Fountain of Youth: Laser-based skin rejuvenation with minimal discomfort

Some think it's shallow, but numbers don't lie. Millions of people have cosmetic procedures every year.

Many have set aside the facelifts of the past, in favor of new technology that results in little pain, no blood loss, and little down time.

Some doctors say it just might be the closest thing we have to the Fountain of Youth.

PART 1: Preparing for laser-based skin rejuvenation

"It's a new procedure, and I am interested in getting rid of those dark spots -- the melasma," explains 53-year-old Cindy Brehmer.

She wants to get rid of the brown patches along her chin line.

Pat Peyer is 55 years old and was a long-time sun worshipper.

"I have had a lot of sun damage, and I have had some basal cell carcinomas removed from my forehead," she explains.

Cindy and Pat are both about to undergo a procedure involving a CO2 fractional laser.

"It is really a wonderful way to sort of rejuvenate the skin," explains the South Bend Clinic's Dr. Holly Harris.

The CO2 fractional laser is not new, but has been greatly improved over the years. Recovery used to take weeks.

"This laser has now been redone so that it is simpler to use for the average patient, and the down time after the procedure is only a few days," Dr. Harris explains.

"Before" picture of Cindy show the pronounced brown patches along her chin line that women often get because of hormonal changes.

"It was pretty noticeable along my chin line; I wore a lot of makeup to cover it up. But if I didn't wear makeup you could really see it," she explains.

In Pat's "before" pictures, you can see she has wrinkles from the sun and some scarring from the pre-cancer she has had removed.

Before the procedure, both women have to wear a mask that numbs the skin.

"This laser helps tighten the skin just a bit on the surface, really helping melt out a lot of those lines that have accumulated over time," Dr. Harris explains. "It also helps to stimulate the collagen underneath."

It was Cindy's turn first, and Dr. Harris began with a test spot.

"These are little patterns here with the laser that we just put next to each other, and it's vaporizing that top layer of skin," Dr. Harris explains.

Cindy seems comfortable. She says she can feel a prickly sensation, but that it isn't painful.

One treatment would have taken care of her melasma, but she decided she might as well have her wrinkles hit too.

"She's happy to have the wrinkles gone as well. So we're kind of doing a combination here for her," Dr. Harris says.

A full face procedure will run you about $2,000 per treatment.

With Cindy finished in less than an hour, she's off to have her skin cooled down and will go home with a special moisturizer and sunscreen. She can expect to peel for a few days.

Now it's Pat's turn.

"Pat is the one I am most excited about though, because Pat has more lines, more facial lines," Dr. Harris tells me. "She has a couple small scars right here in the middle of her forehead."

"She had a lot of fine lines right around her eyes, around her mouth area, and around her chin," Dr. Harris continues. "Those areas I'm going to concentrate a little bit more on because I really want to see a lot of improvement there."

After cooling her down, Pat will also go home with moisturizer and sunscreen.

We shot this story on a Thursday, and Cindy already had big weekend plans. And because of improvements in the CO2 procedure over the years, her skin should feel fine, and the symphony she is planning to attend should be music to her ears.

PART 2: Does the laser-based skin rejuvenation procedure produce results?

We join Cindy as she prepares for her second and final session. Dr. Harris can already see significant improvement.

By improving the effectiveness of traditional carbon dioxide lasers -- long the gold standard for removing wrinkles -- the new procedure produces powerful results with less downtime.

"Generally, we are looking at three to four days," Dr. Harris explains. "The first day, you see some swelling and some redness. The second and third and fourth day you notice a lot more peeling."

Fast forward a month, and Pat is back for her second CO2 treatment.

Dr. Harris is pleased with how well Pat's first procedure worked.

"I can hardly see where that second scar is on your forehead when I'm doing this, and I've got the bright lights on you," Dr. Harris tells her patient. "We're going to concentrate on those lines right around your mouth area, those lines that are vertical that lipstick runs into."

"We did not do your lower eyelids the last time. We kind of concentrated on the rest of your face, so we're going to go back over that area," the doctor explains.

So how did Cindy and Pat feel afterwards?

"I used cool compresses and some vinegar soaks to take out the burning sensation," Cindy explains. "It's just like having a severe sunburn."

Because Cindy's treatment was not as aggressive, her recovery was pretty quick.

"I had the procedure on a Thursday, and by that Monday I was able to wear makeup," she says.

Because Pat had more wrinkling and scarring, Dr. Harris was more aggressive.

"The first time, I was surprised that I swelled and I turned parchment brown and flaky," Pat explains. "I could put makeup on after seven, but it was not smooth."

In Cindy's "after" pictures, you can clearly see that the brown spots from her melasma were greatly reduced.

We met up with her at work three weeks after her last CO2 treatment.

"I've noticed it around my lips and around my eyes. I believe I've had less wrinkling even here in my forehead, and my skin is more tight here," she explains.

What about Pat, who Dr. Harris thought would have the most dramatic results?

In her "after" pictures, Pat is still pink from the procedure, but there are some pretty noticeable changes with her scarring and under the eyes.

Just two weeks after her second procedure, she's clearly happy.

"I feel better when I smile, because everything falls into place," she says happily. "The surprising thing is that you really do come out with results."

"I really anticipate that this is going to be the key to resurfacing in the future," Dr. Harris says confidently.

While doctors nationwide are touting the CO2 procedure as the anti-aging treatment of the decade, Pat and Cindy originally went to see Dr. Harris to have skin cancer scars and pigment problems taken care of. The rest was a bonus.

To contact the South Bend Clinic's Dermatology Center, call 574-237-9231.

For more information about Dr. Harris, view her profile at

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