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Let’s say you have all but given up on potions promising to erase your eye wrinkles and you are ready to bite the bullet for a more aggressive approach. If you could choose between several professional treatments spaced several weeks apart, with an extended period of inflamed skin following each procedure, or daily application of an at-home device, resulting in dryness and irritation every day, which would you pick? Would your answer change if one in-salon session cost an average of $1000, and the take-home device - yours for the lifespan of the product - costs $500?
Maybe it’s my Type A personality, but I prefer to be in control of my own skincare destiny. I’ve had more than a handful of unpleasant experiences in salons and spas (many of them overwhelmed by an influx of fellow Groupon buyers, to be fair). If I can get the same results from a tool that I use on my own time and control the intensity of the treatment based on my skin’s threshold of pain, then I’d choose the toy I can keep at home any day. Of course, it needs to be safe, easy to use, and idiot-proof. For all of these reasons, I was drawn to the PaloVia Skin Renewing Laser when a rep contacted me asking if I would do a trial at home.
Of course, I did my due diligence before accepting a potential ticking time bomb and blindly shooting lasers into my skin. PaloVia ($445) is the latest cosmetic laser product to come from Palomar Medical Technologies, the company behind the SlimLipo body sculpting laser and the StarLux IPL system. Until now, Palomar’s devices have been available exclusively to medical and cosmetic professionals. But PaloVia harnesses that same technology and brings it into the home, as the first-ever FDA-cleared laser for reducing fine lines around the eyes that can be administered by everyday people without specialized degrees or training.
Fractional laser resurfacing, also known as fractional photothermolysis, targets areas of the skin that are precisely spaced out at a microscopic level and heats some skin zones while others are left undisturbed. Instead of emitting a solid beam, the laser puts out clusters of minuscule beams that punch invisible holes in the skin. In creating a grid-like pattern of micro-wounds, it stimulates fresh collagen production beneath the skin’s surface and allows the untreated areas of tissue to remain stable for quicker recovery.
To “ablate” means to surgically remove. Lasers that are classified as non-ablative do not immediately remove skin, but rather heat the skin to trigger inflammation and new collagen formation. Like its in-office counterpart, the Fraxel, which has become the industry standard for non-ablative skin resurfacing procedures, PaloVia uses fractional technology to employ the intense energy of ablative skin-resurfacing lasers without requiring the same amount of recovery time. Because the treatment areas are spaced out and all of the tissue isn’t targeted at once, these types of treatments are favored by patients seeking minimal discomfort and downtime.
PaloVia, like its professional predecessors, aims to resurface the skin from the inside out. But putting the power of lasers in the hands of the masses seems like a dicey proposition. Once results start to show, I could see the device easily falling victim to overuse and abuse. To prevent injury (and - more likely - lawsuits) Palomar installed several high-tech safety mechanisms. The laser will only work when all four points of its treatment window are touching the skin’s surface, thus making it impossible to blind yourself (or someone else) by pointing the laser at an eye. The device is also rigged with an automatic shutdown sensor that puts the laser to sleep for 8 hours after it has registered a maximum of 25 applications in one use.
But even with these safety features in place, I had some nagging concerns about PaloVia. Wouldn’t repeated laser resurfacing treatments heighten the impending doom of the Hayflick Limit? If skin cells are continuously being turned over by laser stimulation, it stands to reason that the cells will reach their end much faster than they would if left to thrive naturally. Research has shown that telomeres, which are like the pieces of plastic at the end of shoelaces that prevent the cells from unraveling, shorten every time a cell divides. While the exact number of times a cell can replicate before telomeres become too short is disputed (Hayflick’s magic number was 50), the theory has never been disproved.
I would never denounce an anti-aging device because of some elusive theory. I would, however, get scared off by concrete proof that PaloVia inflicted long-term damage. Alas, this particular device is too new for any reports of bad reactions to have bubbled to the internet’s surface. The worst that the first batch of PaloVia’s customers said was that it didn’t deliver dramatic results as promised or that the laser wouldn’t fire consistently.
So, the cautious skeptic in me dug deep for feedback on non-ablative fractional laser technology. There don’t seem to be any empirical studies proving a bad outcome, but there has been an outpouring of anecdotal horror stories on the Real Self community boards. Outside this hearsay, the response to fractional lasers within the medical community and among clientele seems to be generally positive. Many dermatologists and plastic surgeons who endorse these lasers adopt the viewpoint that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Also, scientific evidence supports the efficacy of fractional non-ablative lasers. A 2009 randomized controlled trial on adult patients with acne scars found that skin texture significantly improved after three monthly laser treatments. But how do these results translate in a handheld device, presumably designed to be gentle enough to use on a daily basis? Surprisingly well, according to a 2010 study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. Out of 124 subjects who were treated with the laser (presumably a first-generation PaloVia) every day during the first month’s “active phase” and twice weekly during the “maintenance phase” of the ensuing five months, 90% revealed improvement in wrinkle reduction post-active phase and 79% post-maintenance phase. The biggest selling point, for me at least, was that there were no unanticipated adverse effects over the six-month study.
Though I’m wary of the long-term effects of treating the skin with lasers - even the fractional non-ablative variety - I didn’t let that deter me from trying PaloVia. In the end, I decided to be a guinea pig for the sake of Truth in Aging readers everywhere. After testing PaloVia for the past month, I have some very interesting results to report. But I’ll save that for next time.
Read on for the results of Copley's PaloVia test