Less Pain For Equal Gain

VANITY, it would seem transcends pain of any kind even when it feels like a million needles are doing an entire Olympic skating routine on your face.

That was pretty much what one 40-something felt when he underwent Thermage a little over a year ago in an attempt to stall the natural ageing process. In fact, ask anyone who has undergone this popular non-invasive skin tightening procedure and the common response would be that they hate the process as much as they like the results in the never-ending pursuit of youthful skin without undergoing the scalpel.

Thermage has been one of the most established procedures available. According to local aesthetic doctors, there are only three treatments that tighten the skin by using heat to stimulate collagen production underneath the skin’s surface – Thermage, Ulthera and Titan.

While Ulchera is a recent procedure offered in Singapore, Thermage has been around since 2002 and is possibly the most favoured treatment offered by aesthetic doctors because of the numerous clinical studies that have been done on it. While Thermage has also been notorious for the pain factor, this is now a thing of the past. The developers of Thermage recently launched an upgraded machine in Singapore that is said to make the treatment almost painless.

One of the first takers for the new machine – called Thermage CPT – is Rohan Mendis of Mendis Aesthetics & Surgery. A staunch proponent of Thermage since he started using its machine in 2004, Dr Mendis says he has never had reason to switch to any other procedure because of its effective results which can last at least one and a half years.

“I like this method because it stimulates natural collagen and subsequently skin tightening,” he says, “it’s not about injecting something to prop up the muscles (like, say, Botox or fillers) – there’s nothing unnatural about it. It builds your tissues to the condition they were before – the tightening is natural so it doesn’t look artificial.”

If you’re in the market for a non-invasive facelift, there are a couple of things to bear in mind before you decide. First, it doesn’t come cheap and second, results are not immediate, nor as spectacular as you may hope, Priced at around $5,000 to $7,000 depending on the doctor you go to, it can be rationalised as being value for money since the results are fairly lasting. But if you want to say, look 10 years younger within a month, then a scalpel or an adjustment of expectations is what you need more.

The reason why Thermage takes a long time to show results is that it works in two ways, says Boris Kunsevitsky, clinical manager for Asia at Solta Medical, which distributes the machines. First it heats up the collagen in the dermis and also the connective tissues. The extreme heat causes the collagen strands to shrink which immediately tightens the skin so you feel an almost instant tightening effect after the procedure.

What happens next is called a secondary wound healing response. “The organism perceives. Thermage treatment as a thermal injury- “burn” in laymen’s terms, even though there is no actual burn – it’s just that the organism does not usually experience such high heat so deep inside the connective tissue, so it is basically tricked into thinking it was burnt,” explains Mr Kunsevitsky, “as with any injury, whether it is a burn or a cut, it responds by trying to fix the injury by producing more collagen.”

According to studies conducted by Thermage scientists, new collagen will be produced for up to a year. “There will be structural improvement for up to a year but visible results will usually subuside after six to nine months,” he adds.

The peak is difficult to predict – there are number of factors: skin thickness, efficacy of the treatment, patient’s general state of health. Some patients see most improvement at around three months (when the improvement peaks), whereas others take longer.”

And the pain? Previous generation Thermage involves needle-like pricks all over the face but Thermage CPT has replaced that with a kind of vibrator that gives the sensation of having a floor polisher grinding against you. There’s a chance the numbing cream might start wearing off a little and you will feel a series of electric shock-like stabs but other than that the treatment is said to be a whole lot better than the previous generation machines.

While there is much to be said about ageing gracefully, Thermage does seem to be a happy compromise between accepting the ravages of time and subjecting yourself to a cheaper, but endless series of artificial skin tightening products. You won’t look 20 years younger for sure – make it seven to eight years at best – but unlike a surgical facelift, your skin quality will improve, As Mr Kunsevitsky puts it: “One year after Thermage the skin starts ageing again, but it ages as younger skin (that it clinically is when the improvement cycle is complete). Treated skin will never be as old as the rest of you, it will age slower.”

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