Would YOU have your face fried at 400C to look younger? That’s what Dr MICHAEL MOSLEY tried on one half of himself (and every woman should read his findings)
Take a set of titanium rods. Heat them to 400c — almost double the temperature of a red-hot oven — and apply the tip straight to your face.
This is thermal ablation, one of the latest cosmetic ‘tweakments’ on the market. Similar to laser therapy, this non-surgical treatment promises to deal with fine lines, sun damage and acne scarring.
It sounds rather barbaric. Indeed, when I told my wife, Clare, I was going to give it a go, her reaction was: ‘No way!’
But when we looked into the research, we could see that thermal ablation had been well tested and certainly appeared to be safe.
Dr Michael Mosley jshowing the sunburn on one side of his face after the laser thermal ablation Tixel treatment
Clare gave it a grudging thumbs up, and off I headed to the therapist’s chair.
I hadn’t suddenly developed a severe case of vanity. Rather, I was investigating the boom in cosmetic treatments for a new two-part BBC documentary, with journalist and blogger Mehreen Baig.
And make no mistake, these treatments — or ‘tweakments’, as they are known — are big business. Before Covid-19, the industry was raking in £3 billion a year and growing fast.
However, things came to a temporary halt when the pandemic struck. Suddenly, facelifts, Botox and fillers were off the menu. Instead, people were stuck at home drinking, eating comfort food and stressing. None of which is good for the mind, body or the face.
Since ‘close-contact beauty services’ were allowed to resume last Sunday, there has been a surge in demand for cosmetic treatments, with some clinics reporting a 400 per cent increase in bookings.
Yet I was astonished to discover that the cosmetic tweakment industry is almost entirely unregulated as, technically, it does not involve surgery — which means almost anyone with a syringe can give it a go. Horrifyingly, experts told us they had heard of tweakments being carried out in car parks and garden sheds.
So what are people queuing up to have done? Which procedures are safe and which are effective? And are they really worth it? Here I share what I have learned . . .
Dr Mosley after the treatment
HEAT GUN TO BANISH YOUR CROW’S FEET
While I said no to trying out Botox and fillers, I was curious about thermal ablation. The idea is that the heat burns your skin, and so stimulates growth of new, healthy skin cells to replace old, damaged cells.
Laser treatment does this, too, but it’s expensive and can mean you’re out of action for up to a week. I was assured the thermal ablation treatment, called Tixel, was not only cheaper — around £400 per session, whereas laser treatment can be £500 or more — but recovery would be faster.
Which is how I ended up in the London clinic of Dr Harryono Judodihardjo. One of the first UK dermatologists to use Botox, he has treated more than 20,000 patients. He regularly scours the world for the latest ant-ageing treatments, which is how he first came across a heat gun from Germany which he assured me would soon zap away my crow’s feet. The device, which looks a bit like a hairdryer, contains titanium rods heated to just short of scorching, and then lightly touched on to your skin to ‘create the necessary trauma’.
He assured me it is designed so the ‘touch’ is not only light but incredibly swift — enough to create a tiny pinpoint burn, but not long enough to scar.
The idea is to create a little channel of damage, leaving behind enough undamaged skin to speed repair.
‘Have you done this before?’, I asked nervously.
‘Oh yes,’ he replied, ‘I’ve used it on more than 250 patients. I have also used it on myself three times now — and I think I look OK!’
Dr Mosley receives the treament from Dr Harryono Judodihardjo for BBC’s The Truth About Cosmetic Treatments
Which, to be fair, he did.
Before starting, he wheeled out a special camera so we could measure the extent of my wrinkles. By looking in detail not only at my wrinkles, but my pores and sun damage, then comparing this against a global database, the machine could also estimate my skin age.
I’m pleased to say that it decided I’m a few years younger than my actual age of 63.
Dr Judodihardjo may be an old hand at thermal ablation — but I’m sure no one has ever asked him to do what I did next.
Since I wanted to be able to assess other people’s reactions, I asked him to treat only the left side of my face. That way, I could ask people to guess which side I had had treated, and which they thought looked better.
Finally, I had to slap on some of the clinic’s super-strength anaesthetic numbing cream, with 23 per cent lidocaine — much higher than the 4 per cent stuff found in a typical local anaesthetic. Despite the numbing cream, however, it was pretty painful (I’d say 6 out of 10, where 10 would see me running from the room).
There was also a disconcerting moment when I was sure I could smell my flesh burning.
things came to a temporary halt when the pandemic struck. Suddenly, facelifts, Botox and fillers were off the menu
Less than half an hour later, my face — or at least half of it — had been thoroughly treated.
I was given instructions on how to take care of my skin over the next few days — for example, protecting my skin from direct sunlight for four weeks, and not using any exfoliants — and then headed off home.
By the time I got home the left hand side of my face was hot, painful and looked like a bad case of sunburn.
While the pain faded over the next few hours, I got some odd stares on the train next day, although the sunburnt look also soon faded.
So was it worth it? Well, a few weeks later, I went back.
After some tests, Dr Judodihardjo said a lot of the fine lines around my eyes had almost gone and ‘the reduction in wrinkles is quite significant’.
The True Skin Age machine was less convinced, giving both sides of my face the same result as before the treatment.
But, as Dr Judodihardjo had predicted, the left hand side did continue to improve. Most people, when prompted, could see a difference between the two — the effect lasted for a few months — and were suitably impressed.
I was supposed to go back for a top up and to get the other side done, but I decided that I rather like my wrinkles — I think they give me character — so I never got round to it.
BEWARE OF GETTING YOUR FILL . . .
For many users, treatments are a regular habit. Take fillers, which you’ll know all about if you’ve ever watched the TV series Love Island. Fillers are gels which get injected under the skin to reduce wrinkles and change the contours of your face.
If you want a plump pout and fuller cheeks, then fillers may be for you.
Young women told us they were attracted through social media posts, which promote fillers as quick, painless and cheap.
So advanced have fillers become that they’re even being used to create something called a ‘liquid nose job’. Costing £575, it lasts two years before you need a top-up.
We filmed a plastic surgeon doing just such a treatment on a lovely young woman in her 20s, who was desperate to make her nose appear more even.
The results were certainly impressive. But while her surgeon was eminently qualified, it was frightening to discover how many unqualified people are using fillers, quite legally.
Most fillers contain something called hyaluronic acid, a chemical found in skin and cartilage.
Our skin loses hyaluronic acid as we get older, making us look more wrinkled. So fillers can be injected to replace natural hyaluronic acid or to add shape and volume.
If you inject hyaluronic acid into someone’s lips, for example, it causes them to swell because it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. I’m not squeamish, but when I watched a ‘tear trough filler’ — where sunken lines under the eye are filled out — it made me feel really uncomfortable. The practitioner was being very careful, but I couldn’t help noticing the needle was, occasionally, being inserted quite close to the patient’s eye.
More from Dr Michael Mosley for the Daily Mail…
Many intricate blood vessels supply oxygen to the eye in that area — indeed, there have been reports of people going blind after this treatment went badly wrong.
One young woman who knows how badly fillers can go is Emma, who had her lips done by someone she describes as ‘a beautician’, recommended by a friend.
Emma said the process took about five minutes, but immediately afterwards her lips became hot, swollen and terribly uneven.
When Emma complained, the beautician proceeded to inject more filler to even them out.
In total, she had four sets of injections — leading to way more filler than Emma’s lips could take. So bad was it, that Emma said her lips were more like ‘sausages’. When we met, she had become so self-conscious she found it hard to go out in public.
Fortunately, through an organisation called Save Face, she found a surgeon who was able to remove the fillers. ‘I’ve waited for this for two years and I didn’t think it would come,’ she told me. ‘I feel like it’s the first step to a new me.’
Worryingly, the person who did Emma’s fillers is still practising. So if you opt for fillers, do make sure they are being done by someone with a professional qualification, as they will also be insured if something goes wrong.
NEUROTOXIN THAT KILLS OFF WRINKLES
One of the most popular tweakments is Botox. Although it has been around for decades, demand is booming, especially post-lockdown.
Part of the increased demand is from men, who prefer to look ‘tweaked’ rather than ‘tucked’, as well as younger people who want to prevent wrinkles in the first place. In recent years the number of people in their 20s getting Botox has gone up by 30 per cent.
Botox works as follows: once injected, it digests the proteins in your nerves that trigger muscle movement. So if you inject it into nerves that supply the muscles that make you frown, you stop frowning and the wrinkles go as well. At least until the nerves grow back, which can take months — at which point many seek a top-up.
To find out more, I visited Dr Steven Harris, who has treated thousands of patients over the past 16 years. Is he worried about long-term side effects?
His short answer is ‘yes’.
‘When you’re injecting Botox regularly,’ he explained, ‘there is some evidence the muscle becomes a little disused and atrophies, which means it breaks down. It’s like lying in bed all day. At some point your muscle will fade away.’
That means it could become irreversible. In the right hands Botox seems to be extremely safe, but I think young people should be actively discouraged from using it.
‘Botox’ is the trade name of a product based on a very powerful neurotoxin, produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Gram for gram this neurotoxin is the most poisonous substance on earth. A couple of teaspoons would be enough to wipe out everyone in the UK. And a couple of kilos would kill everyone on the planet.
It is also the most expensive product on earth, costing around £100 trillion per kilo. So it’s just as well you only need a minuscule amount for it to work.
Because it’s so expensive, some have attempted short cuts. A few years ago, an osteopath in Florida injected himself, his girlfriend and a couple of patients with diluted botulinum toxin intended for research purposes. All four ended up in intensive care.
I tried Botox a few years ago for a TV programme; it smoothed away my wrinkles, but also gave me a weird expression.
Clare said it made my forehead look strangely flat and shiny — different, but not better. Fortunately, within a few months the nerves regrew and I was back to my normal grumpy-looking self.
SO, DO ‘TWEAKMENTS’ BOOST YOUR LOOKS?
Opting for a cosmetic tweakment is a very personal choice and many of those I talked to felt it had boosted their confidence. But the ever-astute Clare pinpointed a significant issue: do they actually make you more attractive?
To find out, we did a fascinating experiment, designed for us by Professor Viren Swami, a psychologist at Anglia Ruskin University.
We showed a group of volunteers photos of strangers, and asked them to score their faces for attractiveness. We also asked them to guess their age.
Later, we gave them another set of photos. These were the same people, after having had some form of cosmetic procedure. Our volunteers weren’t told this.
Although our judges rated the second set of photos as being, on average, more attractive, the effect was quite small. Someone with 4 out of 7 the first time round scored around 4.5 in the ‘after photos’.
As Professor Swami put it: ‘There was a very modest increase in physical attractiveness ratings, which is probably not very noticeable for most people.’
So did people rate the post-treatment faces as being younger? Yes — but only by around two years.
It’s up to you whether you think that’s worth the time and cost. It’s not worth it for me.
- The Truth About Cosmetic Treatments starts on Tuesday on BBC One, 8pm
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