Growing up in Cape Town, a city that has fantastic summers with white beaches at your fingertips and a huge outdoor culture I have loved the sun for as long as I can remember. Having a father who is a Plastic Surgeon I probably had more education about what the sun can do to your skin and how dangerous it can be than most, but that didn’t stop me from spending entire days in the swimming pool with little sunscreen on, and in my teenage years experimenting with baby- and olive oil as tanning agents! When I now think of how many sunburns I have had that have resulted in blistering and peeling it literally makes me shudder.
The first time I noticed that I was developing freckles from my sun-worshipping ways was on a holiday to Thailand when I was 17. Of course I thought that my skin was primed for the African sun and the hole in the ozone layer that supposedly hovers over South Africa, and so I thought the Asian sun would be child’s play for my skin. Unfortunately I was wrong, and once again suffered a blistering sunburn that left irregular brown spots on my chest, especially between my boobs. They bothered me enough to make me put SPF 50 on my chest most days, and especially when I went to the beach, but not enough to stop me from baking myself in the sun altogether.
I finally made the decision to be sun-savvy in 2013, and have been much better about wearing high SPF daily, not sun bathing, and wearing a hat in the sun ever since. Despite this, my freckles have not faded, and although they aren’t something I stress about daily and don’t limit my outfit choices or anything quite so dramatic, I still glance at them every now and then and wish I had started to take the sun more seriously earlier.
Last week I learned that there is a way to erase these marks! Despite having worked at a laser clinic for a good 6 months I don’t actually operate any of the lasers myself, rather sticking to the medical aesthetics like Botox and fillers. So, perhaps like you, I don’t reeeeaallly know what all the different lasers are called or what they can do, except that they can remove or reduce hair growth. In an effort to learn more I sat in on a training day, and eventually volunteered to see what the laser could do on me!
I started with zapping the tiny burst blood vessels I had in the creases on the sides of my nostrils. These disappeared immediately with no scabbing or pain at all! Miracle! It truly took only a few seconds and was less painful than being flicked by an elastic band.
Next we zapped any hair I had, which was minimal since I had 6 sessions of hair removal laser in 2010. Perhaps it’s important to note here that not all hair-removal lasers are equal, and that the results will depend on the kind of hair you have, the colour of the hair, and the colour of your skin. Since I have dark hair and light skin (Fitzpatrick II – III) I was the ideal candidate for the Alexandrite laser, which is one of the only lasers that actually permanently removes hair. IPL on the other hand will reduce your hair growth for a few years max, but you will always need repeat treatments if you choose IPL over laser.
Lastly when I learned that the ND Yag laser could remove sun spots and freckles I thought I may as well give it a go! This was NOT painless and there is also “downtime” involved and so I thought that for those of you who might be tempted to give this a try I would share a day-by-day of my experience!
The laser for the freckles on my face was set at 26 Joules, which is more than double what it was set at to laser my leg hair. (The laser is set according to your skin type, the colour of your freckles and your therapist’s experience, so this is not a guideline for your treatment by any means!) You need to wear protective eyewear that completely blinds you, but despite this during the treatment you see intense flashes of red and white light with each zap of the laser. With freckles specifically the cooling unit attached to the laser is disabled so this coupled with the extra intensity of the laser makes this treatment a lot more painful than hair removal laser. Out of 10 I would rate the laser to the freckles on my face at about a 6 or a 7. It’s not unbearable, but it’s really not pleasant and feels like someone it lighting firecrackers on your face.
The laser for the freckles on my chest was set at 50 Joules…so around double what it was set at for my unpleasant face treatment. The reason for this was that many of my chest freckles are quite light, and that the skin on your chest, although delicate, can take a bit more heat than your face. As you can imagine this was a little less bearable…on a scale of 1 to ugly-crying I would rate it at about a 9. I did not shed a tear, nor did I ask the therapist to stop, but if it had gone on for a few seconds more I think I would have asked for a break…and then not gone back for more. It was sore.
Afterwards I was on fire. My chest specifically was incredibly red and painful, and driving home I had to hold the seatbelt away from my body. My face wasn’t as sore, but I looked like Pippi Longstocking, with flushed cheeks and dark freckles – the sun spots become much darker directly after the treatment. Within about 45 minutes after the treatment the pain had subsided, and the redness had changed from being all over my chest to being red spots where the laser had zapped me. As time went on I noticed the freckles on my chest becoming darker, and even some spots that I had never seen before appearing on the treated area.
Day 1 post treatment I woke up with no redness on my cheeks anymore, but my freckles were now dark brown and some of them seem to have joined together into confluent patches that look like severe pigmentation. I managed to cover the patches relatively well with concealer – I don’t regularly wear foundation, let alone thick concealer so this felt and looked weird to me, but I’m pretty sure no one would have noticed it if I hadn’t pointed it out.
My chest still had red dots all over it, with brown spots and speckles inside each one. I was warned not to exfoliate or be rough with my skin, so I washed it gently with my cleanser rather than using my bath lily and then applied an antioxidant and afterwards moisturized it with about 12 different moisturizers including aloe gel, Vitamin B5 and HA serum and my ordinary daily moisturizer! There wasn’t much pain, except when putting on my bra over a few spots on my shoulders that had been treated, but this pain didn’t last after the bra was on. I wore a high-necked jersey to make sure it wasn’t exposed to the sun at all, and also applied SPF 50…just in case!
There really wasn’t much change from day 1. The freckles on my cheeks still look much darker than usual and haven’t changed in size at all. My chest looks absolutely horrifying with red spots of just under 1cm in diameter all over that have speckles in them ranging in colour from black to tan. There is no blistering, weeping or scabbing, and I don’t have any pain unless I scratch the patches accidentally.
The larger “patch” of brown on my cheek appears to be dispersing, but I still have dark brown freckles across the bridge of my nose and on my cheeks. There is no redness, pain or change in texture on my cheeks.
My chest is still sensitive, and although the redness appears to be fading, especially on the spots towards the edges of my chest, the central portion of my chest and between my boobs still had angry red patches with brown specks inside them. The brown spots inside the red patches now appear to have become raised, and feel almost blistered, but there is no fluid in them. It’s really quite gross at this point, but I’m getting by with buttoning my shirts up all the way like the hipster I am, and piling on concealer like it’s nobody’s business.
I’m noticing that the marks on my cheeks are getting less dense…they’ve taken on a more speckled appearance as opposed to the confluent patches of brownness that they once were. Although I’ve been warned against any kind of exfoliation or picking, I do notice that if I rub on the spots on my cheeks or nose they seem to come off in papery thin little specks of dust.
My chest still looks like a war zone, but I do see a little improvement each day. There are still 1 or 2 horrible raw-looking red spots, but for the most part the spots are now all brown and speckly. I am hoping they will follow the same path that my facial lesions have and start to flake off in the next few days!
I am not using half as much concealer as I was on Day 1, and there are only a few specks left on my nose and cheeks. I haven’t yet examined my face close up to see if I think there has been a vast improvement, but I’m feeling a lot more positive about my skin now that the laser-made brown marks aren’t as visible.
My chest still requires me to button my shirts all the way to the top, and I’m 1 polo neck away from a laundry crisis at this point (WHY are all my shirts hand wash only?). There are now only 2 red patches left, and the rest is brown and still gross to look at. I’m sure some of the brown marks have begun to fall off, but it’s hard to see much difference since the damage was so extensive. I live in hope.
I only have 3 dark specks left on the bridge of my nose, my face is otherwise clear and definitely less blemished than it was before.
My chest still looks like a horror story. Although I do see slight improvement each time I check it out I am starting to wonder what I will do if it never recovers. Vanity can be such a bitch.
Not much to report…pretty much the same as yesterday. The biggest lesson in all of this has really been that I need more conservative clothing. Clearly I dress like a harlot on most days.
I have woken up flawless. The spots faded and flaked off over the past week, and I’ll admit there were a few moment where I thought I had developed Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation and was going to be scarred for a good few months, but it all turned out to be part of the process and my chest is literally the most glorious thing on this earth right now.
I have vowed to SPF 50 it every day, and to try to stop dressing like such a hussy during the day to avoid sun exposure…at night I’ll obviously be baring my chest for all to see so look out for that.
All in all this experience was truly quite alarming – I really had not expected such an intense period of downtime, but obviously the results wouldn’t have been as brilliant had I been treated on a less intensive setting. The results are truly incredible though, especially since I actually had no idea you could get rid of freckles without melting all your skin off (which is maybe what I did…but I was thinking more along the lines of seeing exposed muscle through a Vaseline-y film kind of lasering). I’m really happy with my treatment and keep looking at my arms thinking perhaps I should just zap them too!
If your freckles bother you and you have some cash and some time on your hands I would definitely recommend this treatment! To find out more or make an appointment call Laserderm on (021) 683 5060.