When TV's most recognisable chef, Gordon Ramsay, announced to the world that on the advice of showbiz pal Simon Cowell he'd had fillers, it wouldn't seem there was much mystery left to the injectables, but when it comes to their uses, and who is using them, Simone Noakes discovers there's a lot more going on under the surface.
Knife-free anti-ageing is big business, while debates on the pitfalls of our youth-focussed culture continue publicly; privately Australians are making clinic appointments. Last year we spent $448.5 million on non-invasive treatments, an annual jump of 30 percent, and figures for 2010 are continuing to rise.
"Women today are very rejecting of expectations of how women have to age," The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf told reporters recently. "We're redefining ageing. It's all about power."
We might be shy admitting to our personal youth-preservation fixes but behind closed doors, we're confident about what we want. "I exercise, take care of myself," says forty-something Melbourne businesswoman Trish. "I feel too young to look my age. I want my face to match how I feel, and luckily I live in a time that it can. People might think that's shallow, but I don't see why I should feel frivolous about something that makes me happy."
And in the war to outwit time, new-generation injectables are fast- becoming the cosmetic industry's favourite weapon. Allergy-free, versatile and with increased longevity, these new fillers chemically reproduce our body's hyaluronic acids.
Dr Neal Hamilton, one of Australia's leading cosmetic physicians who has been working with injectable fillers for 21 years, has noted a rise in popularity, "Five years ago we would treat one filler client for every five wanting Botox, now it's one for one."
Why so popular, and how do they work?
We're all born with collagen-packed plump skin. As we age, skin becomes thinner and collagen and hydration dwindles. Lifestyle plays a role particularly the dermis-busting duo of smoking and sunbathing but by our mid-thirties, along with wisdom, most of us have acquired a few lines and lost some of the peachy facial volume associated with youth.
Fillers work three ways:
- plumping back the volume to areas like the under-eye, where skin is especially thin;
- smoothing skin surface and filling in lines, such as the vertical ones above the top lip and,
- most interestingly, stimulating new collagen production.
Results are instant and last between four and 12 months.
"It's basically real-life Photoshopping," says Dr Neal. "With fillers we can sculpt out wrinkles and fill in hollows. It's the most flexible and artful tool at my disposal; if it was the only tool at my disposal I'd still be very happy."
Pillow- face and trout pout: where it can go so horribly wrong…
Despite what we see in gossip mags, anything resembling soft furnishing or fish is not considered a good result.
"As doctors we do look at some celebrities and wonder what the hell they're doing," Dr Neal admits. "It might be hard to say no to some stars but this is an area where more is not better. Results must be natural-looking. You want friends and family to comment on how healthy you're looking, not wonder what you've had done," he says.
Dr Neal notes however that the celebs with obvious cosmetic enhancements are in the minority. "Most stars are very smart about what they get done, and in 2010, with the technology and products available, there's no need to look anything other natural."
His advice: "Start with a small amount of product in one area."
But outside of Hollywood are a few wrinkles really so bad? "Not at all," says Sarah, an IT consultant in her late twenties who has been having fillers for three years.
"I'm just not crazy about mine. I've had five appointments in that time, it's hardly high-maintenance and maybe it is vain but when I feel confident about how I look, I feel confident full- stop."
Hurt & and safety: how does it feel?
Unless you relish having needles in your face, you'll probably not going to love the treatment but it's over quickly 5 five to 15 minutes depending on the area and with numbing creams and a local blocker, a trip to the dentist is more uncomfortable.
Ideal results are considered practitioner-dependent, but thanks to one of the strictest risk- assessors in the world, filler product safety in Australia is assured.
Brands available here such as Restylane, Juvéderm and Esthélis are are biodegradable, sugar-based acids chemically identical to those found in skin so there's no need for allergy tests. At the injection site, there may be surface tenderness and bruising for a few days.
Most clients have between 0.5 and 4mls per treatment, prices vary but Dr Neal's average patient spends around $600/ per mil and only needs a top-up once a year. "Because of their longevity, fillers can be very cost-effective."
Dr Neal Hamilton practises at the Sydney Institute of Cosmetic and Laser Medicine's Concept Cosmetic Medicine. For more information, call (02) 9811 8888 or visit www.conceptcosmeticmedicine.com.au There are clinics throughout NSW.