*Warning*: pictures of a little blood and open wound if you are the queasy type.
I also don’t need to hear stuff about “you are fine the way you are” and “it’s unnecessary” because it is my choice to do what I want with myself!
About a month ago, a friend of mine told me he was going to get laser spot removal on his hands and face. He said he had already done it before and was going back to get a few more done.
I had never been bothered much about my freckles/age spots until recently, as I seem to be getting more with age and sun exposure T_T I normally would not do something this ‘major’ without some research beforehand, but since he said he was a returning customer, and since I tend to recklessly trust word of mouth from friends, I decided to just jump into it and tag along.
Before I start, let me clarify that 1) I am not a professional in this area. I am only sharing my experience and researched information. 2) I did it in Korea, and your own country may have slightly different procedures.
My Freckle / Age Spot Laser Removal Experience
The moment my friend pointed out the clinic, I breathed a small sigh of relief — it was a very nice and prestigious looking clinic I had seen before. I was afraid he’d bring me to some small, dingy 피부과 (dermatologist clinic).
The clinic I went to is called Dr. Skin. It’s located in 원주 (Wonju) which is about 1.5 hours away from Seoul and where I am currently employed and living. Here is the clinic website and a map. However, if you do some research or check out a decent looking 피부과 in Korea, I’m sure the procedure will not differ drastically (but prestigious areas in Seoul may charge more). In Korean, spot/freckle removal is called 점빼기.
The girls at the counter took our names and had us wait about 10 minutes. They spoke absolutely no English at all, or made no attempt to.
I noticed as I was waiting that they did a bunch of other cosmetic procedures and surgeries — removing eye fat (does this make sense? It’s quite commonly mentioned in Korea!), heightening the nose, reshaping the jaws, etc.
We were called into the doctor’s office one at a time. I insisted my friend sit in on my consultation because I wanted to make sure I get the same prices and procedure as him. The doctor spoke quite decent English (you will find the younger generations of doctors in Korea tend to).
I asked the doctor what the spots on my face were — freckles or age spots (I was obviously hoping I would not be associated with the word ‘age’). He said freckles are numerous concentrated spots on the face, and since mine are less and more spread out, they are just age spots T_T He told me age spots are caused by the sun, genetics, and age.
I often heard that after removal, age spots will come back either in the same spot or elsewhere. He said this is not true. The removal is permanent and will not come back.
Research online tells me that this is generally true, and people who claim they come back either 1) had a light / gentle removal (low laser settings requiring 3-4 removal sessions) that did not entirely remove the pigmentation or 2) had age spots return because of sun exposure or natural skin process (as in, new age spots would’ve continued to develop regardless of whether they had removal before or not).
He said after removal, the spot will look red for about a week, then brown for 2 (ish?) more weeks. The scar will not completely heal until 3-6 months later. I didn’t know at the time, but basically, just think of how a popped pimple will heal — bleeds at first, is red for a few days, forms a brown scab, then leaves a scar for 1-3 months (and yes, I’m sure everyone has popped a pimple before!)
He told me each spot removal would cost 10,000 won (about $9 USD). This is quite cheap compared to what I’d probably have to pay in North America. I decided to have two on the right side of my face below my eyes, removed. If it turned out well, I’d go back for more.
Mind you, all of the information he ‘told’ me were actually brief answers to my questions. If I had not asked him anything, he probably would’ve went right ahead after I pointed the spots out.
Korean doctors tend not to be very ceremonious or explanatory. Don’t expect them to tell you any of the risks, side effects, how the procedure works, how to treat the wound, etc. Make sure you ask about every single detail before you leave that office.
When it was my turn, I laid down on a reclining chair (like at the dentist). He confirmed the two spots by touching them on my face. I said they were the right ones. He cleaned the spots with alcohol and shot two local anesthetic shots on the two spots. It was a bit scary having needles injected into my face, but it was fast and not that painful (I have pretty high pain tolerance though).
I closed my eyes as he did the removal. He ‘shot’ each spot with laser (it could’ve been ‘light’ from IPL, I’m not sure) 4-5 times. I could not feel anything, but I could smell burning as I heard crackling and popping noises.
When he was done, the assistant girls put a small circle sticker on each of the spots and I left.
The whole process took about 5 minutes.
I paid 20,000won ($18 USD). As my friend was paying, I realized he had no stickers on his hand, while I did on my face. He thought maybe the stickers on the face were for cosmetic reasons to cover the red wounds. I was actually a bit horrified to see the wounds on his hands, because they were pretty much slightly bleeding red craters.
I was worried because he told me I’d still be able to go into work like normal the next day. I asked the receptionist girls when I can take my sticker off (hoping they would say immediately when I get home so I can go into work normally) but they said to keep it on for a week!
They gave me more of the circle stickers to change onto the wounds. I found it incredulous I can let such bleeding facial wounds heel with mere stickers, and insisted there must be something I can put on it to treat it. They said any ‘healing’ cream would do, and I insisted again they recommend one to me to purchase at the pharmacy downstairs. They wrote me the name of a cream and we left.
I bought the cream at the pharmacy for $2.5 USD. (It’s in Korea, so no pictures!)
Pictures and Results
I hadn’t been planning to blog about this until after the removal, so this is the only HD camera closeup pictures of my skin before the procedure.
I know it doesn’t look like much but I’m actually wearing foundation in this picture already. You can still see the two spots because I didn’t realize just how HD the camera really is!
This also goes to show that the spots are a real pain to cover up, because I have to dot concealer with a tiny brush on it every single morning to completely hide them.
The lighter one near my eye is probably an age spot, but the slightly bumpy one beside my nose is more of a tiny mole and has been there, I think, since I was young.
I didn’t take the stickers off on Day 1 as I was instructed not to.
After I took the stickers off on Day 2, there was slight bleeding, which I cleaned up with a q-tip and applied the healing cream. I had the stickers on my face all the time, even when I was in bed or at work. I was instructed to use it for a week, but I stopped using it on Day 5 as I wanted to save the stickers. However, I continued applying the healing cream on it until it was no longer red.
I was able to start using makeup to cover the scar on after Day 7. I broke out with a pimple near the area, but it was at ‘the time of the month’ where I broke out the most, so I don’t think it was because of the removal.
These were the ‘circle sticker’ I had left over. They didn’t actually give me very many. They worked absolute wonders to heal the scar, and I found out they do the same for acne wounds. I bought similar patches in my recent samples haul and will review them soon.
I took this picture just yesterday. I didn’t bother pointing out where the scars are, because if I didn’t, would you really even notice?
The age spot under my eye healed pretty much perfectly. I can’t even tell where it is in the picture.
The tiny mole (?) beside my nose is still healing with a scar. I expected this though because the wound to remove the mole was much bigger than the age spot, so it will probably take longer to heal. I expect it will probably be unnoticeable by the 3rd month.
Types of Skin Pigmentation Removal
There are many different kinds of skin pigmentation removal — at home skin whitening products, liquid nitrogen, laser (ex: KTP), IPL (Intense Pulsed Light, a.k.a Photofacial). I’m not going to go into the scientific and details because I don’t know enough about it, but most of the age spot removal treatments work fundamentally the same, they are removing or damaging the top layer of skin to get to the fresh skin underneath.
Different procedures have different cost range, effects, healing time, effectiveness, etc. Nowadays, IPL seems to be the most popular as it is more gentle on the skin, has shorter healing time, and also rejuvenating effects.
It was actually really hard to find unbiased information and personal experiences because the search results were dominated mostly by advertisements. Realself.com was a good cosmetic treatment customer review site.
I found a lot of treatment types, but none that matched my own experience exactly, and even until now, I’m not 100% sure which procedure I had done (because my doctor did not speak great English and it didn’t occur to me to ask at the time). I urge you to do your own research and consult a few doctors before you consider any of these procedures yourself.
Conclusion and Personal Thoughts
After doing some reading and online research, my guess is that I got a concentrated and high level form of IPL.
IPL is often done all over the face, over 3-4 sessions, for those with number and/or large freckles, age spots and pigmentation on their face, neck, or hands. The entire area will be red, with certain spots especially wounded and bleeding more than others. I suspect the red areas are for rejuvenating purposes (collagen stimulation) and small bleeding wounds are for removing darker age spots where the light was shot at a higher frequency (hence deeper wound to remove spots). I suspect I received the latter procedure as the only other personal experience I read that had local spot removal (instead of all over the face) AND burning smell was an IPL procedure (read here). Also, my removal was done over one session only.
I am happy with the results and am planning to go back for removal of spots on the side of my face again. However, I cannot be sure that the spots won’t ‘return’ or ‘grow in another spot’. I already said that research online told me this does not happen with effective and sufficiently ‘deep’ removal, but I was only able to find most of my information off of advertisement/promotion websites.
I heard it comes back from so many friends that I will allow myself to remain somewhat skeptical about the long-term results. However, for less than $10 per spot, I’m happy if they stay away for even 1-2 years.
When I do go back or if the spots do return, I will write again on my blog!
Is anyone else considering this procedure, or know anyone that has done it already? Please share — I really want to hear more personal experiences to compare with my own, especially prices!