The Marketing is "Optimistic" - Coto de Caza, CA

I paid a price for living in the Caribbean as a...

I paid a price for living in the Caribbean as a sun worshipper: skin damage. It turns out that those who advised us to stay out of the sun were actually serious about it. The years of sun have taken a toll on my skin. As I age it gets worse, and at the same time thinning skin and receding collagen have rendered what once were near invisible acne scars into ever-deepening depressions. So I decided to do something about it. So last Monday I had a fractional CO2 laser treatment on my face, neck and chest -- all the places where years of tropical sun had wreaked havoc on my skin.

Fractional CO2 laser treatments are all the rage. They are marketed as highly effective and, best of all, a simple treatment with almost no down time. 

Well, I'm writing to tell you that it's nothing like the marketing. This is a serious medical procedure, and the many promises about the ease and speed of recovery are highly optimistic, at best. I am now on Day 5 of recovery, and there is no way I could return to work today; not, at least, without frightening children and having people complement me on my Hollywood zombie makeup. On Day 5 my face is still swollen, my skin is still bright red, and there are great hunks of peeling skin hanging from my face, neck and chest. I look like I have just risen from the grave in search of brains to eat.

This is no lunchtime procedure. They say recovery is "easy," that swelling is "minimal" and that it "feels like you have a sunburn." The people who say that have never undergone this procedure, or they are comparing it to a sunburn they got on the planet Mercury, or they are lying.

On Day 1, when the procedure was done, my body reacted to it like it would to a serious trauma. I was shaking, weak, stunned. The RN who performed the procedure on me waited until she had about half my face done before she told me I would feel like that. She somehow forgot to mention it while I was handing over my credit card. The rest of the day my face was burning -- not the warm glow of a sunburn, but sharp pain, as if my face was being stabbed with hundreds of needles. And indeed, the fractional laser does its work in grids of 3/4 in. x 3/4 in., with 400 laser blasts per grid, so it was very much like being stabbed in the face tens of thousands of times. They gave me Percocet, which, for me at least, didn't do much for the pain, but when combined with Benadryl at least allowed me to sleep -- sitting up, since you have to keep your head elevated and can't let your face touch a pillow.

Day 2 held a surprise. When I awoke, my face was red and swollen, and was oozing blood from about 20 different places. Throughout that day, it continued to swell until my eyes swelled almost entirely shut. I was not allowed to use ice to minimize the swelling. They said it would negatively affect the new skin underneath. I was given a thick petroleum jelly-based "burn cream" to slather on the lasered areas. When I peered into the mirror through swollen eyes, the person staring back at me didn't look like me. I did not recognize her at all, which was a little distressing.

Day 3, the swelling started to go down, but by the end of the day I still remained pretty swollen. The pain improved. The oozing slowed. I was starting to heal.

When I awoke on Day 4 -- Thanksgiving Day -- there was zero chance that I could have returned to work, as the many web articles had promised me. The swelling had migrated south, so my eyes looked like me again and were no longer swelled almost shut, but my lower face was filled with fluid. When I shook my head, the swollen area under my chin wobbled back and forth like a turkey waddle. At least it was appropriate for the day! I was still bright red, though about half my face had started to turn brown. Toward the end of the day, the brown areas started to peel, and I thought I could detect some patches of skin that were turning a lighter pink. When I went to bed, my last thought was that it would take some kind of miraculous healing if I was to have any chance of returning to work on Monday, by which day they said I would be completely healed. Yeah, right.

On Day 5 (today) that miracle arrived. Or, at least, it is coming. When I awoke, the lobster redness had subsided to bright pink with areas of creeping normal skin tone. My face was covered with peeling skin, but when I showered and then looked in the mirror, there I was! Most of the peeling skin had come off in the shower, and fresh, new, pink skin was exposed all over my face. It's still not healed enough for me to go out in public. It now looks like the worst sunburn anyone ever had (finally that sunburn analogy is starting to work), and I still have parts that are still peeling away. Plus, my neck and chest are slower to heal, and still look very red with an obvious pattern of 3/4 in. squares all over them. But by tomorrow, I think my face will be done peeling, and I can slather enough concealer on to be able to walk in public without mothers protectively ushering their children off the street at my approach.

I'm going absolutely stir crazy, having been stuck in the house since Monday. So today I'm going to drive Theresa to the mall, and will stay in the car, gloriously soaking in the not-at-home while she shops. Anything to get out of the house! This experience has taught me that I could never be agoraphobic. I'm more homaphobic (heh!), as I have developed a fear of staying at home. This place feels like a prison, and I just have to get out, no matter what. I'm extremely antsy.

My face is still a little swollen, and bright pink. But at the moment, at least, I cannot find even a trace of those acne scar craters, and the discoloration from sun damage is gone in most places and dramatically reduced in the worst areas. And as a side benefit, wrinkles I have become accustomed to have left on vacation. Maybe the wrinkles and craters will return when the swelling has completely abated. But, supposedly (if I can believe the marketing), over the next three months I will start to build new collagen that will erase them again. We'll see. Right now, I'm not trusting anything they say. Still, from the face that is emerging, I am starting to think the results will probably be good.

But I am going to get out of this house no matter what.

Day 6. Thanks to the wonders of MAC cosmetics, I'm...

Day 6. Thanks to the wonders of MAC cosmetics, I'm going out in public today. Still pink and swollen and peeling, but looking almost human, if not normal.

Age spots are greatly reduced. Acne scars appear to be gone (but may be revealed again when swelling subsides). Dark circles under eyes are better. One side of my face is healing faster than the other.

Today I'm optimistic that I will have a good outcome.
Facial Aesthetic Concepts

I did not have a doctor, but a RN. The rating is for the RN and the facility. There is a doctor there, but I never met him.

4 out of 5 stars Overall rating
5 out of 5 stars Doctor's bedside manner
3 out of 5 stars Answered my questions
3 out of 5 stars After care follow-up
4 out of 5 stars Time spent with me
3 out of 5 stars Phone or email responsiveness
5 out of 5 stars Staff professionalism & courtesy
5 out of 5 stars Payment process
5 out of 5 stars Wait times
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Comments (2)

Thanks for the detailed description. I have experienced the exact same reaction to the treatment. I am bright red and swollen after 4 days when it seems everyone else is going back to work!
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Hi Dana, 

Wow, you were not kidding about your first 5 days, oh my. Day 6 you look awesome! Thanks for the update. Based on what the community says they are often not aware of how long it takes to heal after. Did you put anything on your face? 

  • Reply