Given that I spend my days writing about beauty, I've been hearing about the recently opened Skin Laundry on a continuous loop for months now. It doesn't help that the formerly LA-only treatment center opened one block away form my apartment. Buzzy new spa + the sheer factor of proximity = Victoria trying it at least once.
Skin Laundry isn't a run-of-the-mill spa, though. Referred to as the Drybar of facials (ironically, its Manhattan location is actually directly across the street from a Drybar), the center offers one treatment and one treatment only: a two-part laser face “cleaning” that takes a total of 10 minutes. The signature service combines a YAG laser (that's yttrium-aluminum-garnet) followed by an IPL light (no, I didn’t know what these were when I walked in either), which basically work together to get deep into your skin, vaporizing dirt and bacteria, and smoothing pores to give you a fresh-as-a-baby’s-bottom face.
At this point, I feel compelled to say that while I’ll try a lot of treatments and procedures at least one in the name of reporting, if you take out a needle or point a laser at me, I’m running straight for the hills. It’s not that I’m questioning the efficacy of these hardcore treatments—it’s just that I’m terrified of them. A bad face moisturizer can be washed off, a messed-up manicure can be removed, but a botched Botox job? That’s the stuff of beauty nightmares.
Though nonexistent pores and perfectly smooth skin sound like a dream come true, I was still pretty wary of having a Star Wars-style laser anywhere near my skin, so I sat down with Skin Laundry founder Yen Reis to talk it all through. Side note: the woman has flawless skin. She wears no makeup and doesn’t look a day over 25 (I later learned that she is nearly 40 and has three kids). She's the most effective marketing strategy the brand has, in my opinion.
As it turns out, Reis actually agrees with me when it comes to a fear of laser treatments. “Traditional laser procedures are painful, they’re expensive, they’re super invasive, and they usually involve at least several days of recovery time,” she said. She would know—Reis lived in Asia for 10 years, and after giving birth to her third child, she developed some less-than-pleasant hormonal acne problems, so she started experimenting with lasers, acid peels, and every other cosmetic treatment that Asia had to offer (the options are endless). She hated it all. Then, she discovered a gentler treatment, which is what Skin Laundry is now based on. It was a treatment she could do more regularly, and it was the only thing that consistently kept her face in good shape. After a few years, she wasn't using any expensive products anymore.
Next thing I knew, I was filling out my medical history and hopping up onto a treatment table. For an anxious customer like me, I appreciated that Skin Laundry’s initial sign-up process involves an entire host of forms about your skin type, medical history, medications, and other questions to alert them to any contraindications. If you pass that test, they verbally go over everything with you again and finally have a doctor come in to check out your skin and make sure you’re good-to-go before a trained nurse starts the procedure.
First comes that mysterious YAG laser. Turns out, it’s a traditional laser that has been turned way down, so that the effect is more mild. It penetrates about 2.5 millimeters below the surface of your skin, to the dermis, breaking up pigment, reducing oil gland size, vaporizing dirt, and stimulating collagen production. It feels slightly hot and gives you a sensation of being shocked that I would call mildly uncomfortable but not at all painful. It also creates a kind of gross burning smell—that's the scent of your skin’s dirt and impurities getting scorched. Yum.
After they’ve run the laser over your face twice, a cool gel is applied, which feels amazing. Then, they flash the (shockingly bright) IPL light at your face over and over (my eyes were protected by goggles). The purpose of the light is to work on the top layer of skin, reducing inflammation and redness, smoothing out broken capillaries, and generally polishing the surface. After they wipe the gel off, check to make sure your skin looks OK, and you’re ready to go.
Taking off the goggles, I felt a bit stunned (that's what being blasted by lasers and flashing bright lights can do to you, I guess) but managed to stumble over to a mirror and check out my reflection. I came to Skin Laundry with some redness after popping a zit or two. Now, they weren’t gone, but they were seriously diminished. More importantly, my skin was so, so smooth. It was like someone had taken an airbrush to my face. It wasn't some kind of skin-miracle, but the results were noticeable enough that I definitely didn't want them to fade away.
“I always tell my clients this isn’t a quick fix,” Reis warned me. “We’re giving your skin a really deep, professional clean. We’re getting rid of makeup residue, dirt buildup from pollution, dead-skin cells, and letting your skin rejuvenate at a much faster level, but it’s not a one time thing.” As she explained it, one treatment is basically like washing away a week’s worth of buildup. It will make your skin look better, but it won’t be a permanent solution. “You can’t go to the gym once and expect to be skinny,” she said. “This is the same thing.” The lasers are safe enough for a person to do the treatment every other day, but at $40 to $60 (it’s cheaper if you buy a membership package), it’s not exactly a no-brainer. On the other hand, as Reis sees it, some people spend more than that just doing their nails or blow-drying their hair on a regular basis. After all, this is your face.
Photos courtesy of the author.