The Power Peel, the latest rage in skin treatments, has delighted Laura Walsh.
But she's a little embarrassed to talk about it. "It is a little vain," says the 37-year-old Cockeysville resident. "The guy who brought the equipment in said he was going to make me look like a young schoolgirl."
You don't have to be Cher to know women are not-so-subtlely encouraged to maintain the taut skin of youth at any cost. Yet at the same time, they are subjected to tabloid-esque speculation about whether they've somehow pumped, pulled or injected their way to physical flawlessness.
"You hear about people who get nose jobs and tummy tucks, and they are enticing," says Walsh. "You have to know where to draw the line."
The Power Peel -- which is akin to a mini-sandblasting -- is shaping up to be a safe, convenient and relatively inexpensive alternative to hyper-cosmetic excess.
Sure to become the next starlet serum, this noninvasive, nonchemical procedure can be applied to any part of the body, and requires little or no recovery time. It's only been available in the United States for a little over a year, but fresh-faced Europeans have been enjoying its benefits for more than a decade.
The procedure itself is known as microdermabrasion. A wand filled with aluminum oxide crystals vacuums over the desired area removing dead skin cells and creating a sensation like that of an an emery board being dragged across the skin. It stings a little at the outset, but is practically painless.
The Power Peel is available at nearly 500 salons and dermatologists' offices across the nation, with the highest concentration in sun-soaked glam centers Southern California and Southern Florida, according to Pat DeJacma, vice president of Aesthetic Lasers Inc. in Annapolis, which manufactures and distributes the equipment.
Aestheticians agree it's unlikely to entirely replace already popular peels such as glycolic, alpha hydroxy and beta lift, which induce more pain and call for more recovery time, but penetrate the skin much more deeply than the Power Peel.
It's especially desirable for the efficiency of treatments: 10 to 30 minutes, earning it the name the "lunch-hour peel." Also, side effects are minimal: redder-than-normal skin and moderate flaking for no more than a day after the treatment.
"You can have this done and go right back to your daily routine," DeJacma says.
With repeated treatments, this dead-cell scraper can help reduce imperfections, from scars to stretch marks.
And with the juice to remove tattoos, and the FDA approval to do so, it can even redeem your 20th-century skin sins in time for the millennium.
However, most clients, including Walsh, simply use this surface exfoliation as a skin refresher.
"You don't have to have a skin issue, but you do have to have $100 dollars," says Michelle Guarino, an aesthetician at Morgan Gerard in Annapolis, one of seven Maryland salons or dermatologists using the Power Peel.
Prices for a single body area such as face, neck or hands range from about $100 to $200 dollars a treatment, and customers often buy a package. An interval of at least a week must be taken between treatments to allow the skin to bounce back from the strain.
Some view this as simply the latest flesh fad -- a trendier, more expensive alternative to exfoliating at home.
"There's a luxury element to it," says Gary Monheit, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama Medical Center. He says that regular use of a Buff Puff achieves the same results. "I've tried [the Power Peel]. It doesn't offer anything else to our patients that we don't already have."
Trend or not, Walsh is satisfied for now. She says her skin felt smoother overall and appeared younger-looking after only one pass with the wand.
"Your skin feels like velvet when you're done," says Guarino, who has had several Power Peels herself.
Allison Gaines, manager of Morgan Gerard, says her salon performs about eight Power Peels a day. "Since the day we got it, it's been steady," Gaines says.
An ideal candidate for the treatment has good skin tone and is healthy, aestheticians say.
Realistic expectations are also key to satisfaction. Expect fine lines to diminish, but more serious scarring and pigmentation problems won't disappear.
"It's never going to be a substitute for a face lift," says Margaret Weiss, assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins and a dermatologist in private practice at Dermatology Associates in Hunt Valley. (Weiss' practice has been using the Power Peel for nearly a month.)
Face lifts actually involve the cutting of loosened, sagging skin. Still, regular Power Peel treatments can combat skin issues that eventually lead people to seek plastic surgery, DeJacma says.
But in the addictive arena of cosmetic enhancement it gets hard to just say no, especially when the results are so encouraging.
Could the tame yet effective Power Peel be the first fall into the nether-world of collagen injections and breast implants?
Not for Walsh.
"I wouldn't have any cosmetic procedures that involve putting a piece in my body," she says. "But I will scrape a few dead skin cells off."