Skin Deep

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 January, 2007, 12:00am

WHENEVER KATE WINSLET or Madonna are in need of a little cosmetic pick-me-up, they head over to the Tracie Martyn salon on New York's Fifth Avenue for the aesthetician's signature Resculpting Facial, a US$325 treatment using electrodes that gives similar results to a mini facelift.

In Los Angeles, celebrities hot-foot it over to the Westside Medical Spa, where founder and owner Alexander Rivkin has pioneered non-surgical facelifts and nose jobs, giving patients the looks they want without any bruising or bandages.

The beauty industry is currently being swept by a trend towards non-invasive treatments, with injectables, fillers, sculpting and laser resurfacing gradually replacing facelifts, rhinoplasty and chin-lifts. Many of the new-generation treatments are gentler than their predecessors - Fraxel lasers, for example, have replaced harsh dermabrasion procedures - and the results are usually better, more natural and nuanced. Where a traditional nose job might involve making incisions and cutting bone and cartilage, or a conventional facelift would entail cutting and stretching the face and waiting weeks for recovery, the new treatments can be done in about an hour, with minimal anaesthesia and almost no recuperation time.

'There is so much going on right now that it's an absolute inspiration,' says Nancy Trent, a New York-based beauty publicist. 'The trend is towards anything less invasive, including laser treatments that penetrate deep under the skin so there is no scarring or burns.'

The trend reinforces the general direction of the beauty industry. Skin shedding, using techniques such as Fraxel and pixel lasers and vibrating paddles to help peel off old skin in a gentler way, is also big news. Skin-tightening lasers are all the rage, too, as are fillers and plumpers such as Restylane, Sculptra, Radiesse and Captique to help smooth facial lines and wrinkles.

Botox, or botulinum toxin, remains popular, but insiders say that the recent wave of injectables offer a whole new range of treatments.

'There are more than 150 injectables being used today, and many more are in development,' says Trent. 'Botox is the grandmother of them all. Choosing them depends on how long they last and how much they cost. But the idea behind them is the same: that people's faces are a canvas, and you can redo them with fillers, helping to remodel the face.'

Rivkin has used such techniques hundreds of times. Two years ago, his Los Angeles practice introduced the trademarked non-surgical nose job. 'It was the first time anybody suggested an alternative to surgical rhinoplasty, and it works remarkably well,' he says.

The treatment involves reshaping the nose using injectable fillers. While Rivkin can't physically remove a bump or hook in the nose, he can alter the surrounding area to make the bump look smoother.

'The very interesting thing about the procedure is that it involves perception. To an observer, the size and beauty of someone's nose depends partially on symmetry. If you look at something that has irregularities in it, it catches your attention more than something that blends in. A nose with a twist or a bump looks bigger, but we can help it recede into the background of the face and look smaller.'

He often uses the filler Radiesse, made from calcium and similar to bone or tooth enamel in its molecular structure. After it has been injected, it lasts about a year. 'There are only certain things we can do with it,' he says. 'We can use some of the filler on the top of a wide bridge or a wide nose tip to make the nose look more refined. But we can't make a long nose shorter or a big tip smaller.'

Fillers are also being used with success on areas such as cheeks, jowls and jawlines to help create a defined boundary between the neck and jaw. Rivkin agrees that fillers are here for the foreseeable future and dermatologists in Europe are using fillers that last up to 10 years.

Hong Kong, it turns out, is not that far behind the US. Dr Constance Yam, a dermatologist specialising in non-invasive cosmetic dermatology, says that fillers have become popular here too.

'Botox is very common, and Restylane is taking over collagen in popularity,' she says. 'You can just do so much with them.'

She uses fillers to help smooth skin around the cheekbones and the nasal labia folds - the creases between the sides of the nose and the mouth. Treatments cost about HK$4,000 to HK$5,000 a shot, but the amount of injections needed might vary.

'The good thing about these new materials is they are harmless, and you don't even need a skin test,' she says. She's worked on clients who need something similar to the facial restructuring done by Rivkin, using fillers to soften a square jaw, for example.

Deborah Sims, who owns The Face Magic Haven in Wyndham Street, says Botox remains one of the most sought-after offerings, but that fillers such as Restylane and Esthelis, from Switzerland, are becoming more poplar.

'Before, it was mostly western people who were into it, but now that has changed and the local Chinese are very interested as well,' she says.

Staff at her medi-spa use fillers for everything from cheek augmentation to heightening the bridge of a nose and extending the chin. Treatments are not cheap: they cost between HK$3,000 and HK$7,000 a syringe, and one or two might be needed for the treatment, the results of which generally last nine months.

But unlike the US, where women are not shy about divulging the details of their last visit to the cosmetic surgeon, things are rather different in Hong Kong.

'My clients say they will be open about it, but I know they won't,' she says. 'It's really no big deal, but it will take another couple of years for it to be more acceptable, and for people to be more open about it.'

According to Nancy Trent and other industry insiders, the hands are now the new focus of attention. Faces and bodies can be altered ad infinitum, but it's hard to hide your age on your hands. Barbara Leonardi, vice-president of sales at Revitalight, a company that makes high-end LED light-therapy skincare systems, agrees that less invasive anti-ageing treatments are the future. 'Anti-ageing is a US$30-billion-a-year industry,' says Leonardi. 'People are so concerned about their looks and hands really tell your age.'

This year, in addition to its LED light-therapy system, the company launched a US$3,000 hand spa. The compact machine is used in spas or nail salons, and allows users to give their hands a painless laser therapy that takes about 10 minutes - at between US$1 and US$3 a minute - and helps to lighten age spots and diminish wrinkles.

'It's absolutely non-invasive, because the fact is that invasive techniques are not foolproof either - everything has to be done, redone and maintained,' she says. 'Our bodies, by nature, are going to get older and lose elasticity, and constantly subjecting them to invasive procedures can do more harm than good. With lasers, we're not scraping, injecting or ablating anything, but just stimulating cells to energise them to produce more collagen.'

The confluence of eastern practices with western medical science has led to another trend - bioenergetics. Erich Worster, president of beauty brand Anakiri, has a line of products that draws on the principles of homeopathics and minerals that can work as a conductor of energy in the body.

The products yield results after extended use and are being used in top spa treatments across the US.

'There are always going to be people who need Botox and there will always be a call for that,' says Worster. 'But people are increasingly becoming more comfortable with the ageing process, and are realising that there are less drastic things you can do to be healthy and look vibrant at any age.'