Tuesday, November 14, 2006

microdermabrasion (and other ways to torture yourself)

About three months ago I decided to try something new: laser hair removal. So I paid an arm and a leg to have a couple dozen hairs removed from my chin. (Breaking down the exorbitant price, I realize this is costing me approximately $25-35 per hair. Aaaaagh.)

Prior to that, I researched hair removal techniques and learned that there is no such thing as permanent hair removal. That’s what the experts say. But when I went for my free consultation at American Laser Center in Columbia, the receptionist/sales woman insisted that it is permanent. So “permanent” in fact that ALC offers a two-year guarantee that the hairs they remove will not grow back. So in laser hair removal speak, two years equals an eternity.

Something else I wan't overly keen on was their pricing scheme. You are expected to pay 50% of your one-year package price up front, and then the other 50% at your first treatment. I asked the woman, “So what happens if you go out of business before my first year is up?” She just laughed, indicating that the probability of that happening was zero. (Gee, thanks for your concern.) The alternative to paying up front is to pay per visit, at an amount almost twice as much as paying up front.

It was like haggling at a car dealership. I insisted I wasn’t going to pay the going rate of $1200 for this procedure (chin only). She claimed that this was the “sale” price (the normal price was $1999). I claimed unless she could discount it another 30% I was leaving. So she left to "call the manager," and when she came back she said, "Good news!" . . . plus she threw in a free $125-dollar microdermabrasion treatment to seal the sale. I was just waiting for her to hand me the keys to a new Hummer.

Even though my better judgment told me this isn’t a great deal and there are no real guarantees that my money will be well spent, I was sick of plucking chin hairs (my mother never told me not to!). . . . I didn’t argue with the woman about the permanency of laser hair removal and decided to give it a shot anyway.

I was, of course, concerned about how much this would hurt. She claimed that it feels like “being snapped with a rubber band.” The patient is supposed to get the treatments once every 7-10 weeks, and each session lasts about 15 minutes. I had back pain for 17 years, what's another 15 minutes every couple of months?

Two weeks ago I had my second treatment. I was a bit disappointed about five weeks after the first treatment, when all my coarse chin hairs grew back with a vengeance. So I questioned the nurse as to when I can expect results. After calling me impatient (twice), she told me I could expect to see results after the third treatment. So I still have a couple months to go before I can even hope to feel as though this $840 was well spent.

But let me tell you something – it’s not painless, and it’s not like being snapped with a rubber band. It’s more like being zapped with a strong, hot electrical charge. And when a follicle is lased, it smells. Ever smell burning hair? Ick. The second treatment seemed a lot more painful than the first, despite using a Lidocaine cream on my chin the second time around.

Not surprisingly, every time I go in for a treatment, the nurse tries to sell me more packages. “This week only, you can do both legs [from the knee down] for just $1300,” she cheers as she shoves a price list in front of my face. Aaaagh. Forget it. She also tried to sell me the arm pits. (Oooh - that's gotta hurt.) No thanks. This little tiny chin area is torture enough.

For all the money and the repeated discomfort, this had better work. If by the end of my year of treatments it has not worked, well then all I can say is I knew better. I really did.

On Monday I went in for my free microdermabrasion treatment. ALC recommends that you do this treatment twice a month. (That’s $250/month – almost a car payment!) When the aesthetician told me that, I thought to myself, “And let this be the last one.”

When I asked her if it will hurt, she told me it “feels like a cat licking your skin.” Yeah, I imagine if a cat licks your skin once it doesn’t hurt. But add a lot more pressure and continue to let the cat lick every centimeter of your face, over and over, while a tiny vacuum cleaner sucks up the dead skin cells. Yikes! It occurred to me then why it’s called microdermabrasion. To say it’s abrasive is an understatement, to say the least. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

Sure, it feels great the next day – my skin is so-o-o-o soft. But as I was lying there on the table with the relaxation CD playing in the background, the fluorescent lights shining in my eyes, and the lion's tongue carving up and vacuuming the skin off my face I thought, “Never again.”

Why do women insist on torturing themselves this way? After all, your skin sheds itself every 28 days on its own. No need to speed up Mother Nature. Besides, you might just piss her off if you do.