I Tried Retinol, Lasers, and Peels Before My Wedding Day—Here’s What Worked
Before getting engaged, I operated under the assumption that I had reasonably good skin, mainly because I no longer suffered from breakouts. A pimple popped up here and there, but they were few and far between. I started implementing anti-aging products into my routine on a basic level: Eye creams, rich moisturizers, serums, and sunscreen — lots of sunscreen. However, with a sparkly new ring on my finger, my primary concerns over dullness, fine lines, and perpetually congested pores plagued me. Dramatic? Perhaps. But to achieve a wedding-worthy glow, I was ready to level up my skincare game. For me, that meant entering into the world of medical facials, lasers, and peels.
I saw the results my friend, Lucille Javier, achieved from treatments like Clear + Brilliant laser and JetPeel facials at Flash Lab Skin and Laser, and I knew it was the place to embark upon my wedding skincare journey. Javier quickly connected me with Flash Lab’s CIDESCO medical aesthetician Gabrielle Hope Bradley, and I set up a consultation to map out a course of action. Ahead, I break down my step-by-step wedding skincare prep.
First things first, I changed up my product regimen.
From the start, Bradley made it clear that the first step to a successful professional treatment is good skincare. With months of lead time, she says it’s ideal to try out new products and combine them with a customized treatment plan with the help of a professional. “People should try and get on a healthy regime to set a standard in correcting acne, sun damage, hormonal melasma,” Bradley says. “Work on improving that like you would try to eat a well-balanced meal or have good hygiene,” she adds.
In addition to daily SPF 50 (my faves are from Supergoop!, Image Skincare, and EltaMD), Bradley recommended I start retinol and add vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and a pH-balancing toner to my routine to help with brightness and hydration. “Toner is one of the most overlooked skincare steps,” she tells me. “If you have breakouts or severely dry or oily skin, consider incorporating a toner or astringent into your routine after you cleanse.” According to Bradley, a good toner can calm inflammation, balance your skin’s pH levels, and even prevent some breakouts before they happen.
My go-to has become Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Balancing Toner; it’s super gentle and feels so soothing on clean skin. The brand’s Hyaluronic Serum ($300) is another favorite, but La Roche-Posay’s Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum ($30) has become an affordable alternative.
Of all the steps in my new skincare routine, I was the most scared of retinol. Still, Bradley assured me easing into a retinol product was safe. “Depending on the strength, retinol and tretinoin products can effectively brighten and begin to control acne-prone skin,” she tells me. “Retinol can also help to reverse fine lines and soften skin cells while stimulating your cell renewal factor to build newer, healthier, and brighter skin over time.”I started using a small amount of PCA’s Intensive Age Refining Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol ($111), twice weekly.
Over a few months, I built up to using it five nights and started applying it to my neck area, too.
Vitamin C was another big game-changer for the dullness I experienced. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($30) has become my go-to serum, and the new Silymarin CF ($166) formula has come in clutch when the occasional breakout appears. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to prevent free radical damage and pollution from eating away at your skin,” Bradley says. “I love to use this in the morning to give your face an extra boost of luminosity before starting your day.”
Since my skin errs on the side of parched, Bradley encouraged a richer moisturizer. “You don’t need a fancy moisturizer to have celebrity-looking skin. It all comes down to finding the right amount of hydration for your skin type,” she says. For me, she advised formulas with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. I’ve found Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Aging Face Cream ($360) and SkinCeuticals Emollience ($63) to be serious thirst-quenchers. I have Drunk Elephant’s Lala Retro Whipped Moisturizer with Ceramides ($60) cued up next.
Now, on to the treatments.
I came to Bradley with three main concerns: Dullness, fine lines, and pesky blackheads. After my consultation, she pointed out two other areas of concern: Brownish-red pigmentation causing unevenness around my eye and cheek areas and prominent blood vessels, mostly near my nose. You’ve got to love skincare pros for pointing out new hair-raising anxieties.
While many professional treatments address these issues, Bradley and I agreed upon a series of Clear + Brilliant and Laser Genesis facials and medium-depth VI chemical peels to start. “I love the idea of aggressively wiping away the dead, dull skin with a chemical peel to set the stage for rebuilding healthy tissue for that bridal glow,” Bradley says of the approach. My plan also included vessel removal treatments, dermaplaning, and JetPeel facials for deeper hydration and smoothing. The result? “An airbrushed glowy natural look,” as Bradley described it. Bingo! My exact bridal skin dreams.
Clear + Brilliant Laser
LEFT: MY SKIN’S STARTING POINT/RIGHT: MY SKIN AFTER MY FIRST CLEAR + BRILLIANT TREATMENT
My foray into laser resurfacing treatments started with Clear + Brilliant, a non-ablative fractional skin laser targeting age spots and the skin’s texture. “Clear + Brilliant helps to defeat early signs of aging by focusing on the skin’s texture, elasticity, pore size, and clarity,” Bradley explains. “What I love most about Clear + Brilliant is that it’s a mini version of Fraxel laser at a lower setting. The wavelength of this laser is gentler, making it much more accessible and a client favorite.”
Leading up to my wedding, I had four Clear + Brilliant treatments over seven months, but I started to see the difference after my second. The pigmentation around my eye and cheek area was noticeably faded. My pores were less clogged and the fine lines I obsessed over became less noticeable.
The only downside for me was the discomfort during treatment. While you can get numbing cream, I didn’t. After a while, the little zaps started to sting. In short measures, it’s not bad at all. But when you’re going over your entire face and neck sans numbing cream like I did, prepare to grip on to something or take deep breaths. The cheek and lip areas were the most sensitive, but Bradley gave me breaks in between, and once the treatment was over, I felt normal. I was slightly red following the service, but by the time I got home, the redness had turned pink. By the following day, it was barely noticeable.
My face felt sandpapery for a few days, which Bradley warned me about. She advised doubling down on hydration using hyaluronic acid, and I also turned to hydrating face masks to nourish my post-treatment skin. My face felt back to normal by day four, but I kept up the increased hydration for an entire week following.
VI Chemical Peels
Like retinol and laser treatments, I was fearful of a chemical peel mainly because I associated them with Samantha Jones’s fiery face on Sex And The City. But that couldn’t have been farther from my experience with the two medium-depth peels I did (the first was six months before my wedding and the second a month prior). I started with the VI Peel Purify With Precision Plus, followed by the Peel Precision Plus treatment. “The VI Peel is a mixture of TCA, retinoic acid, salicylic acid, phenol, and Vitamin C acid,” Bradley explains. “It’s great for all skin types.”
The skin-shedding treatments help kill unwanted bacteria and tighten the skin, which helped with my clogged pores. They can also help fade scarring, reduce age spots, even out discoloration, and smooth out skin texture. Bradley prepped my face by going over it several times with acetone before applying the peel formula. “For the best results of doing a professional medical-grade peel, either alcohol or acetone is typically used to remove sebaceous oils from the skin,” Bradley explains. “This ensures that the chemical peel will be applied more evenly and penetrate even better to ensure the maximum results.
As Bradley brushed on the peel with very gentle strokes, both times, the process felt relaxing. The formula didn’t irritate in the slightest. Instead, it delivered a slight tingle. Once applied, my face had a faint orange tint that reminded me of a bad faux tan. Post-treatment maintenance required a series of steps with products to encourage optimal peeling. By day three, the peeling begins, and by day seven, most people are flake-free.
Bradley told me I would peel like a snake, so my expectations were high. I certainly did shed, but not as much as I thought. After my second treatment, I had much more skin turnover. My new skin felt baby-soft, and the pigmentation around my cheeks noticeably faded. One critical point Bradley urged was to not give in to temptation and peel or pick at your skin. It may seem oddly satisfying to yank away large chunks of dead skin, but you may end up doing more harm than good.
Laser Genesis & Vessel Removal Tx
In addition to my Clear + Brilliants and peels, Bradley started incorporating Laser Genesis, which she says is the best for treating red pigmentation from acne scars, rosacea skin, and visible blood vessels. “Laser Genesis is a YAG 1064 wavelength used to heat the dermal tissue underneath and dilate the blood vessels underneath,” she explains. “In the process of stimulating more circulation, by dilating the blood vessels underneath, we can essentially dilute most of the red undertone pigmentation of the skin.”
Bradley combined this treatment with vessel removal around my nose a few months before my wedding and once more with a JetPeel facial just a couple of weeks before. Depending on your level of redness or pigmentation, she says the best results from Laser Genesis often appear after six to eight consecutive treatments, spaced out every two to three weeks.
I barely felt any discomfort during the Laser Genesis process. I was more sensitive to vessel removal, however. The procedure around my nose and on my cheeks wasn’t bad, but inside, my nostrils stung — a lot. Luckily, it was over quickly. If you’re considering vessel removal, Bradley suggests avoiding alcohol for three days post-treatment to optimize results.
Full Face Laser Genesis: $250
Nose Vessel Removal: $200
Jet Peel Facial
With less pigmentation, clearer pores, and diminished vessels, the time had come to focus on hydration as I got closer to my wedding date. My skin was a lot brighter than it was starting out, but hydration was important to maximize radiance. Bradley began treating me with Jet Peel facials about two months before the big day. I started with one and then increased to weekly visits in the final three before my “I do’s.”
A Jet Peel isn’t your average facial. The celebrity-loved treatment is noninvasive and fully customizable (more on this later), penetrating 1.5mm into the skin to help plump fine lines. “A Jet Peel uses a jet stream of air delivering serums deep into the tissue,” Bradey explains. “I love it because it delivers ingredients deep underneath the skin, creating little microdroplets that absorb directly into the dermal tissue.”
The Jet Peel facial also incorporates lymphatic drainage, which helps with dark circles, puffiness, and sculpting the jawline. It also utilizes exfoliation to clean out the pores and brighten the skin. This is also where things can get customizable. “We can use different peels for different people, either using a glycolic acid 5% up to 16%,” Bradley says. “A Mandelic and BHA mix is also suitable for acne-prone skin.”
Infusion is another customization, which I had done using hyaluronic acid, stem cells, and ATX NAT, an Argireline peptide made of six amino acids with similar effects to Botox. “The infusion of ATX NAT is much safer on the skin and is great for reducing the appearance of deep wrinkles,” Bradley explains. “It’s a great thing to do before an event like a wedding.” While I did consider Botox (and TBH, still am), I was hesitant to try it so close to my wedding, having never done it before. “The ATX NAT is such a great way to provide softening of the wrinkles without the commitment of injectable Botox,” Bradley tells me.
After each treatment, I felt like I bathed in a pool of hyaluronic acid. To maximize the benefits after each treatment, I waited until the next day to rinse my face, letting the serums work their hardest by sleeping in them overnight. While I can’t say if the effects are quite the same as Botox, but I’d like to guess they’re close. I plan to keep the Jet Peel as part of my regimen during drier times or before significant events.
A smaller, though not insignificant piece of my wedding-skin puzzle was dermaplaning—a smoothing treatment using a scalpel-like razor to remove dead skin, hair, and impurities. “Dermaplaning before the wedding will help your makeup go on smoother and exfoliate the skin to make it brighter,” Bradley says.
While you can safely dermaplane at home with the proper tools, I left it to Bradley and had it done on three different occasions. Similar to my chemical peel, I found it satisfying to see the dead skin sloughed off and relished the baby-smooth feel that followed. Now that I’m more comfortable with the treatment, I’m open to trying it myself at home.
LAURA LAJINESS/ANNALEISA FRIEDNASH OF MERAKI PHOTO
I couldn’t be happier with my wedding skin. I now understand the benefits of curating a customized skincare plan with a professional. My biggest takeaway is: A single treatment won’t work magic, be it a laser treatment, chemical peel, or facial. Sure, there are benefits. But it takes several sessions — if not a combination of treatments — over time to see significant change. Patience and dedication are — by far — the most important requirements. And while routine visits become pricey, I believe that every treatment I tried was worth it, especially before a momentous occasion like a wedding. After all, there’s no better investment than feeling your absolute best.