A fellow skincare junkie recently raved to me about Fraxel Dual laser treatments and all the amazing benefits they can provide, even from just one service. It just so happened that while I was at Skin Bar NYC trying out their 4D Face Lift, my esthetician mentioned that they were having a special on Fraxel for their monthly members all throughout November. If this self-proclaimed skincare nerd and spa expert wasn’t well-versed on all things Fraxel who’s to say the average spa-goer would be? With this in mind, I asked the med spa if I could be their guinea pig this November and try the service out for myself.
Once we had the date of my treatment locked and loaded I started to hit Google pretty hard and I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. To my dismay, some of the recovery photos were pretty gnarly. As were the tales of the pain people experienced during and after their treatments. After what may have been too much digging around, I started to worry I might be in over my pretty little Botoxed head.
To get to the bottom of what I was really in for I hit up my favorite Skin Bar NYC esthetician Jessica Bergquist, who I was happy to find out would also be performing the procedure. Before getting to the science behind the treatment, my main concern was the pain factor. How much was this going to hurt, I wanted to know. “Fraxel can be an intense treatment. A topical numbing cream is applied about 30-40 mins prior to getting the service. If the treatment is stronger there will be more discomfort. Someone, like you who is doing the treatment for preventative measures, will feel more comfortable during the treatment than someone who is being treated for acne scarring.” Jessica reassured me.
I certainly felt better about going under the laser as I spoke with Jessica, but a lot of people often question my foray into invasive anti-aging procedures, saying it makes them nervous because I’m only 27 years old. The truth is that it’s smart to get started early with these types of preventative measures. To calm the fears of my peers and coworkers, I asked Jessica to explain why people around my age can actually be ideal candidates for services like Fraxel Dual and Fraxel Restore.
“At the age of 25, our rate of skin cell turnover begins to slow,” she told me. “Desquamation is the process of our skin’s ability to shed old cells and reveal the fresh new cells. For a younger person, desquamation happens every 28 days or so. As we age, desquamation happens at a much slower rate. Anything you can do to speed up our cell turnover process, will help you to continue to reveal fresh, youthful skin cells and ‘trick’ your skin into keeping it young,” A perfect, scientifically sound explanation of why it’s important for people in their 20s and 30s to start these types treatments — preventing the aging process as much as we can. It just so happens that peels and lasers are great options for this. Haters to the left.
With those questions answered, it was time to move on to the ins and outs of Fraxel. “Fraxel treatments utilize a fractional laser to resurface the skin, stimulate collagen production and speed up the process of cell turnover to reveal fresh, youthful looking skin,” Jessica explained. “It works by creating micro-wounds in the skin. This is what we like to call ‘controlled injury’ because it allows the skin to repair itself safely and effectively.”
“We use two different wavelengths with Fraxel. Fraxel Restore and Fraxel Dual. The Restore uses the 1550 wavelength which penetrates deep into the skin to help resurface lines, wrinkles, scars and texture. The Dual, which uses both the 1550 wavelength and the 1927 (the more superficial option) resurfaces and helps with discoloration and hyperpigmentation,” she continued. Sensing that this information was a bit out of my element, Jessica put it into laymen’s terms for me, “The energy corresponds to the depth. So acne scarring needs higher energy (to go deeper into the skin), pigmentation needs lower energy because too much energy can overstimulate melanocytes (melanin forming cells) and cause unwanted hyperpigmentation.”
When it comes to deciding which form of Fraxel will get you the results you want, the lovely and knowledgeable people Skin Bar NYC will work closely with you to explain everything thoroughly, listen to your wants and needs, and recommend right treatment to help you achieve your skincare goals. Although I have been known to volunteer myself as skincare tribute in the name of trying out weird and interesting services, I knew this service wasn’t just fun and games so I put some pretty serious thought into the results I wanted to see to make sure I would be happy with the outcome.
My main goals were to prevent premature aging and reduce the fine lines on my forehead and around my eyes (hey, Botox don’t last forever!). I also wanted to diminish an unsightly scar near my eye, the result of an unfortunate, sleepy smash to the head which resulted in 12 stitches and three years of regret. Think those seem like lofty goals for just one laser treatment? Think again!
After speaking with Jessica, I felt a lot less nervous about my appointment but there was still some anxious energy in the air a few days later while I rode the train to Skin Bar NYC’s East 46th Street location. Once I stepped inside the bright and cheery med spa, my worries were instantly put to rest as I was greeted by multiple friendly faces including Jessica and Skin Bar NYC owner, Matt Pruitt. To get started the three of us went over my goals for the treatment and what options might be best suited to fit my needs.
From there, Jessica took me to have a Fit Skin Analysis so we could see what we were working with. After a few snaps my spots, UV damage, wrinkles, texture, pores, and porphyrins (bacteria that can get lodged in pores and cause acne) were fully analyzed and luckily my skin was in pretty good shape. Once it was clear that I hardly had any hyperpigmentation and my main concerns were stimulating collagen, anti-aging, and minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, Jessica decided to treat me using the Fraxel Restore 1550 laser and she told me exactly why.
“Restore will go deeper into your skin to target the lower layers where the loss of collagen and elasticity create your wrinkles,” she told me. “I’m going to treat you with eight passes of the laser, protocol for almost everyone, at 25- milli-joules.” This she noted was on the lighter end of the Fraxel Restore spectrum. “Since this is your first treatment, I want to keep you on the lower end because we want to make sure you react okay. Treating you at 40mj would be a bit strong for your condition and for a first-time treatment. If you were in your 60’s with deep wrinkles, I would definitely go to about 40mj.”
After all these details had been hammered out it was time to have medical-grade numbing cream applied to my face. To get the full benefits of the cream, it would take about 35 to 40 minutes before I was ready to undergo the treatment so I decided to ask Matt and Jessica what I should expect immediately following the treatment and up to a week after. “This depends, with the Fraxel Restore clients can expect to have a social downtime of about 5-7 days. Everyone’s different so sometimes this can be less or more,” they told me. I was also told I could expect some discomfort, redness, swelling, and peeling. A small price to pay for such impressive and long-lasting results.
At this point my face was completely numb and I was ready for my treatment. Before getting started Jessica reiterated that she’d be making eight passes over my face and giving a little extra attention to the problems areas we had discussed earlier. As I braced for what I imagined would be searing, burning pain, I was pleasantly surprised when the treatment started and I felt barely any pain at all. Sure, I could absolutely feel the heat as the laser penetrated my skin, creating hundreds of thousands of tiny holes, but it wasn’t as painful as anything I’d read online would have led to me to believe. Only when we got to my cheeks and the lower portion of my face did I start to notice a more intense burning sensation. Even so, I’ve had a vampire facial, a treatment which required numbing cream and microneedling, and Fraxel hurt much less.
Throughout the 15-minute treatment, one a scale from one to five, I’d say I the pain I experienced ranged from a two to three, depending on the area of my face being treated. Immediatly afterward, my skin felt raw and sunburnt. To ease my pain and speed up the healing process Jessica applied a Biocellusous Restorative Masque by SkinCeuticals. This masque was developed specifically for sensitive or compromised post-procedure skin, and let me tell you – it felt like heaven. I experienced zero burning or pain while the masque worked its magic for 20 minutes before it was removed and Jessica applied SkinCeuticals Epidermal Repair. Before being sent home, I got a detailed rundown of all the rules I would need to follow in the next few weeks. I was also given some samples of SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser and Epidermal Repair to keep my face hydrated and well on its way to proper healing.
I received my treatment on a Friday. That night, my face was bright red and felt somewhat sunburnt. As I fell asleep my skin felt a bit like it was throbbing, but this didn’t keep me from sleeping like a baby, dreaming of smooth, wrinkle-free skin. The next morning was somewhat of a different story.
My face puffed up so comically on Saturday, it looked like I had gotten both sets of wisdom teeth taken out. In fact, throughout the weekend and well into Monday multiple people would inquire about this. Still, I wasn’t in pain, just a bit of discomfort and slightly embarrassed about looking like a glutenous hamster with a pension for selfishly hoarding ungodly amounts of food in her cheeks.
By Tuesday, the swelling had calmed down tremendously and my skin had begun to peel, leaving my face looking quite splotchy and feeling super itchy. I wasn’t embarrassed about the lack of continuity going on with my skin tone, I just felt bad because I’m sure everyone I came in contact with wanted to hold me down and scrub my face. A frustrating feeling I could relate to every time I looked in the mirror.
Under NO circumstances was I allowed to do any such thing. I knew I had to just wait it out and let the skin peel on its own. Jessica had explained that if I exfoliated or picked my skin I would run the risk of causing trauma or hyperpigmentation. Post-Fraxel skin is so sensitive I needed to wait a few weeks before I was allowed to exfoliate which meant I would have to deal with my itchy, peeling face like an adult with self control.
Approximately eight days after receiving my treatment all the peeling and gone away and there were zero signs of swelling. Imagine that, my self-control had paid off! My skin looked totally resurfaced, refreshed, and gorgeous. I was definitely rocking a nice glow and my skin looked smoother than ever and wrinkle-free. I’m also happy to report that even 21 days after Fraxel the skincare hits kept on coming. Not only did I continue to notice massive improvements in my skin’s texture and tone — but that the pesky scar near my eye had become much less noticeable.
Would I undergo another Fraxel treatment? Absolutely! I would be happy to work with a skincare coach at Skin Bar NYC to figure out the best treatment plan for my skin’s needs and my personal goals so I can always have lovely, radiant skin while preemptively fighting lines and wrinkles.
Is Fraxel Right for You?
Wondering if Fraxel is the right treatment to address your skin concerns? Check out my Q&A with Jessica to find out.
Who is an ideal candidate for Fraxel (age, skin condition, etc)
There are many different people who can benefit from Fraxel. I mostly recommend it for clients who have acne pitted scarring. This type of scarring is difficult to treat and needs a deeper treatment than just superficial laser, especially if the scarring is very bad. I also recommend it for clients who have a lot of sun damage, wrinkling and anyone who has photo-aged skin (pre-mature aging of the skin due to UVA/UVB damage). Really anyone can do it for resurfacing and anti-aging, as long as there are no contraindications. It can treat all skin types.
Is there anyone who should not receive Fraxel?
I strongly do not recommend this treatment for clients who have moderate-severe acne and for clients who have severe rosacea. Anyone using Accutane within the past year cannot be treated. We also do not treat eczema, vitiligo, anyone with a history of Keloid scarring, anyone who is pregnant/trying to become pregnant, or anyone undergoing chemotherapy.
What types of results can people expect after treatment?
After one treatment clients can expect to feel a much smoother texture and a clearer complexion. After a series of treatments, clients can expect to see less noticeable lines and wrinkles, they’ll have a more even texture, smaller pores, and clearer skin in terms of hyperpigmentation and sun damage.
How often do you recommend someone get Fraxel?
We offer a complimentary evaluation to determine how many treatments you will need. This really depends on the client. If I am treating someone with deep pitted acne scarring, I may suggest they do 4 Fraxel Restore treatments spaced 5-6 months apart each. Take a break for 8-12 months, and then repeat another series. If I am treating someone like yourself, I would recommend 3-4 treatments spaced about 4 months apart and then you continue with maintenance by doing 1 treatment a year after until you get older and need another series.
How long do results typically last?
Results should continue to last from one Fraxel treatment to the next and for quite some time after if the client takes care of their skin. If they are someone who is going to sleep with makeup on, abuse sun exposure, smoke or drink heavily, use incorrect products for their skin, or someone who never maintains results by doing other types of treatments (facials/peels, etc.), then the results they saw from their Fraxel treatment may diminish. Also, note that you do not see the full result of one Fraxel treatment until about 6 months later.
What is the recovery time?
This depends. With Fraxel Restore, clients can expect to have a social downtime of about 5-7 days (everyone’s different so sometimes this can be less or more). If we are using the Dual wavelengths, sometimes a client can have a “Social downtime” of 10-14 days as this treatment pulls up a lot of pigmentation to exfoliate off.
Is there anything else people should know about Fraxel?
People should know that Fraxel can be an intense treatment. A topical numbing cream is applied about 30-40 mins prior to treatment. Fraxel can feel uncomfortable the stronger the treatment is. Someone, like you who was doing the treatment for preventative measures, will feel more comfortable during the treatment than someone who is being treated for acne scarring. Also, clients need to know that their skin will be sensitive to the sun for months after treatment. I always make sure to press this point to my clients – pigmentation can form EASILY if clients are not careful. They need to be wearing SPF and a wide-brimmed hat when in the sun. SPF should be worn inside even on a rainy day. YES, it is that serious. If a client mentions to me they are going on a trip to a sunny destination even a month from their treatment, I will not treat them. It is too risky! After doing Fraxel, clients should never be at the beach without a wide-brimmed hat and SPF – even if it is MONTHS from when they were treated. Not only sun exposure, but heat can cause hyperpigmentation as well. This is why we don’t treat a lot of clients in the warmer weather months.
- No sun exposure (sunburn or tan) for 3 weeks prior to treatment
- No anti-biotics for 14 days prior to treatment
- No use of retinol, aha/bha acids, or harsh exfoliation 2 weeks before treatment
- SPF of 30 or higher needs to be used daily, rain or shine, inside or outside.
- A Gentle Cleanser and SPF should be used daily at least a week before treatment – nothing too active.
- Avoid the sun! SPF 40-50 must be worn daily, inside or outside, rain or shine.
- Wear a hat. A wide brimmed hat and sunglasses should be worn post laser. In some cases the skin can be sensitive to sun exposure for months after the treatment. We suggest Fraxel treatments in the fall and winter.
- No retinol, AHA/BHA acids or harsh exfoliation should be used for 3 weeks post treatment.
- Gentle products should be used such as Gentle Cleanser and Epidermal Repair from Skin Ceuticals.
- Fraxel is a serious treatment. If you are considering having Fraxel you should prepare for some downtime. Downtime varies from person to person as well as the wavelength you are treated with.