The Best Laser Treatments For Acne, Dark Spots, Eye Bags And More
Illustration by Mr Iker Ayestaran
A good moisturiser and a dab of concealer can hide a multitude of a sins. Retinol and daily sunscreen can work wonders. If you’re looking and feeling extra sluggish, an LED treatment or a Hydrafacial can swiftly turn the tides around and help restore lost mojo. But sometimes it pays to bring in the big guns.
If the headline didn’t give it away, we’re talking all about lasers – or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (nope, we had no clue, either). Turns out, not only are they great for welding metals, restoring eyesight and catching bank robbers, but they can fast-track you to the glowing, clear complexion of your dreams, too.
And forget what you might have heard (or worse, seen) about lasering your face in years past. Thanks to all sorts of techy advancements, it’s no longer the preserve of those with porcelain skin, inhumanly high pain tolerance and endless free time to recover. Below, we’ve chatted to the laser experts and rounded up the best treatments for eye bags, acne, pigmentation and more.
01. Best for darker skin tones and pigmentation
Where the “l” word was once off-limits for anyone with more than a smidge of melanin, R&D has opened up the field to a broader spectrum of skin tones. Chief among the new wave of dark-skin-friendly devices is the Pico Laser, which acts by highly compressing the laser energy and shooting it out in picoseconds (that’s one trillionth of a second). “When delivered in this small amount of time, the heat from the laser energy can’t travel down as far,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Joney De Souza. “That’s typically what negatively impacts darker skin types, where there is a higher concentration of pigment cells melanocytes,”
Rather than triggering hyperpigmentation – as less sophisticated or more aggressive lasers often do – Pico is ideal for nixing dark spots and dullness, as well as improving skin quality and texture. And painphobes can rest easy, here: “There has been such a huge improvement in pain management that any elastic-band snapping is a thing of the past.”
For bonus marks, patients at Dr Souza’s clinic can try out Picofusion, which combines the laser treatment with a round of gentle microneedling and skin boosters. Three initial sessions, a month apart, will give you maximum results – although you’ll be racking up the compliments after the first.
PicoSure Laser at Dr Joney de Souza Clinic, from £250
02. Best for a lunchtime anti-ageing boost
The most heavy-duty anti-ageing laser treatments will drag you through the trenches and back, all red-faced and raw, before granting you a brand-new complexion 10 working days later. ClearLift is not one such laser. In fact, you can pop in for a once-over during your lunch break and pop back to the office without your colleagues being any the wiser.
That’s because ClearLift works its charms 3mm down in the dermis rather than on the surface of the skin, so changes are initially invisible. What it’s secretly doing, however, is stimulating all that collagen underneath, which repairs the skin quality in the long term. It’s low-pain, low-downtime and suitable for skin tones across the spectrum.
“We see amazing results on Asian and Mediterranean skin types who have hereditary dark circles around the eyes,” says Dr Yannis Alexandrides of 111 Harley St. and 111SKIN. As for upkeep, he advises starting out with a course of four to six treatments for best results, and then returning as regularly as needed.
ClearLift at 111 Harley St., from £385
03. Best for an under-eye transformation
Under eyes getting you down? (Or leaving you looking knackered even after you’ve got your eight hours?) Between temporary tear trough fillers – which are better suited for hollows than bags – and the more drastic blepharoplasty route, you’ll find an array of innovative alternatives. It’s an incredibly delicate area, so best to turn to a specialist, here: Dr Maryam Zamani isn’t just a skilled injector, but a world-leading consultant oculoplastic surgeon – with the clientele and prices to prove it. At her smart clinic in London’s Chelsea, she’s formulated her signature Eye Tight treatment, which combines a powerful resurfacing laser with the glow-giving magic of mesotherapy.
The device of choice is an ablative CO2 laser, which means it’s removing the epidermal and superficial dermal layers of the skin (or in slightly more terrifying terms, “vaporising the tissue”). It’s one of the more aggressive options out there, so best to brace yourself – although you’ll be given local aesthetic to help numb the pain, along with intraocular shields to protect your eyes.
Results are seen from one to three weeks after treatment, with continued improvement over three to six months – if you’re consistent with aftercare. Sadly, though, if you have darker skin, you’ll have to steer clear of this one (“the thermal energy they can create, which can lead to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation in skin types above Fitzpatrick IV,” Dr Zamani says). Opt for the likes of Nucleofill, LightEyes or PRP instead.
Eye Tight at Dr Maryam Zamani Clinic, from £2,400
04. Best for twenty- and thirtysomethings
Perhaps you’re one of the clever ones. You’ve been slathering on sunscreen since your schooldays, started on retinol by your mid-twenties and you’re at your facialist’s office on a monthly basis. Maybe you’ve even dabbled in a few injectables just to ramp up your skin game. In short, your current regimen is focused on maintenance, revitalisation and prevention, rather than undoing years of damage (you lucky thing). You’re simply on the hunt for the Next Best Thing that’ll help you hit peak glow and keep lines at bay.
Enter Moxi, a fractional, non-ablative diode laser treatment that Dr Zamani explains will “improve pigmentation, stimulate collagen and elastin production, and polish skin for a healthy radiance – with little downtime”. Yes, it does require topical numbing to counter the “prickly sensation”, but the results are undeniably worth it: Dr Zamani equates a single Moxi session to four to six rounds of microneedling. Better yet, this one’s safe for melanin-rich skin due to the lower heat emission, and at Dr Zamani’s clinic, Moxi is even topped up with hyperpigmentation-zapping tranexamic acid.
Book in a week before any big outings (by which point swelling will have subsided) – and expect continued improvement for six to 12 weeks after.
Moxi at Dr Maryam Zamani Clinic, from £1,250
05. Best for laser newbies and sensitive types
No surprise to skincare nuts that the most cutting-edge treatments are coming out of South Korea. The latest export from the glowy, glass-skin capital is the NanoFirm, an inclusive, low-downtime laser that’s ideal for those new to the game. What makes it unique exactly? “The Erbium YAG laser creates nano-injuries in the skin that trigger the fibroblast cells to produce new collagen,” says aesthetician Ms Izabela Pawlitka of Dr David Jack’s clinic (currently the only spot in UK to offer the treatment). “It also has a resurfacing effect on the epidermis cell layer of the skin to stimulate repair and regeneration and to help optimise melanocyte function.”
If “nano-injuries” and “resurfacing” are already setting off alarm bells, rest assured that NanoFirm is a low-pain non-ablative device. In other words, you won’t be sat in the waiting room slathered in numbing cream beforehand; in fact, you won’t need to do any sort of prep at all. Post-treatment, you’ll likely be a little flushed, but, says Pawlitka, this should subside in an hour or two. And at Dr Jack’s clinic, they even throw in a light exfoliating peel (a dark-skin safe cocktail of mandelic, lactic and azelaic acid), plus a round of mesotherapy, so you get ultimate bang for your buck.
NanoFirm at Dr David Jack Clinic, from £350
06. Best for acne
NeoClear by Aerolase
Perhaps the breakout-prone skin of your adolescence has outstayed its welcome well into adulthood. Or worse, popped up again without any prewarning. Maybe you’ve tried everything from salicylic acid to Accutane to cutting out all your favourite foods – all to no avail. Time to call in some high-tech help, namely NeoClear by Aerolase. Specifically designed with acne in mind, it works by tackling the unholy trinity of sebum production, inflammation and bacteria, and is suited to every skin type and tone.
Treatment doesn’t require numbing, although pain reports vary. “It’s much less intense than traditional lasers,” says Miami-based medical aesthetician Ms Amy Peterson. “Some patients have also described it as ‘hot puffs of air’ or ‘hot water droplets’.” If you find it tolerable and you’re serious about nixing spots, you’ll want to book in several sessions. “On average, we typically recommend six treatments spaced a week apart. After our patients have reached significant improvement, we sometimes recommend maintenance treatments once every quarter.”
And post-treatment, it’s advised to minimise sun exposure and wear SPF daily (although we’d hope that was already a given).
Neoclear Acne by Aerolase at Skincare by Amy Peterson, from $400