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Skin-Care Countdown

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Face it: Your skin is on display as much as your figure on your wedding day—all of those close-up photos of you and your groom, you and your flowers, you and your bridesmaids. Yet, while women often make their bodies a priority, many forget to work out the kinks in their complexion. “Most brides tend to wait until the last minute to solve their skin issues, and they come to us in a panic,” says Sandy Rothman, store manager of Ardmore’s Bluemercury Apothecary and Spa. “But by then, there’s very little we can do for them.”

For some, the goal may be as basic as glowing, smooth, unblemished skin. And it’s not just brides striving for complexion perfection: Mothers are looking for wrinkle-reducing and all-around anti-aging treatments.

With a little advanced planning, you can clear up all your concerns before your big day. Our handy timeline will help you get started.

Pre-wedding: One Year

» Get an initial consultation. It’s important to identify the problems you’d like to deal with as soon as possible, because many can take months to treat properly. “Anyone who’s planning to play a major part in a wedding within the next year—no matter their age—should visit a professional now to see what they need to do to improve their skin quality,” says certified plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Kim of Allure MediSpa in Paoli. Whether you meet with a dermatol-ogist, plastic surgeon or reputable esthetician, be sure to explain your skin-care goals as specifically as possible. Then you can address each with either in-office intervention or an upgraded at-home routine.

» Begin laser hair-removal treatments. More and more women are looking to laser hair removal. The most common areas treated include the armpits, legs, upper lip and bikini area, though strays just about anywhere can be removed with today’s high-tech lasers. For this procedure, a pulsating beam of light passes over the skin and targets the dark pigment (or melanin) in the hair. When the high heat from the light reaches the follicle, it destroys it.

A successful laser treatment can require anywhere from four to six (sometimes more) sessions, and each has to be scheduled a few weeks to a few months apart, depending on the area you’re treating. The process is largely pain-free (some say it feels like hot rubber bands snapping against the skin) and is most effective on those with light skin and dark hair (as the laser can more easily target the melanin). It is possible to treat lighter hair and darker skin with some of the newer lasers, though doing so might require more time.

Pre-wedding: Six Months

» Banish breakouts. There’s a number of things you can do to get rid of acne and the occasional blemish, but most require at least a few months to take effect. “The first thing is to establish a good skin-care routine and proper skin hygiene,” says Kim. While a dermatologist or esthetician can help you select the right products to clear up your complexion and help prevent future breakouts, it’s important to get into the habit of using them properly. For acute, painful breakouts, you may be prescribed a course of topical or oral antibiotics, which could take several months to work. Some may need a prescription oral acne medicine like Accutane. “You don’t want to come in two weeks before your wedding and ask me to clear up your acne, because drugs like Accutane can take five months or more to work,” says Dr. Victoria Cirillo-Hyland, owner and medical director of Cirillo Cosmetic Dermatology Spa in Rosemont and managing partner of the Bryn Mawr Skin and Cancer Institute. Acne can also be treated with a laser that kills the breakout-causing bacteria, but you may need several 15- to 20-minute sessions to see a difference.

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» Reduce discoloration and age spots. These days, many women are opting for a popular form of photorejuvenation called Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy. An IPL hand piece is passed over the skin’s surface, delivering virtually pain-free pulses of light that slightly damage skin’s melanin. The body’s natural repair process then removes the damaged cells, leaving skin smooth and even. To get results, you’ll need about five 20-minute sessions scheduled three weeks apart.

For more severe sun damage, some doctors use a CO2 laser resurfacing technique that removes a majority of the skin’s surface, solving pigmentation problems and boosting collagen production. It’s more painful than IPL and requires a good seven to 10 days recovery time, during which time your skin may be extremely red and fragile. The results are much more dramatic, though. And usually one session is all you’ll need.

Pre-wedding: Two to Three Months

» Start getting monthly facials. What type of facial is right for you? It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. To boost radiance for a glowing complexion, microdermabrasion, light glycolic acid peels and other exfoliating treatments might be recommended. “Sloughing facials aren’t going to resurface your skin; they’re not going to get out age spots and remove wrinkles,” says Dr. Anshul Gambhir, medical director at Couture Laser and Skin in Exton. “But they will take off the dull sheen.” They also can cause some redness, so be sure to book your final facial at least three days prior to the wedding. If your skin is dry and flaky, a hydrating facial should work best. Those with oily or breakout-prone skin will benefit from purifying and deep pore-cleansing facials.

» Consider injections. The simplest way to reduce wrinkles—albeit temporarily—is by either freezing them with Botox or plumping them with fillers like Restylane or Juvéderm. A skin-care professional can help you choose which is right for your particular complexion, but you should have the treatments done a few months prior to any big event.

The effects of most injectable treatments last four to six months. Having the procedure done well in advance allows your new look time to settle in and adjust. Plus, some needles cause minor bruising and swelling that can last for several days, so you’ll want to have time for that to dissipate.

Pre-wedding: One Month

» Go on a healthy-skin diet. “My advice is if it’s white, don’t eat it,” says Cirillo-Hyland, who advises steering clear of foods that are high in carbohydrates, salt and sugar. By doing so, you’ll lose extra water you’ve been retaining around the eyes. Minimizing alcohol intake can also keep skin looking bright and clear. And eat plenty of fresh, antioxidant-rich fruits; green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach; salmon (loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids); and plenty of water (at least 64 ounces a day).

» Wear sun protection. Even if your wedding is in the winter, slather your skin with SPF every day to avoid added sun damage. Remember: sunspots can appear any time of year. Experts agree there’s really no need to overspend on face cream; an over-the-counter anti-aging lotion with SPF 15 works well enough.

Pre-wedding: One Week

» Pop pimples safely. Under no circumstances should you do it at home. Extractions are tricky; one misstep, and you’ll be walking down the aisle with a red, infected blemish. A dermatologist can inject a pimple with a mild steroid, erasing all signs of it within a day. Or try over-the-counter treatment products containing antibacterial benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Bluemercury’s Rothman recommends N.V. Perricone Acne Treatment Gel and Dermalogica MediBac Overnight Clearing Gel.

» Reduce under-eye circles and puffiness. Extremely dark circles or large bags can be hereditary issues that require surgical intervention. Typically, though, puffiness is caused by water retention and fluid pooling in the eye area. Sleeping with your head propped up on a pillow prevents pooling, and applying frozen cucumber slices constricts swollen blood vessels. Creams with caffeine—a vasoconstrictor—have the same effect. But when it comes to the eyes, a good night’s sleep is your best bet.