Fix your face—Repairing Sun Damage with Lasers

Growing up in the '80s and '90s, having a tan was in and my pale skin was not. I would lie out in the sun each week, covered in coconut-scented tanning oil, hoping that maybe this time my burn would turn into a golden tan. Yeah…it never did. Each time I would turn pink, freckle, and fade back to white.

As I grew older, I turned to tanning beds to get the same effect in less time. At my darkest, I was never tan, I just looked like I actually had pigment. I finally gave up my quest of the perfect tan in my mid-twenties. By then, the damage had been done and I was destined for skin cancer.

 My skin as a result of tanning beds. Still super pale.

My skin as a result of tanning beds. Still super pale.

I had my first pre-cancerous spots frozen off my face at 30. After that, I started wearing sunscreen far more often and using the skincare I should have been using in my 20s. I knew that nothing could completely reverse the damage I had done, but when both my mother and sister had skin cancer scraped off their noses last year, I stepped up my game and visited Avahlee Med Spa  in Lehi, Utah for a consultation.

They take a series of photos of your face, showing pigmented spots, wrinkles, texture, pore size, the bacteria under your skin, red areas, brown spots, and the thing I was worried most about…UV spots. My fears were realized when my face was entirely dark. It wasn't just where my freckles and moles were on the surface, it was everywhere. All my fears of potential skin cancer were realized in one photo.

 Before images, taken December 7, 2017

Before images, taken December 7, 2017

I knew then that retinol wasn't going to save me. I needed immediate intervention. Pattilynn, the owner of Avahlee, guided me through what she thought would be best to bring as much of that damaged pigment to the surface and remove it for good. A series of laser treatments were scheduled, each about four weeks apart.

Most of the lasers used felt like a rubber band lightly snapping against your skin where others just felt like heat. I have pretty thick skin, so they cranked up the power, but they always started low to make sure I was comfortable.

My immediate appearance varied, based on the laser used and how intense we went. Some of the treatments left me looking like I had a slight sunburn that faded by the end of the day.

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Others created more visible damage. Fractional lasers resurface the skin and work by using tiny pins to safely deliver heat through the surface of the skin using radio frequencies.

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This creates very small wounds, which your body naturally heals on its own. The process works to repair signs of skin damage that are visible on the surface, such as scars from acne or injury, deep wrinkles, enlarged pores, uneven skin texture, and pigmentation.

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Since my main goal was to remove sun damage, we went intense with the Venus Versa™ IPL (intense pulsed light) laser. It delivers precise light through several layers of skin, so wearing goggles is essential.

The light generates heat when absorbed by the tissue, which corrects imperfections without damaging any of the surrounding tissue.

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It results in what they call "coffee grounds." Those super dark spots in the photo below are pigment that will slough off the top layer of skin.

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What happened to my face the day after this picture was taken was pretty unexpected. My skin was bright red and covered in small, hard bumps. I stressed out for a few days, then called Avahlee to make sure I wasn't having some freak reaction.

It turns out I am part of the 3% of people whose skin reacts to this treatment in this way. Lucky for me, that also meant that when those bumps finally cleared in a week, my skin had an even better result than the other 97%.

I was so relieved I could contact Pattilynn directly with my concerns. I placed huge trust in her with my face and she was always ready to answer any questions I had.

When it comes to laser repair for UV damage, it's not always easy to see the improvements on the surface. Viewing the results underneath tells a more complete story.

 After images, taken July 16, 2018

After images, taken July 16, 2018

Some things changed dramatically like wrinkles (thanks Botox!), but what I was really curious about were the brown spots and UV damage.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the lightness in my brown spots. They're still there, but there's definitely a difference. (The super dark spots where there's no change are moles.)

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That pigment is a medium depth in my skin, so those spots that are lighter means a lesser chance of skin cancer that was already on its way to the surface.

The UV damage photos don't show a lot of difference, but that's expected. Once the damage is done at the base layers of your skin, you can't remove it, but you can slow down its movement to the surface.

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In total, I had a series of seven facial treatments done, the last three in one visit. I'll probably do the IPL laser once a year to not just resurface my skin, but to continue to keep that UV damage at bay. I'd take the pain of a laser any day over the scars of skin cancer removal.

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