About six months ago, at the age of 25, I was cruelly hit with the worst freaking skin of my life for no apparent reason other than seriously bad luck. It took several months, hundreds of dollars, lots of trial and error, and biweekly appointments with my dermatologist to get the cystic bumps under control (thank you, Tazorac and spironolactone), but I was left with some pretty unsightly marks along my cheeks and on my chin.
I was given the frustrating news that these red and brown spots would naturally fade over the following six months to a year, and that the scarring probably wasn’t severe enough for laser. Dr. Lance Brown explained: “The discoloration, or brown marks commonly left by acne, are blemishes, whereas heavy scarring refers to the more severe marks and indentations left on the skin and can be treated by laser.” Even if I wanted to go this extreme route, the dermatologists I spoke with quoted well over $1,000 for the treatment, and I just couldn’t justify dropping that kind of cash.
That said, I’m generally a pretty impatient person, so sitting around for nature to do its job wasn’t an option for me either, so considering my situation was a little less severe—with mostly spots of discoloration left by painful cysts and very few visible depressions in the skin—I decided to try a few buzzy treatments and creams that promise to help women (and guys) with the same problem as me. Here’s what I tested out.
When I headed to Trifecta, a sleek med spa in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my HydraFacial treatment: In the past, facials have always been a relaxing experience, however the aesthetician warned me from the word go that while this treatment promised results, it was no calming day-spa facial. “Let me know if this starts to make you feel uncomfortable. You’ll probably notice a small difference straight away to your marks, and your skin will glow tomorrow,” she explained, adding that I should come in for monthly appointments to really see a marked difference with my blemishes.
The appointment took around 45 minutes, and involved a deep cleanse, heavy exfoliation via vibradermabrasion, pore extraction, and hydration. It’s totally noninvasive; however the exfoliation, which aims to rid your skin of old cells (in my case, these were the discolored cells) and stimulate new skin growth, was a little painful. I was promised that in addition to helping with my blemishes, the session would also get rid of other things that bug me, like fine lines and enlarged pores. Using this treatment in your 20s and 30s is also supposed to help keep your skin in good condition, and prevent against drastic skin-care procedures later on in life.
Afterward, my skin was a little red, so I beelined straight for the subway home and waited it out until the next day to put on makeup. I did notice that my brown spots had noticeably faded on my cheeks, and my skin looked incredible: Hydrated, smooth, and glowing. I’m already talking with the med spa to book in my next appointment—HydraFacial was a complete success.
Vitamin C brightening creams
After a bit of research, I discovered that vitamin C is one of the safest, most natural ways to help your skin repair and reduce the appearance of pigmentation. There are thousands of vitamin-C-infused products available, but after a colleague recommended the Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Vitamin C Brightening Sleep Mask ($62), I ordered myself a tube.
Personally, I was a little skeptical about the efficacy of nonprescription face creams at the start, but this cream surprised me. It’s packed with camu camu berry, a potent superfruit from the Amazon that provides 30 times more vitamin C than an average orange, and promises to “improve collagen, brighten, smooth, firm, and improve the appearance of uneven skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles” while you sleep.
I used it nightly for more than a month, washing it off with a cleanser in the morning at around 6.30 a.m., and noticed my blemishes continued to fade more quickly than they had in the previous month. Also: It smells like citrus candy, which is an obvious bonus. The solution is lightweight, and didn’t cause me to break out, which is something I was concerned with. Yes, I’ll definitely continue to use this religiously.
While I was trialing the sleep mask for four weeks, I also used the Ole Henriksen Truth Sugar Glow Polishing Mask ($42) once a week, to exfoliate the dead skin cells while also brightening with vitamin C.
Truth Vitality Lux Renew
I recently had an awesome experience with an at-home IPL hair removal machine, and hoped this device would be just as great. Essentially, it’s a handheld FDA-cleared device that you can use at home to help fight acne and aging. It uses light therapy that it promises will improve the skin’s elasticity, minimize fine lines, reduce redness and broken veins, and—hallelujah—help repair and fade discoloration. I was instructed to use the red light for five minutes on the spot three to five times per week, or as many as 10 times in severe cases. I have to say I was pretty skeptical about this one, but it’s backed by a successful 12-week clinical trial, and there are plenty of positive reviews online, so I decided to give it a go.
Here’s how it works: Low-level light therapy (LLLT) treats a bunch of conditions that require stimulation of healing, relief of pain and inflammation, and restoration of function. Studies show that the skin responds well to red and near-infrared wavelengths, as the photons are absorbed by mitochondrial chromophores in skin cells, a process shown to have beneficial effects on wrinkles, acne scars, hypertrophic scars, and healing of burns. You can read the background science here, if you’re interested.
After five uses, I have seen a very small but noticeable difference to some of the older marks around my chin, but Truth Vitality Lux Renew’s makers recommend that I continue for another few weeks to see a big difference. I love the concept, and for $279 the machine is a lot cheaper than professional treatments. I’m making an effort to use the device daily, and feel good that I’ll continue to see a noticeable difference over the next month.