In the world of aesthetic medicine, we talk a lot about ‘rejuvenation,’ but the breadth of non-surgical treatment options available today has made the idea of ‘prejuvenation’ not only possible but popular. When it comes to taking preventative measures to keep your skin looking youthful, a solid skincare and sun care routine tops the list. From there, neurotoxins, fillers, facials, chemical peels, and the like can proactively address concerns before they become, well, concerning.
A treatment option that is growing in popularity? Laser rejuvenation or, in the case of patients under 35, laser prejuvenation. To better understand the concept of preventative procedures and how laser therapy fits in, we’ve spoken to a top dermatologist and a prejuventation patient.
What Is Prejuvenation?
Sure, ‘prejuvenation’ might sound like nothing more than a trendy buzzword, but there is actually some substance to the concept. The term refers to the steps taken to prevent or correct early signs of aging. Compare that to ‘rejuvenation’ — which describes treatments that are designed to address visible signs of aging — and you’ll get the gist of why many plastic surgeons and dermatologists are increasingly working with patients in their late twenties and thirties.
So, what is this demographic looking for? “Younger patients tend to be concerned about skin tone, pore size, texture, and fine lines,” says Jessica Weiser, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University. Treatment protocols are as unique as the patients themselves, but she encourages everyone “to commit to a comprehensive skincare routine with liberal sun protection.”
From there, she explores in-office remedies on a case-by-case basis. “I may recommend small amounts of neuromodulator injections for patients who have static wrinkles,” she says. For the uninitiated, ‘static’ wrinkles are the lines that stay put at rest, while ‘dynamic’ wrinkles are those that only occur with movement. For patients who start to experience volume loss in their thirties, “small quantities of dermal filler or biostimulatory injections” may be helpful, she adds.
And then there are lasers. “There are a variety of lasers that can address redness, pigmentation, and general skin tone,” she explains. Additionally, she says there are “a variety of other lasers and energy-based devices that are more specific to overall skin texture, including acne scars, fine lines, and more.”
Laser Prejuvenation 101
First, a quick primer on laser therapy. There are a few different types of lasers to keep in mind (learn more in our complete guide to laser skin resurfacing):
- Ablative Lasers: Also known as ‘wounding’ lasers, these devices remove some or all of the epidermis.
- Non-Ablative Lasers: ‘Non-wounding’ lasers preserve the epidermis, while heating the dermis layer.
- Fractional Lasers: A pixelated energy beam dissipates some of the heat.
- Non-Fractional Lasers: The laser beam remains focused and concentrated.
Different combinations of the above (think: ablative fractional, ablative non-fractional, non-ablative fractional, non-ablative non-fractional) make a device better suited for different concerns. Non-ablative pulsed dye lasers, for example, are used to treat vascular lesions (think: broken capillaries and other redness), while a non-ablative fractional laser like Clear + Brilliant® is commonly called a ‘lunchtime laser’ because less inflammation means less downtime (but also less dramatic results).
It should come as no surprise then that the type of laser Dr. Weiser recommends for a patient depends on what they are looking to address. “For those with red scars, rosacea, and broken capillaries, I use vascular-specific lasers to reduce or remove these concerns,” she shares. For mild texture concerns, she notes “there are lower energy and less invasive devices” that can do the trick. When it comes to acne scars, Dr. Weiser often reaches for what she describes as “more intense fractional resurfacing devices” — including non-ablative resurfacing with Fraxel® or microneedling with radiofrequency or ablative resurfacing with CO2 laser treatments.
An additional prejuvenation benefit? Collagen production. “Some treatments do yield collagen regeneration — those that work on textural irregularities of the skin, primarily — and may provide some anti-aging benefits,” Dr. Weiser shares. As she explains, devices that target redness and pigmentation tend to provide less collagen production. But, with that said, “all heat can help stimulate healing,” she notes. Stimulating healing, stimulates collagen.
None of this matters, however, if you aren’t taking care of your complexion at home. “What usually proves to be most beneficial is early implementation of skin health awareness and sun protection,” Dr. Weiser emphasizes.
What to Expect From Laser Treatments
Because there are so many different types and intensities of lasers, there is no one single treatment or recovery protocol. Generally speaking, “most energy-based devices require a series of treatments,” Dr. Weiser notes. You can usually expect at least three sessions to see results, she says, though more may be needed. “For more severe textural issues, additional treatments may be required to reach an ideal endpoint,” she adds.
While more invasive ablative lasers may call for general anesthesia (and a couple weeks of downtime), a topical anesthetic suffices for many laser treatments. You may feel a bit of discomfort during the treatment, and, depending on the device, swelling, bruising, and redness are common side effects. Your provider will share any additional post-op instructions prior to the procedure, but you may be encouraged to switch to a gentle skincare routine for a period of time and be extra vigilant with your sun protection.
It is also important to note that many lasers are not suitable for all skin tones. When performed incorrectly on melanated skin, it can lead to burns, scars, and unwanted pigmentation. This is why it is imperative to consult with a board certified laser expert who has a range of tools in their kit and experience treating a range of skin types.
Now that you have a better sense of what laser prejevenation is, it’s time to hear what it's really like. Below, a patient shares her experience undergoing laser therapy to treat early signs of aging.
Lea, 28, Los Angeles
Lea opted for laser treatments to address the fine lines around her eyes. After consulting with a dermatologist, she decided that Fraxel® treatments would be more suitable for her than fillers or Botox®.
The AEDITION: What led you to book a consultation with your cosmetic dermatologist?
Lea: I work in an image-oriented profession, so I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of myself. Many of my peers were getting Botox® or fillers, so I decided to start looking into options that were open to me. I was open to having injectables, but I also knew that I wanted to go easy to begin with so I have options when I get older. During the consultation, my dermatologist suggested Fraxel® as an alternative. After talking about the benefits and risks, I settled on that option.
The AEDITION: What was the procedure like for you?
Lea: I had five sessions in total, and each of them lasted around half an hour. The most surprising thing about the treatments was the smell. I suppose it makes sense that, if your skin is being burnt, there would be a smell to it! It wasn't off-putting enough to make me tell people not to try it — it's just something worth keeping in mind. I would say the pain level during the procedure was less than having a bikini wax. It was a little unpleasant, but, again, not enough to put you off going back for your next session.
The AEDITION: How was the recovery process?
Lea: I was told to expect some soreness, but it wasn't too bad. I used a mix of milk and iced water on a flannel to soothe my skin, as recommended by my dermatologist. I had my sessions on Thursdays and worked from home on Fridays. By Monday, it was absolutely fine. I made sure to reapply sunscreen every few hours when I was out for a couple of weeks after each session, and I still keep up with sunscreen to keep my results looking as good as possible for as long as I can.
The AEDITION: Are you happy with the results?
Lea: My goal was to even out the skin around my eyes. I felt the area was starting to show signs of aging, especially when I laughed. After the first couple of sessions, I didn't see too much difference, although a couple of friends said they noticed a difference after the second session. By the fifth session, I was pleased with the results we achieved. My skin looks smoother and regenerated, almost fuller.
While laser therapy can be a great way to address skin tone and texture concerns at any age, it is not a silver bullet. For patients starting treatment in their twenties or thirties, it is important to remember that the skin will continue to age. “It is not accurate to say that many laser or other energy-based treatments at a young age would offset more invasive procedures later on,” Dr. Weiser says. But, when coupled with other healthy habits, it can go a long way toward long-term benefits. “Often patients who begin laser therapy at a younger age are adopting other skin-healthy behaviors, including photoprotection, antioxidant use, good cleansing practices, and proper hydration,” she explains. “The incorporation of laser treatment usually inspires better skincare and preventative habits!”
*Patient name has been changed
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