Going to a place called The Freeze Clinic for a “cold laser” facial doesn’t sound appealing when we’re in the middle of a sub arctic winter. But you might want to consider heading down to this Danforth skin spot if your winter-ravaged face is in need of some serious hydration. Eva Longoria is a fan of cold laser facials, if you believe in celebrity endorsements. Longoria says she gets them as often as she can to maintain her firm, dewy complexion.
My feelings about “cold laser” technology are mixed, because there are a few things about how they are marketed that I simply don’t agree with. To start, I’m not a stranger to cold laser (read this and this); My past experiences were not impressive, to say the least. When people ask me about my experience with it (and many do because cold laser is a spa trend) I tell them that I felt like I had paid a kid to clean my face and run a vibrating flashlight across it.
What exactly is a “cold laser”?
Technically cold laser is Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT), which has roots in sports medicine. A cold laser treatment is a marketing term used by the spa industry to describe a combination of microdermabrasion, oxygen infusion, LLLT, and micro-current stimulation. There are a variety of cold laser machines out there, but the purported benefits are the same: smoother skin (as a result from the mechanical exfoliation) and a tighter, more lifted, and plumper-looking appearance (due to the LLLT and micro-current stimulation). There’s no downtime involved because it causes absolutely no visible damage to the skin – unlike the variety of resurfacing lasers offered at medical skin clinics that can make you look like you’ve got a sunburn for a few days.
Cold laser is marketed as a holistic approach to rejuvenation (correcting the signs of aging) and pre-rejuvenation (preventing the signs of aging). It is essentially a fancy facial; not your traditional steam-cleanse-massage facial that you would expect at a spa, however it’s not quite clinical-grade either. More on that later.
The marketing of cold laser
Because the aesethetics industry is unregulated, many non-medical professionals can open up shop anywhere and make unsubstantiated claims about their services. The skincare world is like the Wild Wild West, I’m telling you! What I’ve found with places that offer cold laser is that they are often run by people who have a general education (in some cases, an outdated view) about skin and are more concerned about profit than your results. Many of these beauty professionals are also trained in other spa services such as makeup application and manis and pedis. Skin health isn’t their forte, but the verbiage they often use in their marketing of cold laser can make it seem like they possess superior technology and expertise of that of medical skin specialists, such as dermatologists and plastic surgeons. And that’s my beef with cold laser specialists.
So when I got an invitational email from the owners of The Freeze Clinic, Sachi and Jessica, three months ago, it took some back and forth to convince me to give it another try. As expected, the description on their website reads like strong case to ditch your derm:
“The Freeze Clinic is the first and only spa in Toronto offering customized Cold Laser treatments with the newest multi-beam technology. Cold Laser repairs years of damage caused by sun, acne, scars, and loss of collagen. Cold Laser helps correct the effects of excessive injections/surgical procedures that have left the skin sallow, saggy, worn out and dull. Until now, laser treatments came with side-effects like stinging, burning, and even scarring. Cold Laser is a Low Level Laser Therapy that uses healing light and micro-stimulation to activate actual biological change below the skin’s surface. The result is a refreshed, firm and glowing complexion rather than the puffy and over processed look of injectables and severe hot lasers. All this in a soothing, painless procedure with zero recovery time.”
At $230 per treatment, it’s a small fraction of the cost of a “hot” laser treatment offered at a dermatology clinic. Sounds magical, right?
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to skin treatments, you have to get more than one to see results. I’ve been going to The Freeze Clinic for the past two months in a concerted effort to form a more balanced opinion. I’ve had four treatments so far. Have they helped improve my myriad of complexion problems? Which include acne scars, sunspots, hyperpigmentation on my upper lip, and milia around my eyes.
When I finally met Sachi (on left) and Jessica in person, I could tell that they were different from the rest. Not only are they passionate about skin, evident by Jessica’s college education solely focused on skin physiology, but they were also very knowledgeable with their machine – sending me links to the latest unbiased information on the technology, and assuring me that their machine was about a decade newer than the machines used by other cold laser places, including the two that I had visited in the past. Jessica and Sachi were non-salesy and upfront about the limitations of the improvements I could get with the treatment. Like Eva Longoria’s testimonial, it’s best to get cold laser facial as often as you can in order to reap visible and long-lasting benefits, they said.
I can say with confidence that The Freeze Clinic is superior from the other two dodgy places I’ve been to. Mainly because:
- The setting is clean, inviting and the owners are mature.
- Their machine is modern. Instead of using crystal microdermabrasion like the other places did, they use diamond tipped microdermabrasion, which is sign of a higher quality place. Read about the difference here.
- The cold laser is the only thing they do there. No makeup application, no body slimming treatments, no manicures.
Here’s a play-by-play breakdown of their signature cold laser facial, performed by Jessica:
Step 1: Diamond-tip microdermabrasion to slough off dead skin cells. I like it when she goes over my flaky lips.
Step 2: Jessica applies a hydrating serum by Consonant Skincare. I don’t find this over-the-counter line to be very exceptional for facial skin, and I think they use a lot of greenwashing in their marketing. That said, I know many granola type beauty enthusiasts who enjoy this Canadian “organic” line. I’m very results-oriented and Consonant just doesn’t work for me.
Step 3: My face is sprayed with high pressure oxygen infused with soothing rosewater. The first time Jessica did this, she didn’t give me notice so I was a bit startled when the wand blasted my face with coldness. I gasped for air and felt claustrophobic. Since then she’s been good with giving me a warning before this step. Now I know when to hold my breath.
Step 4: Application of cold laser conductive prep gel.
Step 5: Light show time! Jessica runs the cold laser/micro-current hand piece across my face. The waves of red lights placed on the skin are said to help stimulate cell regeneration. Jessica says that cold laser is often used by chiropractors to speed up the healing process, as it works by sending a targeted concentration of light several centimeters below the skin’s surface. This light delivers energy to the cell, amping up the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which plays a role in helping cells repair by stimulating internal healing and reducing inflammation. Jessica suggested that I should try just this part of the treatment a day or two following a clinical treatment to help speed up healing.
This is the only time during the treatment when you may feel slightly uncomfortable; The micro-current can feel a bit snappy depending on the intensity of the setting. I prefer to feel something rather than nothing so I told Jessica to crank it up because my skin needs all the help it can get! In terms of how micro-current works to benefit skin, the best description that I’ve found online is from a nurse in the States who practices cold laser/micro-current at her medi-spa. She writes “Microcurrent Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulation are small pulsating currents of electricity that closely match the normal electrical current within the cells in our bodies. We can’t feel the electric stimulation but without it our cells will not function properly and some cells die.” She goes on to say it is similar to how a pacemaker works to stimulate other heart cells to function properly.
Step 6: A hydrating collagen gel mask is put on my face for about ten minutes. I nap whilst looking like Jason Voorhees…
Step 7: Jessica pops back into the room and places a cold laser/oxygen panel over my face and turns the setting to a specific wavelength of colour based on my concerns. Red light is the strongest, she says because it travels deeper into the skin (it’s the one chiros use). Green light is purported to help with pigmentation at a superficial depth.
The whole treatment takes an hour, and you leave looking instantly refreshed. My complexion does look more radiant and feels tighter the day after a treatment, as if I had clocked in a serious amount of beauty sleep. I even feel confident enough going sans fards the next day. However the results are temporary, lasting about four days before I feel the need to wear foundation again. If I had to compare it to a service offered at my derm’s clinic, I’d say the results are similar to what you can expect after getting a Silk Peel, a marketing term that describes a 20-minute treatment that involves diamond-tipped microdermabrasion and infusion of pharmaceutical-grade serums, done at the same time.
Is cold laser better than a “hot” laser?
I’m absolutely not convinced that they are, here’s why. “Hot” lasers, which is an umbrella term I’m using to describe the laser and light treatments offered at medical clinics, work on the proven principle of damaging your skin with heat in a controlled way. Wounding the skin in this manner starts a cascade of events in the deep dermal layers that include an increase in blood flow and cellular turnover, a regeneration of collagen and elastin production. Hot lasers have been clinically proven to actually break down damaged collagen (what scars are made of) and lay down new collagen, not just “stimulate” it a bit which is what cold laser technology is capable of.
To put things in perspective, “hot” laser treatments such as non-ablative light therapy (photorejuvenation), and fractional laser resurfacing (Profractional) have worked well for me so far, and while the results are cumulative I’d pay the higher price point because the results you get after each session are permanent. Each zap of the Sciton laser on a large acne scar on my forehead plumps it up, and makes it look less deep. I may need a dozen more sessions but because it improves each time, I’m motivated to sign up for more treatments. I can’t say this about cold laser. The temporary glow is really all you get, but it is a great pre-event glow. But I can’t vouch for it being able to reduce scars, spots, or lines. Simply because I haven’t seen this improvement on my face after four treatments.
While the cold laser is embraced by the holistic community as a high-tech anti-aging modality, it’s important to keep in mind that it is not regarded as a gold standard treatment in the medical community. You might see it offered at some medi-spas or veritable skin clinics as a complementary treatment used to enhance healing from invasive procedures like facelifts. For instance I’ve seen cold laser offered at a plastic surgeon’s office sold as “gentle waves.” From my conversations with doctors and cosmetic industry folk, cold laser falls in the same “mild maintenance” category as microdermabrasion. Interestingly I’ve heard some doctors go as far to say that micro is a waste of money because it doesn’t ablate deep enough in order to fade years of sun damage or fine lines as lasers and lights do.
Even though the current evidence for cold laser in regards to skin rejuvenation is unequivocal, there is some recent promising evidence for cold laser’s efficacy in improving inflammatory skin conditions based on its positive track record with wound healing. This 2011 study demonstrated that cold laser helped heal a rare case of psoriasis on the hands of a pregnant woman.
Is cold laser hog wash?
If you don’t have a laundry list of skin concerns (like me!) and desire something more than what a spa facial can offer, then the cold laser could be your go-to treatment. Personally it’s not mine. However I think it can be a nice moisture-boosting treatment to complement my ongoing hot laser sessions at my derm’s clinic.
Today I view cold laser in the same way I rank yoga on my list of priorities for a fit and healthy body. Dermatological lasers are like cardio and weight lifting, which to the best of my knowledge have more concrete evidence to support its claims of improving overall health and body appearance. That’s why I try to haul my arse to the gym three times a week. Yoga, though fantastic for improving mindfulness and flexibility, is something I try to fit in once a week to maximize my dream body goals. I know that doing yoga alone isn’t going to get me there, and neither will cold laser facials alone get me clearer skin.
That being said, it’s hard to deny the benefits of cold laser when you look at Jessica’s skin. Her before and after photos are phenomenal…
A former tanner, her once acne-ridden uneven complexion is now milky smooth, spotless and radiant. In person her skin looks like it is lit from within. Of course, she credits nothing else but the cold laser, albeit ten treatments over the course of a year. Just looking at her face can make you a believer, and sign up for a dozen treatments. If you do, you would be in a much better position than me to write a review.