Exactly how stars manage to transform their skin for awards season has always a been a bit of a mystery. Famous folks are often hesitant to credit anything other than “sleep and lots of water!” for their red carpet glow, but we all know a flawless visage isn’t always achieved by virtuous living. Often, those gleaming complexions are created with rounds of microdermabrasion followed by laser work and a peel or facial—a triple shot of skin care treatments so tried and true, just about every star undergoes it in some form as part of their public-facing prep.
THE RED CARPET RX
Dr. David Colbert, a New York-based dermatologist who treats A-listers like Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams, calls his version “The Triad” and estimates that come awards season, about 75 percent of his celebrity clients undergo the treatment because it results in “instantly luminous skin of the face, neck and hands,” he says. “The skin reflects light much more evenly resulting in the perfect red carpet glow.”
But can this triple-threat treatment transform the skin of a mere mortal—and are its effects so spectacular that it’s worth the several-hundred-dollar price tag? To find out, I decamped to Thibiant Beverly Hills, an aesthetic medicine institute popular with old school L.A. (think: generations of Hiltons) and today’s mega celebs, like Jennifer Aniston—and where leading cosmetic surgeon Dr. Harry Glassman recommends a trio of microdermabrasion, Genesis V laser and oxygen facial for an A-list glow.
I’m sent to Melanie Shugart, an RN who has been in the cosmetic laser game for nearly 20 years. She takes a look at my broken-down skin (a few darks spots, redness around the t-zone, hormonal zits, clogged pores and an overall dull tone) and unfazed, suggests a round of microdermabrasion ($150) to start.
The treatment uses a wand tipped with microscopic diamonds to majorly exfoliate. As the wand is dragged across the face a few inches at a time, it uses vacuum suction to clear skin of dead skin cells and excess oil. The idea of dragging a tiny DustBuster equipped with a medium-coarse, textured tip along the contours of my face sounds more skin ravaging than glow inducing. But the simple suction doesn’t feel rough or scratchy.
When finished, esthetician Faye Gitis busts open the wand to show me the small disc filter that served as a landing pad for the dead skin cells and grease sucked from my face; it was grossly yellow—like filter-of-a-fully-smoked-cigarette yellow—which seems hardly fair given my on-point at-home skin care regimen (cleansing with a sonic cleansing device, exfoliating, hydrating and applying masks at least every other day and never—ok, rarely—sleeping with makeup on). The results are a revelation; I’m beginning to see that this—not necessarily macrobiotics or a proper skin care routine—is what makes for next-level skin brightening.
FINDING THE RIGHT LASER
Next, I’m hit with another rude awakening: while the products we apply at home can nourish the top layer of our skin, they aren’t likely to travel deeper, where our internal anti-aging factory does its work. So Shugart bust out something that can—a singular laser beam that penetrates the deepest parts of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and reaches the tip of the dermis (or inner layer of skin where collagen production occurs).
The Genesis V laser, “stimulates collagen production in the deeper layers of the skin. This leads to improved texture and tone and minimizes pore size,” Glassman notes.
But lots of lasers work that magic. This is the beam of choice for superstars on their way to major awards shows (or a girl on her way back to work) because it stimulates cellular change without a recovery period.
“There are a billion lasers out there,” says Shugart. “But this is is best because it works with all skin types and there is no downtime.” This laser plays well with naturally tanned skin, doesn’t create burn patient like wounds, allows patients to go back out into the sun immediately after treatment (with SPF, of course) without heightened risk and works well for adults of all ages. Those under the age of 35 tend to respond better to the laser, while those over 35 can most benefit from its collagen-stimulating (read: sag prevention) benefits. No backdoors, no ill-advised burqas.
And unlike with some fractional laser treatments, with Genesis V, there’s no pain scale to navigate (or numbing cream to wear). Rather, the sensation it delivers is downright cozy; as Shugart waves the beam over my face (we both wear eye protection), I feel the the kind of comforting warmth that comes with sitting by a fire. After waving the laser over my skin, Shugart takes a few passes over my lips. “Because the laser stimulates your own collagen, it can subtly plump your lips without having to do fillers,” Shugart says. After 20 minutes, my treatment is complete and I’m sent on to get an oxygen facial without any special skin care instructions—as long as I wear SPF while in the sun, I can go back to my regular skincare routine and lifestyle.
Post facial, I’m sent walking with freakishly clean skin that bears a bit of pinkness where my cheeks meet my nose—an effect that disappears within the hour. A week later, the glow my complexion emits isn’t from my usual light-reflecting makeup, but my actual skin. I look like one of those girls who has achieved the kind of radiance that we’re so often told comes with a diet of sun salutations and coconut water.
The only downside? The price. Genesis V laser treatments ring in at $450 a session and best results are achieved after five sessions. When paired with microdermabrasion and facials, the overall cost rivals an average American’s gas and car maintenance expenses for a year.
Still, it’s comforting to know that when we hear stars give beauty soundbites on the red carpet this awards season, they, in fact, may be no more virtuous or even #blessed than the rest of us—many stars may have just needed this TKO treatment to make them shine.