“Oh, she’s a baby!,” was the first thing Howard Sobel, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York and founder of Sobel SkinTM, said to me after entering the treatment room with his assistant, Cynthia. As a 27-year-old with minor hyperpigmentation, I couldn’t decide what Sobel’s comment meant: whether he was excited to treat my youthful skin, or disappointed that I didn’t have more hyperpigmentation to zap away with the Clear + Brilliant® laser treatment.
Either way, this little baby was in his swanky Park Avenue office, eager to begin the first of three Clear + Brilliant treatments to minimize the minor hyperpigmentation I did have. The laser treatment uses fractional laser technology to address and prevent the early signs of aging by exfoliating the top layers of skin, revealing healthy tissue within a few weeks.
Sobel wasn’t wrong about me being a baby in one way: I insisted on numbing cream before my first appointment. While we waited for the cream to work its magic, Dr. Sobel told me that Clear + Brilliant uses the same technology as Fraxel®, but at a much lower level. (That’s why you may have heard the treatment referred to as “baby Fraxel.”) “You really want to get about three to four Clear + Brilliant treatments three to four weeks apart to see an overall difference,” he explained. Was enduring the discomfort of three appointments worth the smoother texture, tighter pores, and zero brown spots? I was about to find out.
Just 10 minutes later, I couldn’t feel my face. Cynthia lowered the treatment chair I’d been seated in so that I was laying down, and once she handed me two stress balls to squeeze, I began to internally freak out. Cynthia explained to me where she was going to begin on my face, and instructed me to let her know whenever I needed a break. Bracing myself by squeezing the stress balls, I quickly released my grip as the laser passed over my cheek. “That’s it?” I asked Cynthia in shock. “Yep, that’s basically all the pain you’re going to feel,” she said.
I don’t even think the word “pain” would be the right way to describe the sensation of the Clear + Brilliant laser. It felt like I was just using my at-home dermaroller across my face — that is to say, it felt like practically nothing. Granted, I did have numbing cream on, which I know helped, but I’m convinced I’d be able to endure the slight discomfort of the laser treatment without the numbing cream if I wanted to.
The treatment took about eight minutes from start to finish, and as the laser passed along my jawline and forehead, I could feel more intense pinpricks. “You’re feeling the laser more there because it’s getting closer to the bone,” Cynthia explained. After a few passes across my skin, Cynthia handed me ice packs and applied lots of sunscreen on my freshly resurfaced face.
I won’t lie: I definitely looked like a tomato after the treatment, and I wish I’d brought a hat to cover my skin as I walked out of the doctor’s office. I made the 10-block trek to my coworking space, and as I was signing in, I could feel the usually-friendly receptionist gawk at me quizzically. I went into the corner of the office and hid, only getting up to pour myself tea or water when I really needed it. After about an hour, I went to the bathroom and looked at my reflection: my tomato-face had turned into a peach-face, and my regular skin tone was almost back to normal.
I didn’t notice any difference in the tone of my skin post-treatment, but my skin’s sandpaper-like texture was definitely not my usual. Even while slathering on the Sobel Skin moisturizer and DDF® Weightless Defense Hydrator With Sunscreen ($39) that Dr. Sobel had given me post-treatment, nothing would get rid of the sandpaper feeling. I was just going to have to wait it out.
The sandpaper texture lasted about four days. I tried to apply as little foundation to my face as possible during that time, as I was afraid it would draw attention to the dryness. After about a week, I noticed small amounts of skin coming off when I used a washcloth while cleansing. The flecks of skin were so minor, I don’t think anyone but myself would have noticed them.
About two weeks post-treatment, my skin felt remarkably smooth. Smoother than I’d ever felt it, honestly. It wasn’t until Cynthia showed me before and after pictures that I began to notice the difference in tone — the hyperpigmentation was fading and Cynthia was excited about our initial progress.
Three weeks later, I opted for numbing cream again for my second Clear + Brilliant treatment (because who wants to be in pain), and declined Cynthia’s offer for the stress balls. My experience after the second treatment was basically the same as the first, although I felt like my skin was less red post-treatment after the second round.
My third and final treatment was probably the most “painful” of the three because Cynthia did a few more passes of the laser on my skin than the first two, so my face was more red and irritated post-treatment. I think she wanted to go out with a bang, and I wasn’t about to stop her.
Throughout this process, I was very conscientious of all the sun exposure I was trying to avoid with hats, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen. I was trying to preserve my laser treatment so much so that I noticed it getting in the way of me enjoying the outdoors. Even while attending the AVPTM Gold SeriesTM New York City Open with my friend, I found myself concentrating more on seeking shade than on the sweaty and sexy male volleyball players showing off their six-packs. Daley pre-Clear + Brilliant would have soaked up all that sun damage just to drool over those abs.
The difference in tone between my initial before picture and final after picture is slight, but the smooth texture of my skin and shrunken pores I feel now are apparent. I also would’ve preferred to get this treatment done after the summer ended (rather than before), when my skin would be the most sun-damaged and ready for repair.
If the worry of discomfort is deterring you from trying this treatment, don’t let it — again, this laser was surprisingly gentle, though of course all people have different tolerances. And if cost is of concern, I’d recommend trying this treatment out at a time you know your skin will be the most sun damaged, so you can make sure you’re getting the most for your money. For those of us who aren’t ready for a pricier (and more uncomfortable) Fraxel treatment, multiple Clear + Brilliant treatments might be a good option.
Complimentary treatment was provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.
Prices may vary from the time this article was written.