipes of concealer around my nose here, and there and there and here… But sometimes you just want to walk down the street on a Saturday morning to go get coffee at the Australian cafe with the super hot Australian baristas and not worry about putting on concealer or thinking about your facial redness.

Yes, I can hear you telling me to just be confident. I know, I know. I am, I have the understanding that I am who I am. But don’t you have that one thing that drives you crazy about yourself, that makes you a bit self-conscious? Your toes, or that mole, or your eyebrows, or whatever? Mine was my broken capillaries around my nose and cheeks. They drove me crazy.

Especially because I felt like they weren’t “allowed” to be there. I am diligent about taking care of my skin. I’ve been obsessively washing it (gently!) and serum’ing it (gentle products!) and moisturizing (gently massaging!) since I was 12. How dare it reward me with a new broken capillary every few weeks or month!

Enter: lasers. Lasers were my answer. Laser technology is an ever-expanding scientific field that has advanced greatly in the last decade, each advancement bringing more breakthroughs. Today’s lasers can reduce wrinkles, tighten and tone skin, correct pigment, remove red or brown spots, and even erase tattoos. And yep, totally obliterate broken capillaries.

I had considered lasers before in years past but always thought, "No, that’s too crazy." But damnit, fast forward to 2018, when presented with the opportunity, and I find myself impatiently sitting in a waiting room at New York Dermatology Group about to laser my red face.

I will give you a word of warning: make sure you go to a reputable dermatologist, not a “spa” for this level of laser treatments. I specifically chose my specialist, NYDG, because they are one of the most advanced skin care specialists in lasering and dermatology in the world. Better to be safe than sorry.

There are many different types of lasers, with each targeting a different issue. Dr. Amy Perlmutter of NYDG broke down a few of the most popular varieties for us:

  • Excel V: Improves redness and blood vessels associated with rosacea, brown spots, scars, and discoloration associated with acne and spider veins.
  • IPL (Intense Pulse Light): Treats skin damage such as age spots, sun-induced freckles.
  • V-Beam Pulsed Dye: Great for treating vascular and pigmented lesions.
  • Nd:YAG: Treats pigmented lesions, also used for tattoo removal, and improves wrinkles.
  • PicoSure: Treats acne scars, pigmented lesions, and wrinkles.
  • Fraxel: Skin resurfacing procedure that reverses signs of aging like fine lines, scarring, and age spots.
  • Sublative: Improves texture, tone, acne scars, and dark spots.
  • co2: Reduces age-spots, uneven coloration, and textural irregularities.
I was given the option between IPL and Excel V for my redness and capillaries. Both are especially great for issues like broken capillaries because lasers excel at targeting and improving specific components of the skin. “Technology is continually changing so that lasers are able to treat a wider variety of skin conditions, and some with less downtime,” says Perlmutter. My doctor and I choose the Excel V because it’s a bit more aggressive at improving redness and blood vessels.

The only thing I wish I would have known beforehand: It’s going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better…

Immediately after first treatment. (And sorry, I don't know how to take selfies.)  Photography by Kristin Limoges

The Treatment

I came back for two rounds of Excel V within four weeks of each other. Your dermatologist (and again, yes, you should only be going to a doctor for this level of treatment) can determine if one, two or more treatments are necessary for you specifically, and what you’re hoping to accomplish.

I wanted all those damn capillaries gone. So I got two treatments of lasers.

I sat down in a cozy treatment chair, put some glasses on that protected my eyes, and was given a stress ball to squeeze. (First warning sign of the pain to come!) I was kindly told by Dr. Charissa Tagupa, Director of Clinical Operations at NYDG (and the director of the pain I was about to go through), that, yeah, this would be hurting, just a bit.

I’ve been told all my life that I have a high pain threshold, so I figured it’d be a few snaps and we’d call it a day. And I’d look in the mirror and all would be perfect and anew.

Well, there was a few snaps, and then a few more and a few more and a few more… (you get the picture). It went on for 10 minutes of pure pain. It’s a degree of pain that shows you how powerful the laser is. So powerful that Dr. Tagupa can literally, with each zap, watch the capillary actually collapse and disappear. She’s basically a superhero, zapping away the evil capillaries that have held my face hostage.

When it was over, I held ice packs to my burning, stinging red face. The burn continued for about 30 minutes, the redness for about two to three hours. But the swelling, oh boy, the swelling is what got me. I awoke the next morning to find the face swelling equivalent to Rocky Balboa at the end of the Apollo Creed fight. My eyes could barely open due to swelling, my cheeks felt double their normal size (although not true)—It seems like my entire face was really confused about what had happened the day before. But only a few stubborn capillaries were hanging around—the majority had disappeared. Within a few days, the swelling was gone, and all was right.

Four weeks later, I still had a few, larger broken capillaries left, and general redness on my cheeks and around my nose. I headed back for round two. Dr. Tagupa wanted the final results to be noticeable, so she aimed for a more aggressive treatment than round one.

I held my stress ball tight and distracted my mind from the burning pain by imagining sunny beaches with Australian baristas. This time the swelling was more severe than the first round. Some of the larger capillaries were visibly collapsed, leaving something similar to a bruise in its place. The swelling improved with both time and constant icing.

Dr. Perlmutter says this type of swelling and recovery can be fairly normal, especially for a more aggressive laser like Excel V. For some patients, recovery is merely hours, for others days. “The Excel V will initially cause some degree of swelling and redness,” says Dr. Perlmutter. “However, the parameters can be adjusted to meet the needs of the patient in terms of downtime. This is a discussion to have with the physician performing the treatment.”

Morning after second treatment. Yeah, ouch. Photography by Kristin Limoges

The After

Within four or five days, everything was back to normal. But a new normal. The normal where natural redness was reduced on my cheeks by about 75 percent, and broken capillaries reduced by about 95 percent. Yep, 95 percent, maybe even 99.9 percent reduced.

Would I do it again (pain, swelling, stinging included)? Hell yes, 100 times over.

And while it may seem like merely a cosmetic procedure, for those who have dealt with some type of scar, redness or issue that has mentally held them back, I implore you to take matters into your own hands. Whether that’s just deciding to not let it emotionally hold you back anymore, and confidently present yourself to the world as is, or whether that is discussing your possibilities and options with a rockstar dermatology group like NYDG.

And yes, I actually will have to eventually go back, perhaps. In fact, in the months afterwards, certain capillaries are popping back up. It’s partly thanks to my DNA (thanks, again, dad), and I’ve embraced them for the moment. It’s normal to need follow-up treatments (smaller, less aggressive ones if you stay on top of it), especially if the severity of the condition being treated is more extreme. “Each patient is unique and requires an individualized assessment,” warns Dr. Perlmutter, so it’s hard for her to generalize how long a patient will have success with each type of treatment.

For the time being, I wear sunscreen (actually, NYDG makes a killer chemical-free version, so does Dr. Sturm and Farmacy). “Broken capillaries, telangiectasias, and central facial redness may be associated with rosacea, can be a sign of sun damage, or sometimes appear as isolated lesions without a known cause,” says Dr. Perlmutter. “Daily sunscreen use with an SPF of 30 or higher is the best thing to do preventatively.”

One not so great thing about lasers? They aren't cheap. Each doctor is different in their level of pricing, but this is going to cost you a pretty penny. Lasers can begin within the $500 mark for one session, and some specialized treatments can reach up into the $1,500 level. Each Excel V treatment I had was around $800.

But if more capillaries keep popping back up, save me a squeeze ball, NYDG, I’m coming back for more…

Read more about skin 101:
Your Guide to Perfect, Glowing Skin in 2 Weeks or Less
This Extreme Facial Is the Secret to Super Moisturized Skin

Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Sensitive Skin

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Published on February 22, 2018 - 9:45am EST

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