Having suffered from acne for the past 14 years, I finally decided to get laser treatment to remove my scars. If you want to read a more personal account of my experience with acne, this post explains in depth why I decided to get the most advanced rejuvenation treatment available.
In the back of my head, I have always known I would have to get laser treatment one day. I’m now 22 years old, but I’ve had acne since I was 8 so it’s inevitable that I have scars from when I was young, naïve and incredulous that picking spots would have a long-term effect.
More about CO2RE laser skin resurfacing
Out of all the treatments available, CO2 fractional laser skin resurfacing has the highest success rate for acne scars. It also treats sun damage, uneven skin textures and wrinkles. It works by burning away the top layers of the skin, resulting in the production of collogen as it heals. Unlike other skin treatments, the fractional laser targets a specific fraction of the skin at a time. Because the laser beam targets individual scars, I knew that my results would be more accurate. The settings of the laser can be altered depending on what your skin needs. I got deeper resurfacing on my cheeks because that’s where the most severe scars were. My doctor set the laser to medium on my chin and it was set to light for my nose and forehead. This is because I had little to no scars on my T-zone but we wanted to make sure my skin texture was even all over once it healed.
Where I went for my treatment
After lots of research, my mum found that Dr. Darren McKeown’s clinic named the Aesthetic Medicine Institute has the best reviews online. Dr. Darren is a plastic surgeon and the staff in his clinic are all qualified and experienced professionals. I honestly can’t recommend the clinic and staff enough – everybody is so welcoming and they really do go the extra mile to make you feel comfortable. You get a free consultation which is fab if you want to find out more about any of their treatments or want an an expert’s opinion. The Glasgow clinic is located on West George street, an ideal location because it’s in the middle of the city centre and Dr. Darren also has a London clinic which is located on Harley street.
The clinic has recently had a re-launch and genuinely looks like a glam spa inside. Think Tom Ford candles in the bathroom and luxurious decor. No question is too silly when you’re recovering from laser treatment so the phone lines are opened 24/7 which means that you can always get through to the staff for advice!
Joanne Payne was my doctor and she specialises in laser rejuvenation. I couldn’t have asked for a better doctor! From the consultation to the treatment and then the check-up, Dr. Joanne was extremely friendly and confident in her ability. She gave me more than enough information so that I would know how intense the recovery was and I felt completely comfortable letting her do the treatment on me.
The treatment costs £1500 and that’s the standard price for it. I’ve seen advertisements for this on Groupon and other deal websites for £300, but the reviews are always bad. I always think you should go to a professional if you want something done properly, especially if it’s your face! For Dr. Darren’s clinic, the price includes the treatment itself, two check-up’s, a course of antibiotics in case you get an infection during recovery and a course of Aciclovir to prevent cold sores (the most common type of infection). I started taking the Aciclovir 3 days before my treatment and continued taking them for a week after to prevent any further discomfort.
Getting laser treatment
I arrived at the clinic an hour and a half before my appointment so that I could ask my doctor any final questions and so she could talk me through what would happen and what it would feel like. Dr. Joanne then put a numbing cream over my entire face that was left to absorb into my skin for an hour. Once the cream was on, the clinic had a private room set aside for me so that I didn’t have to go into the waiting area looking like someone had just threw whipped cream in my face. Thankfully my mum and her friend were with me so I was kept in good company as I waited anxiously.
Before starting the laser treatment, my doctor once again talked me through what she was going to do, what each machine was, how the laser would feel and how my skin would feel afterwards. Since getting it done, one of my most frequently asked questions has been “is it painful?” I went in there with the expectations that the pain wouldn’t be that bad because of the numbing cream. I don’t want to sugar coat it and say it didn’t hurt because I have genuinely never felt pain like it! My doctor was beyond amazing though and spoke to me the full way through it, making sure I was okay and reassuring me that it would be over soon. If one area of my face was in too much pain or was too hot, I could let my doctor know so that she could move on to a new section and return to the previous area later to let it cool off. One of the things that helped me sooo much was a cold air machine that I held in my hand the entire time and pointed it at whatever point of my face needed it most. I didn’t realise how hot my skin would be – it felt like what I would first degree sunburn to feel like – so the cold air definitely did help to relieve me from some of my discomfort and pain.
My doctor started with my forehead – the lightest laser setting – and I couldn’t believe the pain. It’s not a constant pain or feeling, it’s lots of little zaps that covers each corner of your face. I know everybody’s pain threshold is different but each little zap of the light laser made me feel like a blow torch was setting my skin on fire. You could actually smell the skin and hair burning off and I could still smell it for about 2 hours once I was home! The most abrasive setting was used next to pin point every single deep scar on my cheeks (this is what caused the spots of blood in the ‘recovery’ pictures below). I can’t even explain how sore this was. It was genuinely horrendous. It felt like the lighter setting x10 with an added needle (it obviously didn’t have a needle but it felt like that). Thankfully my mum was allowed in the room and I was able to squeeze her hand the entire time so if you get this done I would definitely recommend taking someone with you! The higher setting was used on the rest of my cheeks and although this was less painful than the most abrasive setting it was still absolute agony. Lastly, the medium setting was used on my cheeks and by this point all of my energy had been used up and I was hanging on to every last word the doctor in the hope that she would say we’re done. If you’re in too much pain or discomfort you can ask your doctor to turn the intensity down, but I just powered through with the hope that the pain would be worth it so that I got optimal results.
Although it only took 30 mins, it felt like 5 hours! My body was shaking because of the shock and how much pain I was in, but also because my face was so hot and the cold air was so cold. I genuinely couldn’t have got through it without the cold air though it helped me so much!
About the recovery
My dad had thankfully parked the car right outside the clinic and by that point I didn’t even want to speak because I was in so much pain. I had to sit in the front seat with the air-con blowing in my face full blast and my dad went straight to Asda to buy me a fan for the house. The heat that was radiating off my face was crazy and I remember thinking ‘this is putting me off ever wanting to go in the sun again.’ Although the first hour or two after the treatment was hell, my pain went down by the hour and it was almost completely gone the next day.
If you decide to do this, you will have to set aside at least a week or two for ‘downtime,’ including taking a week off work. Your skin needs time to heal without exposure to the sun and your body needs time to rest and recover from the shock! Everybody heals differently, but you probably won’t want to leave the house for at least the first week because you will swell, bleed and scab.
One of the most important things after laser treatment is to keep your skin hydrated. My skin literally felt as dry as sandpaper, so my doctor had advised me beforehand to buy vaseline. Vaseline is used instead of moisturiser because it’s gentle on skin and also creates a barrier against the environment. I had to keep reapplying vaseline throughout the entire day and night (every 30-60 mins) as it was absorbing into my skin mega fast no matter how thick I put it on. This kept my skin more hydrated than any moisturiser ever could but it clogged my pores and caused mild brake outs. I also struggled to sleep during the night because I had to sleep on my back and was waking up with it all over my hair and arms and chest! I was told not to use tap water to clean my face and instead to use boiled water that had been left to cool or bottled water twice a day. I had to then mix this with a cap full of white vinegar because the vinegar could cut through the vaseline to clean my skin properly.
To prevent the risk of infection, you really need to stay away from germs and bacteria (an excuse not to clean hehe). My mum bought me 9 new face towels, 6 new pillow cases and a hand sanitiser that I used constantly. I also made sure I had freshly washed bedding for coming home.
Before I post the most unflattering pictures you will ever see of me and that I usually wouldn’t be seen dead posting on social media, I just want to reiterate the fact that although my acne scars were bad, nobody really knew I had them. You could only see them in really harsh lights and in the most unflattering angles! When I told people I was getting laser treatment every single person (except my parents and best friend) said “do you even have scars?” or “you don’t need it.” I’m different from most people because my freckles have always camouflaged my flaws quite well! In all of these pictures (snapchat filter included) you’d never know that I had acne scars. It’s not that these pictures have been edited – they’ve not been retouched in the slightest – it’s just that my freckles and makeup hide them well and the lighting I take pictures in isn’t unflattering.
The below pictures show off my real scars. In these, I’ve turned the contrast right up on my camera so that yous could see every single flaw. I think it’s important to remember that I didn’t really look like this in person – it’s just my camera setting, the lighting and the most unflattering angles imaginable but I wanted to see how effective laser really was so I had a comparison.
During recovery/ After
Here’s a run down of how my face looking during my recovery (don’t look if you’re a bit squeamish). Although my skin probably won’t be healed for six weeks, my results will continue to get better up to 3 months down the line as the collagen remodels over time.
DAY 1 – The first two pictures were taken three hours after I came home from the clinic. As you can see, my skin looked completely sunburnt. The bloody bits are where the most abrasive laser penetrated the scars and the bleeding continued to get worse as the night went on (third and fourth pics). You can see pus and blood running down my face in the third picture and I pretty much spent my entire night dabbing my skin with clean face towels! I took paracetamol every four hours and that really helped with the heat. P.s. my skin’s really shiny because of the vaseline.
Day 2 – This is the worst my skin looked the entire time. The blood had mostly dried up and as you can see, so had my skin! These pictures were taken when I had cleaned it in the morning before I put on vaseline. If you look closely, you can see the laser marks. My skin was still a bit hot here but it was more so just tight and uncomfortable.
Day 3 – By the third day, I started to really swell and by looking at my face, you would’ve thought I had put on about 3 stone. All of the blood and most of the dryness was gone. By night time, the redness had started to go down and my skin tone was the colour of an exaggerated tan. My skin started to become extremely itchy so I was taking anti-histamens. By this point, I felt like I was wearing a face mask and I couldn’t open my mouth properly so I was having to cut all of my food up really small.
Day 4 – You can see more clearly here that the doctor used the highest setting on my cheeks and a low-medium setting on my chin and at the sides of my face. You can start to see some small breakouts here because the vaseline wasn’t letting my skin breathe. My skin was also starting to peel off.
Morning of Day 5 – When I was cleaning my skin with the bottled water and white vinegar in the morning, my old skin was flaking off and for the first time I could see the new skin underneath. My cheeks were still red but the rest of my skin actually looked tanned and surprisingly matched my neck (I had fake tan on my neck and then couldn’t shower for a few days to scrub it off; hence why my hair is full of vaseline). As the old layer of skin came off, so did my freckles! It was weird cleaning my face to then see my freckles come off onto the cotton pad haha.
Evening of Day 5 – My skin was still dry but it was nowhere near as dry as it had been! I emailed my doctor a picture of my skin to ask when I was to stop using vaseline because it was recovering a lot better than expected. Again, you can see how my freckles have came away and how to laser marks were starting to flake away too.
Day 6 – My skin texture and tone started to even out and I still had a slight tan. I’m still swollen here, but I genuinely couldn’t stop looking at my face in awe at how amazing my skin looked! I also finally washed my hair and traded the vaseline in for moisturiser.
Day 7 – I finally left the house! My skin was still very dry so I was using a hydrating suncream and my Dermalogica active moist moisturiser to keep it hydrated.
It’s now been 10 days since laser treatment and I still have extremely dry skin. I do still have some noticeable scars, but I’m aware that it takes up to 3 months to see the full results as my skin will continue producing collagen and repairing itself. I went back to Dr. Darren’s clinic for a checkup a week after laser treatment and Dr. Joanne and the rest of the staff couldn’t believe how quickly I had recovered and said they had never seen such a quick recovery. People that I had seen online (including the photos my doctor had shown me of previous clients) had red raw skin that looked like they had just been in a fire. I was actually a bit worried that mines wasn’t as severe as me and my parents had expected and we were worried that something had went wrong and I wasn’t getting the full benefits of it! It turns out I was doing everything properly and must just have good healing genes. I’m saying all this because if you get it done, you may not recover anywhere near as quickly as I have and your ‘downtime’ may actually be double or triple – it all just depends on the intensity of your treatment as well as each individual’s ability to heal.
I will be going back to see my doctor again six weeks from the time I had the treatment so that she can see how my recovery is coming along. By then, we will be able to tell if I will need any more targeted laser treatment to get rid of really deep scars. In the mean time, I have to be careful with what I use on my skin and can’t use any harsh chemicals or creams. It goes without saying that I also need to be extremely careful in the sun so that my skin is 100% protected and I don’t get hyper pigmentation marks. I’ll be using SPF under my makeup everyday from now on, even in winter!
Of course I’m not a doctor or specialist, so everything I have written is a personal account of my experience and what I have learned along the way. I said it previously but if you are considering getting this done (or any other treatment for that matter) I would highly recommend that you book in for a free consultation at Dr. Darren’s clinic because the staff really are amazing. It’s only day 10 and I’m overjoyed at my results so far and by what I’ve been told, my skin will continue to get better. I will update this with pictures in 6 weeks and 3 months if anybody is interested in how my skin is looking in the longer term.
I’ve had countless messages and questions so far about this treatment which is why this has turned out like a mini essay haha. I wanted to share my before and after results, but also wanted to be able to help you if you don’t know a lot about CO2 fractional laser resurfacing and wanted to find out more. If I’ve not covered anything or you want to have a wee chat about it, please feel free to send me a message!
Final advice if you get/ are thinking of getting laser treatment
-No matter what time of year it is, buy a fan for when you come out – you won’t regret it.
-Also bring a jacket with you to wear when you’re coming out. My entire body was freezing and shaking but my face was on fire!
-Mentally prepare yourself (and your loved ones) for how bad you will probably look during recovery. If you get the highest intensity laser over your entire face, you will look worse than I did because I only got that on my cheeks and they took the longest to recover.
-Despite it’s effectiveness, I would say don’t do this without trying milder treatments such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels or derma rollers first because it’s extremely intense.
-Make sure the laser treatment is performed by a professional plastic surgeon or doctor and really really do your research on the clinic/ professional you choose.
-Be aware that you might need to go back for a couple of pin-pointed zaps here and there 6-12 months down the line if deeper scars are still a bit noticeable.
-You shouldn’t get this done if you’re a sun worshipper as you will need to be extremely careful in the sun afterwards. You also shouldn’t get this done if you use sunbeds as the UV rays can cause hyper pigmentation in the areas you got the treatment.
-You can get this done even if you have spots! I still suffer from mild acne and I was afraid that I would have to keep postponing the treatment but the laser just kills the spots and they were gone within a day or two post treatment.
This website has hundreds of reviews and thousands of different recovery pictures if you want to see how different people’s skin reacts to the treatment.
If you’re a bit apprehensive about getting it done, click here to see the CO2 fractional laser in action.
Finally, watch this vlog if you want to watch one woman’s recovery journey as she documents how she feels every day and night for ten days (her recovery time was a lot longer than mines).