It might sound more sci-fi than skincare, but when it comes to total skin rejuvenation, lasers are where it’s at. And before you picture some Star Wars type scene with people throwing gigantic laser beams in all directions, know that modern-day lasers are small, precise, and seriously effective – so much so that they’re used to treat everything from pigmentation and age spots to acne, rosacea, and even eczema.
It’s no wonder the likes of Jourdan Dunn, Dua Lipa, and Zara Larsson all treat themselves to regular laser facials, and they all go to one woman: Debbie Thomas. Known as the “queen of laser facials”, her leading clinic in London – D. Thomas Clinic – is famed for its revolutionary facials and incredible results.
“I opened my clinic because, about 20 years ago, I got adult acne and really struggled to find the ‘cure’. Nothing really worked, and I realized that I didn’t know why I had it or what it was. I was constantly offered medication and antibiotics, but I didn’t want to keep taking it, so I went on a journey to educate myself and research problem skin,” Thomas tells Savoir Flair.
“I was a really proficient facialist doing traditional facials, and was invited to do training with a laser. I remember thinking, ‘Why would I want to look at a machine that does hair removal?’ I reluctantly went and, within half an hour, I realized how life-changing it was. I started using lasers for my acne and noticed my skin was looking better and better. The residue energy from the laser was actually stimulating collagen and boosting circulation, and my acne spots were healing in half the time. It was incredible! That’s what motivated me to start my own business. Lasers aren’t just to correct an issue, but also to maintain beautiful, healthy skin.”
And just like that, we were intrigued and asked Thomas just about everything regarding laser facials. Listen in.
How long have lasers been used in skincare?
Lasers were first used in skincare about 40 years ago, but those were the really aggressive CO2 lasers that peeled the skin. Luckily, we have come on a really long way since then because, even if you’re having a peeling laser, it’s much more moderate, which means it’s much safer and there’s less risk of something going wrong.
The majority of lasers now aren’t the peeling type; they’re the ones that bypass the upper layers of the skin, leaving them completely intact. The beam searches out little imperfections in the skin, and we can choose what those imperfections are – whether it’s treating pigmentation, getting rid of a broken vein, or stimulating collagen. Lasers can also reduce oil production in the skin as they affect the sebaceous glands, and can trigger cellular renewal and collagen production. Different lasers will see and do slightly different things. They’re really nice and precise nowadays, so we can use them much more safely.
How exactly do lasers work?
Imagine you’re out in the very hot sun. If you’re wearing a black T-shirt, you absorb the sun’s rays and get hot very quickly, whereas if you’re wearing a white T-shirt, you reflect the rays and feel a little bit cooler. Lasers work by being attracted to and reflected by different things in the skin. Some lasers really see pigment, so when we fire it at the skin, it ignores the skin cells and is only absorbed by the pigments. Others see the red blood cells and, again, ignore the surrounding skin. Some are deposited, so the actual light energy will pass through the upper layers of the skin.
All lasers can only penetrate so far – they’ll only go a certain distance into the skin. Some of the strong ones, or the deeper penetrating ones, can do things like affect the sebaceous glands and almost stunt them so they produce less oil for a period of time. It doesn’t permanently destroy them, but it means that if you’re having regular treatments, you can get acne under control. Not all lasers can do everything, so you have to know which ones you want to use for a certain condition.
Do they hurt?
Every laser feels different. Some of them, you barely feel at all. I have some clients who fall asleep during their treatments! There are several laser settings with which you do get a sharp sensation, but it’s very momentary. We always compare it to an elastic band flick – there’s that one second where you go, “Oh!” But it goes as quickly as it comes. Some feel a little bit like scratchy heat, some feel like a deep warming sensation, so it varies hugely.
Can lasers be used on all skin types and colors?
The darker the skin, the more cautious you have to be. Not all lasers can be used on what we call skin types 5 and 6, which are the Asian, Arab, and African skin types. The reason for that, as I just mentioned, is that some lasers see pigment. And if you have darker skin, the pigment within the skin can absorb so much energy that you could risk burning. That means we have to be careful, and we have select lasers that we happily use on darker skins. If we have someone with skin type 1 to 4, which are our lighter skin types, we can use pretty much every laser.
What’s your recommendation for pigmentation?
It’s really tricky with pigmentation because there are so many different types. You have things that are more hormonally and chemically stimulated, like melasma, which can be incredibly difficult to remove. That’s because melasma is around 60 percent vascular and is caused by inflammation in the skin. So, it’s not just the sun stimulating pigment, it’s actually the heat causing inflammation and the sun stimulating the pigment, so you get this combined cascade happening in the skin.
If you try and just treat the pigment, and you treat it quite aggressively, you could stimulate more of the inflammation – so you have to slowly chip away at it. If someone just has a normal sun or age spot, you can use quite a strong laser and just zap it once. It goes a little bit brown and flaky, and just falls away to reveal perfect skin after about a week. But with melasma, you’re looking at anything from three to 12 gentle treatments combined with peels and micro-needling. Every person is different, so there isn’t one magic cure out there.
What about with broken veins and capillaries?
Broken veins are actually easy to treat because they respond so well to laser. The most important thing to remember is you can get rid of the ones that are there, but if you’re very prone to flushing and going red, you will get new ones coming up. Normally, it’s one session that will get rid of 80 percent of veins, but it’s usually one to three sessions to get nice, clear skin.
The light from the laser is absorbed into the red of the blood cells, and it very quickly turns to heat – in a fraction of a second, in fact – and cauterizes the vein, so we don’t break the skin at all. As soon as you cauterize it, the vein collapses and shuts down. I’d say that in about 85 percent of my clients, the vein disappears instantly – right there and then! The skin around it will be a little bit pink for an hour or two, and then nothing. It’s a really nice result.
Can lasers help us look younger?
What I always say with lasers is that they’re fantastic at making skin really healthy. And if your skin is healthy, it works better, it regenerates better, it heals better. It also has good circulation, and makes collagen and new cells more effectively – so that is what we call an anti-aging benefit. But for me, it’s about really healthy, strong skin, which happens to look really glowy and youthful because it’s in great shape.
Are there any misconceptions about lasers?
The biggest misconception is that people think all lasers will leave you red and sore and swollen afterwards, and I’d say there’s only really about 10 percent of lasers with which we’d expect someone to be red and peeling after. 85 percent of the people walking out of our clinic would be able to go out for dinner that night and look great. 15 percent will be a little bit red and blotchy, and that can take a few days to settle. But we plan that with them, so they’d be prepared for that.
Are there any skincare ingredients we should avoid before or after a laser treatment?
Most things are okay, but you don’t want to use things that irritate your skin. So, if you know you get quite dry and irritated with retinol, for instance, you should stop using that a few days before your treatment. But more importantly, great ingredients to use would be antioxidants. Of course, the most popular one is vitamin C, but there are loads out there.
If you can’t tolerate vitamin C, find another antioxidant like resveratrol or fleurac. Regardless of whether you’re having laser or not, SPF should be your best friend – you should never leave the house without it! A lot of what I treat is actually sun damage. Whether it’s redness, wrinkles, open pores, or pigmentation, nearly all of those come from sun damage. The more you protect your skin, the more likely it is that you’ll age better.
Are there any risks when using lasers?
Absolutely, which is why you really have to go to someone who’s experienced in using them. It’s not about who’s got the latest machine, it’s about the person who knows what they’re doing with that machine. I’ve been working with lasers for 16 years, and I still learn things. My team at D. Thomas Clinic have experience ranging from nine to 22 years! We’ve seen everything, so we really support each other and use our combined knowledge to give the safest treatments.
To avoid a disaster, make sure you have a really thorough consultation during which someone explains things to your standard. They have to be able to answer your questions effectively. We always do a laser test before we do a full treatment, using various lasers on a small area – such as the neck – to make sure that you won’t have a reaction. We give you good pre- and post-care and really explain what you should do before and after your laser, and we offer ongoing support.
Any good clinic would do that – they’d support you before, during, and after your treatment. I think a lot of people get very swept up in buzzwords and the latest treatment that everyone’s talking about, but it might have been out for only a few months! My equipment comes from manufacturers that have been making lasers for over 30 years. Do your research.
To book an appointment at the D. Thomas Clinic, click here or call (+44) 0207 118 9000.