The 33-year-old brand director for a handbag company starts her week with a workout, a luxurious blow dry and a facial at the Skin Laundry spa.
But the last stop is no innocent indulgence. After lounging in the tranquil white waiting room in New York’s Flatiron District, an attendant presents her with an iPad so she can read over an eight-page contract.
“Although rare, potential risks include blistering, crusting, itching, pain, bruising, skin whitening and/or hyperpigmentation, burns, infection, scabbing, scarring and swelling,” it cautions.
Without missing a beat, Caterina signs the lengthy legalese, giving — among other things — her information to a funeral director, permission to donate her organs, and her details to a coroner “for identification purposes.”
“Sometimes it’s the only 10 minutes I have to relax,” she says, unfazed. “Even if there is a laser light to my face.”
The latest cult beauty treatment to hit Manhattan promises to vaporize impurities, clean pores and stimulate collagen production — and costs as much as $AU100 ($AU130) for a mere 10 minutes. And despite the risks, some New Yorkers are already addicted to Skin Laundry’s signature facial — a combination of YAG lasers and intense pulsed light.
Josh Hatfield, a 27-year-old from Williamsburg who works in luxury real estate, is no stranger to glycolic peels that “burned my face off like a lizard.”
Now, lasers are his thing.
The service is “so addictive,” Hatfield has been in roughly 20 times since Skin Laundry launched in early March, shelling out upward of $US700 ($AU900) so far. Though he has no real skin concerns, the fresh-faced Hatfield considers the pricey treatments essential for “maintenance.”
“I feel like I’m here so often that these guys know more about me than my family does! I guess you can say I’m hooked.
“It’s so important to look and feel your best,” adds Hatfield, who says he doesn’t care that the cost occasionally forces him to skip social outings with friends. “It’s worth the sacrifice,” he explains.
(Skin Laundry devotees usually sign up for a series, which requires a three-month commitment and significantly reduces the cost of each treatment. Hatfield recently signed up for a Gold Membership at $360 per month, plus gratuity, for eight treatments.)
Skin Laundry is the brainchild of Yen Reis, 36, who first experienced noninvasive laser and light skin therapy in Asia before bringing it to LA in 2013.
“We’re the future of facials,” says Reis, who says she’s offering a service that would typically cost from $250 to $500 at a doctor’s office.
The NYC location is the company’s sixth, and the first in the Northeast.
“The more you do, the more collagen you’re building,” claims Reis, admitting, “There’s a bit of an addiction.”
The treatment is administered by a medically trained staff of registered nurses and nurse practitioners in a minimalist space that invokes peaceful pampering more than surgical procedures.
First, two sweeps of a laser cross the skin, emitting an acrid smell that a nurse reassures is “the treatment working.” Next, a gel is slathered onto the face while intense pulsed light is directed at the skin. The client wears protective goggles throughout.
“It’s this culture of quickie services,” says Caterina, who has a standing lunchtime appointment on Thursdays in addition to her Monday-morning session for which she pays $US360 ($AU460) a month, plus gratuity. “Time is everything to people in New York — and this is maximum benefit.”
She says her acne scars have been reduced and her skin appears more even-toned.
“After a couple of weeks,” she says, “I was like, ‘Wow!’”
Demand is so high that the spa recently extended its nighttime hours to 9 p.m.
“Clients come and bring us cookies. They really like hanging out here,” says Skin Laundry’s operations manager Kendra Menendez.
“Lasers sound scary — but the beachy vibe relaxes people.”
But before clients get to the relaxing part, they must essentially sign their lives away.
“The waiver thing was insane,” Amber Katz, founder of beauty blog Rouge18, tellsThe New York Post. “It’s like a Dickens novel. I spent at least 10 minutes just signing multiple pages of forms on an iPad before getting the treatment.
“They are very thorough and warn you that though bruising and sensitivity is rare, it can happen to a small percentage of clients,” she continues.
“If I hadn’t had [my friend’s] testimonial beforehand, I may have backed out at that point.”
Skin Laundry won’t reveal any details about its laser and light therapy — including its levels of intensity — citing “proprietary reasons.”
“I do it two to three times a week — at least,” says owner Reis. “Sometimes I’ll want to do it more. My face hasn’t fallen off, so I’m fine.”
“It’s relatively safe,” adds Menendez. “You’re not going to go blind.”
She points to clients who have done 200 treatments at other locations.
“But a laser day in and day out — you never know.”
Some dermatology experts question the effectiveness of the Skin Laundry facial — especially since its strength is shrouded in secrecy.
“The number of times a patient can be treated per week really depends on the strength of the chemical or laser being used. If patients are going multiple times per week, it just means that [it’s not] too powerful,” says Dr. Norman Rowe, an NYC-based plastic surgeon.
Dr. Marina Peredo, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, says the service may work best as a preventive measure to “maintain overall skin health rather than to treat more-visible problems.
“Without having personally visited Skin Laundry, and based on the limited information available,” she continues, “I would suggest [treatments] once or twice monthly, depending on skin type.”
That doesn’t stop 21-year-old Jon-Luc Bonano, who was a Skin Laundry devotee when he lived in California, from squeezing in three appointments in as many days to look his best before decamping for the Cali desert and Coachella.
“My skin isn’t naturally flawless,” says Bonano, who also spends $360 a month plus gratuity on the service. “I go for face maintenance.
“It’s painless. If you’ve gotten your eyebrows threaded — and I have — that hurts way more.”
The aspiring model and LA transplant religiously got treatments on the West Coast — even after his driver’s license was revoked.
“I would take Uber to get there. I don’t miss appointments,” he says, checking himself out in the lobby’s vanity mirror before adding, “It’s so addictive.”