There comes a time when most women consider that nature could do with a helping hand when it comes to their skincare. When, despite your best preventive efforts, sun spots and sagging start to show, the desire for a quick fix kicks in.
Despite having a low interventionist approach, I was happy to consider a course of laser treatments for skin rejuvenation, partly because I'd previously had successful VPL laser hair removal and IPL to lessen pigmentation on the backs of my hands. I have also seen laser used to good effect to reduce the red appearance of facial capillaries on a family member.
That said, I was still nervous about how much resurfacing would be done so, after a thorough consultation at About Face, I opted for the less intensive Clear and Brilliant course rather than one of Fraxel Refine.
In retrospect, I probably should have been braver, but I was worried about downtime looking red-faced (redness occurs in varying degrees from both of these forms of fractionated laser treatment). They work by microscopically targeting a small area of the skin at a time, rather than blitzing the lot, allowing for faster healing than all-over ablative treatments.
After the second of my three spaced-out treatments, my skin was looking refreshed and plumper - still obvious some months down the track - but I think I would have liked to have seen what Fraxel could have done on sun damage.
It's also very effective on acne scarring, if you have it.
Both Clear and Brilliant and Fraxel treatments ping skin a bit and leave it sore for a few hours afterwards. If you're venturing out, you'll need to disguise redness with mineral powder makeup for a day or two. It's akin to the look and feel of sunburn and is initially best soothed with a cold flannel to keep inflammation at bay.
All of this was explained to me but the first treatment, despite a topical anaesthetic, was still a bit of a surprise. I coped okay with the half-hour or so of laser passes, but felt a bit queasy heading home. After a few hours of feeling quite flustered, my skin cooled and after a night's sleep most of the redness had subsided.
Subsequent treatments seemed much easier, perhaps because I knew what to expect.
The treatments work in two ways: on surface discolouration and by creating a wound-healing response deeper in the skin, which stimulates collagen over three to six months, giving a bounce back effect that makes fine lines look less visible. The main difference I noticed was that my face generally looked clearer, fuller and more evenly toned.
Fraxel technology has a 10-year record, and is used by many dermatologists. In the United States only medical professionals can administer it, whereas here a more open-slather approach applies.
We've all heard the odd horror story about burns being inflicted on customers by inexperienced or careless operators, which is why there's growing talk about the need for regulations to ensure operators are trained and equipment is up to scratch and used properly.
Nurses and therapists working in beauty clinics in New Zealand commonly use lasers and, though some dermatologists would prefer this was not the case, I would trust a well-trained, experienced operator. The issue, however, is in knowing if you have one.
About Face's laser trainer, Jackie Hendy, is a registered nurse and oversees a small team of therapists allowed to operate the costly machines.
The chain shares the concerns of many in the beauty industry that rogue operators are able to import inferior equipment and offer services. It especially warns customers not to be tempted by cut-price deals on any type of laser work and says a consultation is vital to ensure treatments suit a customer's skin and risks are explained.
Hendy told me Clear and Brilliant is generally recommended to tackle the earlier signs of ageing, with Fraxel being a step up.
About Face was the first in New Zealand to bring in Fraxel Refine, the least aggressive of several forms of Fraxel.
Fractionated laser acts on the water within skin cells and suits a broad range of skins, whereas, IPL (or intense pulse light) is delivered from a different machine and is less effective on more heavily pigmented skins.
But even when laser treatments are well matched to the client, not all suitable candidates will love the results. I've spoken to women who were underwhelmed or found pigmentation recurred. Superficial marks may be much reduced, but the damage to DNA tends to resurface, especially if skin is further exposed to the sun. This is why facial laser treatment is better done in winter.
It is not a cure-all. Hendy says longevity of results from fractionated laser depend on the use of good quality skincare. Another course might be considered 12-18 months after the first one, once the collagen regenerating effect has worn off, but, she says, it remains a non-invasive "great anti-ageing tool".
I went in armed with realistic expectations last winter and ended the course well satisfied, as I remain now, but be mindful that ageing is remorseless and deterrent measures aren't cheap.
A course of three Clear and Brilliant Treatments at About Face, Mt Eden, costs $1200, with a top-up option (if you require more than three treatments) costing $499 a session. Ph (09) 623 8400.