Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
IPL uses bursts of intense light energy to heat the epidermis and dermis, stimulating collagen production. It’s best for improving skin tone and texture, as well as discolouration, and may not have much effect on wrinkles. A series of three to six treatments is usually recommended, each costing about $150-400, with maintenance treatments a few times a year. The improvement is gradual, and it may take a few rounds to notice the difference.
Radio frequency, ultrasound and infrared
The different forms of energy used by these devices penetrate below the surface of the skin, inducing heat which causes collagen to contract and new collagen to form. At its best, this treatment tightens skin. Targeted at people in their 40s and 50s with mild skin looseness and wrinkling, it’s promoted as the ideal compromise for taking a few years off your face without the expense and downtime of surgery.
But don’t get your hopes up just yet – according to Dr Phillip Artemi, “The technology is still in its infancy, the results are very variable, and while it has potential, really good responses are rare.”
Even in the best outcomes, this type of treatment doesn’t lift muscle, unlike a surgical face lift; it doesn’t correct sun damage; and it doesn’t reduce hollows caused by age-related fat loss. For these reasons it may be used in combination with other treatments, such as dermal fillers and laser resurfacing or a chemical peel.
The process is uncomfortable, and you may need topical anaesthetic. There may be some redness afterwards, which can be disguised by make-up, but rarely swelling, bruising or pain. There may be an immediate skin-tightening effect as collagen fibres contract. But the full results take a few months to kick in, as collagen production increases, giving a gradual improvement.
Radio frequency (Thermage is the most well-known brand of treatment). Only one session is necessary and it lasts a few years, and costs $2500 to $5000, depending on the clinic and the amount of coverage (full face, half face etc).
- Ultrasound (eg Ulthera) costs around $1000-$3500 and one session will probably be enough, though you may need two.
Infrared (eg Cutera Titan) costs around $700 and will likely need two to three sessions.
Do your research
There are plenty of online reviews of these sorts of procedures. Among them, realself.com
is worth a look because it’s moderated and has input from doctors. But take the reviews with a pinch of salt because results can be very subjective, and some side effects or negative results may in fact be due to patient idiosyncrasies or level of expectation rather than the procedure itself, or may have been due to operator error or older technology.
Keep in mind also that some procedures take some time to have optimum effect, for example, the collagen-generating technologies that peak at about six months or so - reviews or pictures taken before then might not do the procedure justice. If you notice people reporting similar problems about a procedure, raise your concerns with your doctor.
You can easily find online before and after photos of the different treatments. With some it’s difficult to tell any difference, while with others the results are nothing short of miraculous – and may perhaps have had a little help from photo-editing software. Lighting, hair, makeup, clothing and facial expression can make a big difference too. Advertisers may choose to show some of the better outcomes, rather than "typical" outcomes.
Choosing your doctor
When choosing a doctor for cosmetic procedures, you could ask for recommendations from your GP or from friends or relatives who have had similar work done. Consider:
Qualifications: Ideally look for someone who’s a member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, a fellow of the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgeons or of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. However, many other doctors (GPs, for example) and some nurses are trained and experienced in administering cosmetic procedures.
Experience: Find out how often and for how long they’ve been doing the procedures.
Fees: What are the initial consultation fees?
: It’s important to feel comfortable with the doctor, and that other staff in the practice are pleasant and knowledgeable.
Some questions to ask your doctor about the procedure include:
- What does it involve and how long will it take?
- What will I look like immediately after the procedure? Will I need time off work?
- Are there any complications associated with the procedure? Are there other side-effects?
- How much are the procedure fees, including after care and the cost of take-home skin care products or medication, if applicable? If more than one session is recommended, is there a package available? If I choose not to go ahead with all sessions in the package do I get a refund?
- If complications do occur or the procedure is not successful, how will you deal with this?
- How many sessions are required and over how long?
- How long do the effects last, and how often should they be repeated to maintain the effect?