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These days, hitting the dermatologist's chair before your wedding day doesn't mean you have to hide your super-sensitive, bright-red face (how could we ever forget Samantha at Carrie's book party in Sex and the City?). With new state-of-the-art laser treatments, you can get a brighter, more even-toned complexion under that gorgeous veil — without any nasty after-effects. But don't jump to that white light before you know your options. We talked to dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, M.D., about the best lasers for glowing, perfect wedding-day skin. Turns out, there's a treatment out there for every bride.
What it's for: Sun spots, fine lines, and sagging skin, especially for brides over 30.
What to expect: Fraxel uses thousands of tiny lasers smaller than a hair follicle to stimulate collagen and replace damaged skin. It's more powerful than some other types of lasers, so each session is a little more invasive. Expect to sit tight with numbing cream on your face before each session, and don't start looking for results until a few weeks after your appointment. Most Fraxel lasers can take up to 3 months to take full effect.
What it costs: $1000 and up per session.
After care: Moderate. You'll need five to six days of downtime after each treatment, Dr. Hale says. Read: Expect increased redness, sensitivity, and maybe some pain. Relieve irritation by ramping up your moisturizing routine, and stay out of the sun as much as possible — since Fraxel lasers remove damage by causing small tears in your skin, the sun can wreak even more havoc than it did before treatment. Summer brides, book appointments for a few months before your wedding to avoid any beach mishaps, and get religious about that SPF.
Clear & Brilliant:
What it's for: A quick refresh. One session removes superficial sun damage and leaves skin looking glowier and more rested, Dr. Hale says. Multiple rounds can fight deeper hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.
What to expect: The treatment uses the same type of laser as Fraxel, just at a lower intensity, which means each treatment requires less prep with numbing cream (and it's virtually pain-free). You'll see results right away, but Dr. Hale recommends booking an appointment three to six weeks before your wedding to let it settle in.
What it costs: $500 to $800 per session. Find a doctor that uses Clear & Brilliant at clearandbrilliant.com.
After care: Minimal. Your skin will feel dry for two days (moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!), but you won't see any increased redness or pigmentation. Just like with Fraxel, any sun exposure after a Clear & Brilliant session can end in worse sun damage than you had before. For best results, don't get Clear & Brilliant in July or August, and wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF every day afterward.
What it's for: Sun spots, anywhere on your body. Dealing with annoying speckles after SPF-less teenage beach days? Introducing your laser in shining armor.
What to expect: Unlike Fraxel and Clear and Brilliant, Q-Switched lasers focus only on the dark spots they're treating, not your whole face, so each session is much faster. Afterward, each spot will turn to a dark scab — don't touch it! It will heal after five to seven days if it's on your face or chest. Spots on your arms and legs could take a few weeks to disappear.
What it costs: $400 to $800, depending on how many spots you're removing.
After care: Keep Aquaphor ($5, available at Amazon) at the ready, Dr. Hale suggests. The super-moisturizing formula is perfect for helping post-laser scabs heal.
What it's for: Redness. Fair-skinned brides, this laser is the easiest way to calm your skin before your wedding day.
What to expect: If you've just got a little bit of redness around your nose, one quick session will do the trick. If you're dealing with an allover flush, Dr. Hale says you're best off with a few repeat appointments. You'll look even redder than usual after an hour in the chair, but don't freak out — it's just temporary! It will go down after a week.
What it costs: $400 to $800 per session, depending on how much redness you're treating.
After care: Since VBeam, a type of pulse dye laser, doesn't break through your skin, you can get it done in the summer. But it does lead to increased sun sensitivity, so slather on that sunscreen.
What it's for: Dr. Hale's number-one laser request from brides? Armpit hair removal. How else can you throw your hands in the air in a strapless dress?
What to expect: For permanent results, you'll need five to six sessions (spaced out five to six weeks apart). The good news? Each session leaves you totally smooth for up to a month, so you can get a temporary fix before your wedding.
What it costs: Underarms are about $400 to $500 per session.
After care: Keep your underarms moisturized to avoid irritation on your wedding day. Your best bet? A deodorant packed with emollients, like new Dove Advanced Care ($5.50, available at Amazon).