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Getting rid of bad skin?

Content courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

When someone whispers that they recently had "some work done," right away the questions start: What was it really like? Did it hurt? Where did you get it done? How much did it cost? But even today, in our youth-obsessed world, people are reluctant to talk about the procedures. So when someone starts talking, we listen.

Here's the dirt. The good, the bad and the painful of cosmetic procedures.


Aisha Sultan, 35, home and family editor

I am constantly battling my skin. Even though I never really broke out much as a teenager, hormonal changes in my 20s seem to have worsened my occasional acne. A dear friend, who happens to be a dermatologist, told me about the ProFractional laser, which is used to improve the skin's texture and reduce acne scars and discoloration. I knew I wanted to try it in my never-ending quest for clear, smooth, perfect skin.

But having been burned by an IPL laser on my face before, I was wary. Dr. Saadia Raza, with Skin Surgery Center of Missouri in O'Fallon, Mo., told me that she would start at a conservative level. When I went in for the treatment, the assistant cleaned my face and applied a topical numbing cream. After about 20 minutes, the doctor asked if I was ready to get the "blocks." Huh? I had no idea what she was taking about. Apparently, I had to get two shots in between my eyebrows to numb my forehead and four shots in my mouth to numb the cheeks and lower part of my face. Upon learning this, I nearly backed out.

Rather than look like a complete wimp, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told her to go ahead. I refused to look at any kind of needle heading toward my face. The shots hurt. At this point, I was seriously wondering what I had gotten myself into.

After about five to 10 minutes, parts of my face started to go numb, sort of like the Novocain feeling you get at the dentist's office. Usually, the staff tapes your eyes shut to protect them from the laser, but I knew I would not be able to handle the claustrophobic feeling that would invoke. The doctor let me wear special metal eye covers instead.

As the doctor started zapping my face with the laser, an assistant used a suctioning vacuum tube to capture the debris and dissipate the smell of burning flesh. In the parts of my face that were not completely numb, I could feel an intense zap from the laser penetrating my skin. The areas I could feel, like around my upper cheeks and hairline, were like a sharp jolt. There's a reason they suggest those numbing blocks. The doctor decides how deep the laser will penetrate, and how often she passes over the same patch of skin. On me, she said she used a medium-level depth of penetration.

What it was like - It took about 25 minutes for the doctor to complete my entire face. I felt pretty anxious during the procedure and kept giving myself little pep talks in my head: "Visualize clear skin." But the hard part is the week to week-and-a-half of recovery. The first day, my face was very red and bleeding in patches. When I got home, my husband kind of freaked out, and my small children were kind of scared. I felt like a freak, and I couldn't imagine going out in public at that point.

I was given a steroid cream to help reduce any swelling and a lubricating cream to protect the raw skin. I was instructed to apply it twice a day for up to three days. It is important to avoid the sun. I also applied diluted vinegar soaks with cotton washcloths to my face three times a day. That can sting, but it helped in healing the wounds.

Within a day or so of putting all these creams on my face, I woke up with 15 or so whiteheads all over my face. I called the doctor, slightly panicked, and she told me to stop using the ointments, and the pimples would clear up. Eventually, they did.

Within 24 to 48 hours, my skin got dark and brawny and covered in small pixelated "plugs," which look like a little tiny scab in every pore. It looks like you have tire tracks all over your face. My skin felt very tight and dry. This stage can be somewhat disguised by makeup, but it didn't work very well for me, and I didn't want any more gunk on my skin. I went to work with most of those tiny dots visible on my face.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?" my colleague Karen Deer said, when she passed by. She stopped to get a closer look and had a serious look of concern in her eyes. Fashion editor Debra Bass, who had tried to dissuade me from this treatment in the first place, rolled her eyes and gave me the "I-told-you-so" look.

Within a day, the plugs started falling out. My skin felt pretty gritty through this process, and it lasted several days.

Results - Because I haven't followed the entire recommended series, it's harder to judge the effect. I do see improvement on my old acne scars and overall skin tone, but I think I have to find a way to stop getting new break-outs and prevent potentially new scarring to achieve my dream of completely clear skin.

Cost - To see maximum results, four to five treatments, spaced a month apart, are recommended. Each treatment costs about $500 for the full face.

Would I do it again? - Most likely, but I'll probably do it when I can hide out at home for the first few days post-treatment. I wonder if my doctor would give me a Valium the day of the procedure to calm my nerves. I'm tempted to try my neck and chest area, which has a more uneven skin tone and discoloration than my face. But, as Raza has ingrained into my psyche, you must be vigilant about always using sunscreen.

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