Despite what you may have heard, beauty editors have a rough life. Our faces get poked, prodded, massaged, zapped, and injected on a near constant basis, all in the pursuit of good skin. I'll pause here so you can take out your tiny violins and play me a mournful dirge for all the hardships I endure. In all seriousness, it's that professional perk that allows me to experience and subsequently identify the things that actually make a difference for your skin.
As you can imagine, I've had my fair share of facials over the course of my 13-year career in beauty. And there's no denying they are a lovely treat for your skin. But I've never felt any type of transformative effects post-treatment. As someone who has battled adult acne and is starting to see the fine lines and dullness that comes from being in your mid-30s, my bar for success is set pretty high. Sure, it's nice to have glow-y skin for a week or so, but I have a litany of issues I want to address, and extractions and oxygen infusions can only do so much.
I blame the rise of non-invasive professional treatments for my unrealistic skin expectations. Botox, fillers, lasers, microdermabrasion, electrocurrents, LED — the array of hyper-specialized options means you can pinpoint and treat pretty much any skin issue you may think you have with an almost alarming degree of specificity. And dermatologists and plastic surgeons are happy to maximize that bespoke option by "stacking" treatments, i.e. doing an extra-strength glycolic peel to even out your skin tone, followed by some carefully placed fillers to smooth smile lines, and maybe CoolSculpting with a touch of Botox to sculpt and define the jawline. It's like a tapas menu for your face — a little of this, a little of that, a bit more of one, and a sizable portion of the other.
But for some of us, that stacking strategy can feel like overkill, not to mention more time and effort than we can devote to self-care. I just want a skin zhush — not a dozen devices and syringes overhauling my face. I want the convenience of a facial with the "after" photos of an injectables brochure. Up until a few weeks ago, I thought that was a pipe dream — but then I came across a facial treatment called AquaGold.
While speaking to Laura Dyer, MSHS, PA-C at Dr. Amy Wechsler Dermatology in Manhattan, she casually mentioned a treatment she'd been using recently that had been getting great results. She called it a "super mega facial," and told me it took 20 minutes and gave you smaller pores, brighter tone, extra hydration, reduced fine lines and general skin joie de vivre. She told me that she'd had quite a few celebrity and fashion bigwig clients come in for it pre-Met Ball, as well as brides lining up in preparation for their weddings.
So what, pray tell, is this mythical treatment? "It's a first-of-its-kind, patented micro-channeling technology, delivering drugs or biologics directly into the skin," says Sobin Chang, CEO of Aquavit Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (the makers of AquaGold). "Its revolutionary technology can provide thousands of microinjections per minute without pain or downtime." In non-marketing terms, it means it delivers beneficial ingredients, vitamins and drugs like Botox directly below the epidermis (the surface) of the skin.
Instead of requiring multiple procedures, AquaGold is one customized vial mixed with everything you need to solve those skin shortcomings. Attached to the vial is a series of 20 needles, each smaller than a piece of hair. The needles are coated in gold, which the company claims creates less chance of irritation or allergic reaction. Most importantly, they are hollow, so they transport the carefully concocted contents of that vial underneath the skin for maximum efficacy.
That's all fine and dandy, but Dyer lost me the minute she mentioned that AquaGold was a needle-based treatment. I don't do needles — I have what's called vasovagal, which means that at the sight of a needle or blood, I faint. It's the only reason I haven't done Botox or fillers — nothing like passing out on an unsuspecting dermatologist mid-injection. Yet Dyer assured me this wasn't going to make me faint, and she has yet to steer me wrong, so I took a deep breath and told her to have at it.
Since each treatment can be customized, she took a close look at my skin first to see what I actually would get the most benefit from. My most prominent issues, she said, were my large pores, mild acne scars, dryness, dullness and the fine lines around the eyes and lips. She planned to address all of these with one little tailor-made vial.
"We're using a vitamin B complex, which is an antioxidant that's also reparative and invigorating to the skin, so it combats dullness," she told me. "We're also micro-dosing with Botox to tighten up and smooth the skin, and Juvéderm Volbella, a micro hyaluronic acid, to hold water and moisturize." Being an injectables virgin, my hesitation was evident, and Dyer quickly explained the difference between traditional Botox application and this "micro-dosing." "When we inject Botox inter-muscularly it's going to help diminish movement and relax the muscles," she said. "With this, [since it's not going deep] there's no effect on movement or muscle relaxation. It's addressing texture issues like fine lines, scar tissue and pore size. In general, the surface of your skin is going to be much smoother." Well, okay then.
My face was slathered with numbing cream and then once I was thoroughly desensitized, she took the vial and attached the mini-needles of doom, then began stamping them on my face like in a standard microneedling session. I felt a small stinging sensation that was more like that itch you get after scratching a bug bite rather than what you'd imagine poking holes in your skin repeatedly would feel like. She got almost every inch of my skin, then did it all over again, with extra focus on the more problematic areas around my eyes, lips and acne scars. Because you're trying to deliver the max amount of those ingredients into the skin, the more surface area you cover and holes you create, the better. The second pass was a bit more painful — my eyes started watering when she hit my jawline and the area under the eyes — but I've had peels that felt more intense. In what felt like very little time, I was done and sent on my merry little way.
I had a slight pinkish tint to my skin and a few areas that looked like blackheads (they were actually blood from the punctures — which sounds a lot more intense than it actually was) but other than that, I looked normal. Dyer informed me that there was no after-care protocol or anything to avoid and that I could expect to see noticeable improvement in my skin in about a week. That's how long it would take for the Botox to kick in and the hyaluronic acid molecules to hit full hydration-holding capacity.
A week later, my skin had transformed. No exaggeration: My skin looked fantastic. I hadn't even realized I had fine lines around my eyes until they were gone and I no longer appeared to be chronically exhausted. My acne scarring was less pronounced and I had a soft-filtered glow about me. But the biggie was one that Dyer hadn't mentioned: The minor expression lines between my forehead and the smile lines around my mouth were suddenly absent from my face. But not in a Botoxed-out way — they were just a shadow of their former selves. I looked in the mirror and was able to look at my face as a complete entity, rather than laser in on the specific areas I was dissatisfied with.
I wasn't the only one who noticed, either. At an early morning makeup launch event a few days later, the PR team (who I've known for years and seen often), kept telling me how great I looked, despite being makeup-free and very hungover. I'm sure half of that was the usual editor flattery, but there were some genuine compliments in the mix.
Another reason I'm now obsessed with this treatment is that Dyer promised me the effects would last three to four months. Considering a session can cost anywhere from $900-$1,500, depending on where you get it and what's in your vial, it bloody well better. Micro-dosing or not, you're still getting stamped in the face repeatedly with needles.
For someone like me, who's not really concerned about aging but more interested in not looking perpetually sleep-deprived and/or angry about my life choices, this treatment is everything. I look like me, my face still moves, it took less time than a facial, and I actually saw a big difference in the look and feel of my skin. I've yet to come across an oxygen mist, jade roller, essential oil, or mud mask that's been able to do all that.