Confused about lasers? When it comes to skin care, we are too. Let’s just say we can count on one hand what we know for sure about these treatments: one, they can do wonders for the skin by evening tone, fading hyperpigmentation, and reducing acne scars. Two, derms who serve the A-list, such as Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald in Los Angeles, tell us that their better-known clients count laser treatments as a must-do before big events. (Though many celebs stay mum on the subject, Khloe Kardashian is one who has publicly declared her love for lasers.)
But there are just so many types of laser treatments out there—and even more hearsay about whether these treatments can cause complications, who can benefit from them, and what they can do to our faces. Plus, aren’t they crazy expensive? It almost seems easier to let the celebs have their perfect skin—we’d rather avoid the headache.
But then Dr. Fitzgerald told us about a laser treatment that can offer the usual glowing benefits without the week or so of downtime required for skin to heal. This laser can be used on all skin tones and, at $450 a pop, costs far less than other offerings such as Fraxel, which can run $1,500 or more. It’s called the Clear and Brilliant (street name: baby Fraxel), and along with microneedling and preventative botox, it has become a staple in preventative aging plans among famous types.
“Clear and Brilliant is a simple procedure with low downtime that minimizes pore size, smooths texture, removes brown spots,” confirms Fitzgerald. “Essentially, [it] just makes your skin look fresh.” Intrigued, we asked Fitzgerald to hook us up with one of her resident laser practitioners and registered nurse, Angela Sarff, to learn more.
Sarff explains that Clear and Brilliant lasers are absorbed by water in the skin—not by white or dark pigment—so those with darker tones can receive the treatment effectively. “Unlike with some other lasers, pretty much everyone can do it,” says Sarff.
Here’s how it works: Just like the more intense Fraxel treatment, this laser pokes tiny columns of heat into the skin, leaving some areas intact. These so-called “fractionated” wounds are similar to those made by Fraxel (hence the “baby Fraxel” nickname) and stoke our skin’s own collagen production, while the untouched areas promote faster healing times.
One Clear and Brilliant session resurfaces about five percent of the skin’s surface, while also helping to even its tone by breaking up damaged cells (known as melanocyte cells) at the base of the epidermis. When damaged by the sun, these cells can make too much pigment or no pigment at all, which show up as dark or white spots on the skin. The laser breaks up this irregular color via heat. But here’s the kicker: unlike with more intense lasers, such as Fraxel, skin isn’t left red, inflamed and looking burnt for days; Clear and Brilliant allows us to head back to work the next day. Or so it says in the brochures.
After Fitzgerald examined my skin (dull, with uneven tone and texture, plus the occasional hormonal zit for good measure), Sarff showed me just how chill of a laser Clear and Brilliant can be. After numbing my skin with Lidocaine for a good 40 minutes or so, the RN started the machine and gently pressed its wand to my face, passing it over my skin in horizontal and vertical motions.
Though I could see a flicker of light beneath my closed and shielded eyes, and knew shots of heat were being fired into my skin, I felt only the equivalent of fingers stroking my face. Twenty minutes later, my treatment was done. My face was a bit red and puffy, and for the next hour, it felt a bit hot—all expected, Sarff assured me.
By the next day, the inflammation had subsided, replaced by a sandpaper-like texture and light flaking. I didn’t exactly look ready for my closeup, but not so bad that I was uncomfortable talking to esteemed colleagues at a conference. For three days after the treatment, as my skin continued to shed, I stayed away from makeup and intensive skin care. Instead, I simply washed my face with a gentle cleanser and applied Dr. Rogers Restore ($30), a petroleum-free healing balm, under SPF.
“It’s kind of like detailing your car,” Fitzgerald told me before my treatment. “There are things you never noticed needed cleaning, and once it’s done, you look brand new.” And she was right. By day five, my skin looked shockingly fresh. Because the laser had resurfaced a portion of my face, my skin was smooth and reflected light more evenly (giving what the beauty biz refers to as “glow”). Nearly 30 days in, I’m still noticing positive effects. Sarff noted that the treatment can “help with acne and sebaceous skin by drying up the oil under the skin.” Sure enough, my oily skin feels more in check, and as of now, my monthly crop of inevitable zits has yet to surface.
Sarff says that her high-profile clients will book Clear and Brilliant treatments a week before big events and get continue to get them as frequently as once a month. And I’m beginning to see why: This facial-on-steroids gives glowing results without taking us out of commission like other lasers can. Fitzgerald and Sarff suggest a cluster of four or five treatments for best results because each treatment is able to build on the last. For those of us with non-stop lives, this starter laser may be the best way to keep our skin looking bright and young—no matter what damage it’s seen. Now, how’s that for a no-brainer?