Fraxel Laser Treatment: What to Know Before Booking the Appointment
I've thought about getting Fraxel a million and one times and changed my mind just as many. But that's not because I don't want instantly smoother, brighter, plumper skin (hi, would love that, thanks)—it's because lasers are hella off-putting and, from what I've heard, v painful.
Credit: Kelsey Seybold
I'm willing to bet you've also heard a lot of rumours about lasers, Fraxel in particular, and don't know what to believe. Is it safe? Does it actually work? Will it burn my face off? I'm mad when I spend $75 on a haircut and no one notices, so if I'm dropping some serious cash on a laser treatment, I want to be a hundred percent certain I'll be getting some compliments.
So, I reached out to New York-based cosmetic and medical dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, MD, to clear things up for all of us skeptics. If you've tried every wrinkle cream or fading gel and you want to find a faster and more effective solution for your dark spots and fine lines, here's the breakdown on the skin-resurfacing treatment people can't and won't stop talking about.
What is Fraxel?
Fraxel is a non-invasive, microscopic laser that penetrates your skin to encourage new collagen and elastin growth. Translation: It smooths wrinkles and scars, fades brown spots, and basically resurfaces your entire skin tone. Unlike really aggressive lasers, Fraxel is a fractional skin resurfacing treatment, which means it only targets a fraction (fraction, Fraxel—get it?) of the skin at a time.
What does Fraxel do?
The Fraxel Dual laser uses two wavelengths (1550 and 1927, if you wanna get specific) to address different skin concerns on the face, neck, chest, hands, legs—just about anywhere, according to Dr. Nussbaum. With the 1927 wavelength, you can lift away discolouration (hyperpigmentation, age spots, sun damage and pre-cancer spots), while the 1550 wavelength is designed to target and smooth your skin's texture (fine lines, wrinkles, and acne scarring).
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Is the Fraxel laser safe?
Although Dr. Nussbaum says the laser is safe for all skin tones, it might not be the best choice for anyone with melasma (a complex form of hyperpigmentation), since melasma can worsen under the effects of a Fraxel laser. For these patients, she recommends an even less aggressive laser called Clear + Brilliant. Of course, your dermatologist will let you know whether or not your skin can handle the laser, so definitely schedule a consultation regardless.
How should you prepare for a Fraxel laser treatment?
Luckily, this treatment is a pretty low-maintenance...at least, beforehand (more on the aftermath later). Dr. Nussbaum tells her patients to stop using any retinoids, peels, acids, or products that can cause skin sensitivity for a full a week before your treatment. But on the day of, you can show up for your appointment however you want (if you're wearing makeup, they'll wipe it off for you).
Note: If you're in the middle of a really intense breakout, your dermatologist may want to postpone until your zits have calmed down, so let the office know ahead of time if you find yourself in an acne showdown.
How much does Fraxel cost?
The cost varies depending on your skin condition, your insurance plan, and where you live, but Dr. Nussbaum says most Fraxel costs around USD $1,500 per treatment for just the face and up to $2,000 if you add on the neck and chest.
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How long does a Fraxel treatment take?
The laser treatment itself is relatively quick—about 15 to 25 minutes—but you should expect to factor in at least another 45 minutes for the topical anesthesia (numbing cream) to kick in before getting started.
Is the Fraxel laser painful?
What to Expect After Your Treatment:
How long does it take for the skin to heal after a Fraxel treatment?
The downtime to Fraxel is typically a week. During the first two days, you can expect redness, throbbing, and swelling (like a sunburn), then between days three to five, your skin will start to roughen up and peel. As tempting as it is to pick at the flakes, resist the urge and allow your skin to heal on its own or you'll risk scarring. And, as a note, the chest usually takes a little bit longer to recover, so don't be alarmed if the process seems slow.
What are the side effects of Fraxel?
Despite how intense it sounds, the Fraxel Dual laser actually has minimal side effects and downtime (at least, in comparison to other intense lasers). The patient should expect redness, swelling, and peeling afterwards, but it settles in less than a week.
How long do the results from Fraxel last?
According to Dr. Nussbaum, how long the results last depends on the patient’s hair colour, eye colour, and complexion (discolouration tends to return sooner on patients with blonde or red hair than on someone with darker hair). On average, though, the results of a Fraxel treatment last at least a year, but it varies wildly from patient to patient.
How many sessions of Fraxel are needed?
With the 1927 wavelength (the one used for fading pigment), one treatment can decrease 80 percent of the discolouration. Dr. Nussbaum says you might need a touch-up with a Clear + Brilliant laser four to six months later, but usually, one Fraxel session is enough to last you the year. With the 1550 wavelength (the one for smoothing texture), you usually need three to five treatments spaced four weeks apart.
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What should I do after the Fraxel laser treatment?
Fraxel: a great treatment for your skin and a great excuse not to go to the gym for that first week. Immediately following the treatment, your face might feel hot or inflamed, which means working out would only make that worse. And as good as it might sound, Dr.Nussbaum stresses that you shouldn't try to cool your skin with an ice pack, which could cause an ice burn on top of everything else.
If you desperately need to put something on your face to alleviate some of the heat, Dr. Nussbaum recommends making a 50/50 mixture of whole milk (because the lactic acid and fat help heal the skin) and ice water (because it's naturally soothing). Dip a washcloth in the milky water and use it as a compress to cool yourself down.
Should you wash your face after Fraxel?
Dr. Nussbaum recommends washing your face twice a day during recovery to keep the area clean and making sure to only use a gentle cleanser (that means absolutely no chemical or physical exfoliators). In the morning, she also suggests applying a vitamin C serum, which will penetrate the skin even better after a treatment and following it up with a lightweight moisturizer three to four times a day. Note that she said lightweight. You may want to load up on a thick, emollient cream, but those can actually clog your vulnerable skin and cause milia. Try one of these light, gentle formulas instead:
Can you wear makeup after Fraxel?
If redness, peeling skin, and dark flakes is something you'd rather not deal with publicly, plan your appointment during a week when you can afford to take some time off, because makeup is a no-go. Dr. Nussbaum says during those few days of healing, avoid putting any products on your face that aren't face wash, vitamin C serum, or light moisturizer.
Can you go in the sun after Fraxel?
Once you get a Fraxel treatment, it's SPF 30, a hat, and the shade for you (but you already do that anyway, right??). Not only will your new skin be more vulnerable to the sun, but you'll also want to stay covered to prevent the pigment from coming right back. Two grand is way too much $ just to waste on a day in the sun, unless you are literally made of money. And in that case, can I have some?
Brooke Shunatona is a contributing writer for Cosmopolitan.com.
This article first appeared in Cosmopolitan.