Stephanie Dychiu MARIE CLAIRE - Age, Beauty, and Happiness

Original title of this article:  "Age Becomes Beauty"


The quest for eternal youth is one of humanity’s most enduring aspirations.  Stephanie Dychiu takes a look at what’s out in the market.   

For Filipinas today, the fountain of youth is no longer a quixotic dream.  Just pick up a jar from the supermarket, or sit through a few stabs from a syringe.   

COMING OF AGE         
Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of anti-aging cream Olay Total Effects, pegs the Philippines’ level of anti-aging sophistication at less than one-third of Thailand’s.  But awareness is growing very, very fast.  “Before Olay was launched two years ago, anti-aging was only about 5-6% of the total skin care market,” says Anna Legarda, Brand PR Manager for P&G Beauty.  “Now, it’s around 20%.”          

Data from Unilever, parent company of Pond’s Age Miracle, shows consumption of anti-aging products tripled in the Philippines in the last three years.  “Here, whitening is still the biggest face care segment, with 50% share,” says Meryll Yan, Assistant Brand Manager of Pond’s Age Miracle.  “But globally, anti-aging is the biggest face care category.  It’s the fastest growing segment globally and in the Philippines.”   

The pursuit of youth is directly tied to the pursuit of beauty, says Dr. Vicki Belo, who runs a high-profile chain of beauty clinics.  “Youth is wasted on the young, it’s true.  You feel young inside, but then your face doesn’t match.  Appearance is important.  It’s about survival of the prettiest.”          

Survival of the Prettiest is a book written in 2000 by Nancy Etcoff, a psychology professor at the Harvard Medical School.  Her research showed babies stare longer at pictures of attractive people; men are more likely to help pretty women fix a flat tire; and job applications with pretty photos get picked up more than applications with plain-looking photos.   
“I established my clinic because I had acne and I was fat,” says Belo.  “I saw how beautiful people had many advantages in life, which they didn’t have to work for.  Cosmetic procedures are a way of leveling the playing field, for those who were not born beautiful.”  When asked if her very public efforts to promote weight loss and anti-aging are setting unrealistic standards, Belo says it is those who promise implausible benefits through natural means who are misleading the public.  “There’s a limit to what diet and exercise can do.”  For example, diet and exercise cannot get rid of heavy eyebags, which are partly hereditary.          

“Cosmetic surgery can be an act of charity, a priest said that,” says Dr. Florencio Lucero, who has been practicing plastic surgery for almost 30 years, and was chief of the plastic surgery division of the Philippine General Hospital.  Lucero began his career in reconstructive surgery, dealing with cleft palates and burn victims.  He started seeing cosmetic surgery patients in the late 80’s.  He says even back then, the goal of nearly every patient was to look younger.

The formula for the slow death of skin is maddeningly simple:  Age + Sun Damage = Loss of Collagen = Dryness = Lines and Wrinkles.  Early signs of deterioration can be controlled with nary a drop of blood spilt, but most treatments are not permanent.  Maintenance is required every few months.          

Anti-aging creams bought off the shelf are the first line of defense.  Some affordable brands can be as effective as very expensive brands, but benefits are possible only through continuous use.  Simple creams work best as preventive maintenance on skin that is not too damaged.         

Laser resurfacing treatments such as Fraxel can produce results faster than creams (at a much higher cost, of course).  Lasers smooth out fine lines, remove dead skin, reduce hyperpigmentation, fade acne scars, and reduce the size of pores.             

Botulinum toxin type A injections, popularly known by the trade name Botox, are a pro-active way of preventing lines and wrinkles.  When injected under the skin, it stops muscles from contracting, so creases are unable to form.  Not all lines and wrinkles, however, can be treated with Botox.  Those that are visible even when the face is not moving may be too late for Botox to fix.  Botox is also not advised for creases around the mouth, because you cannot talk or eat properly if the muscles near your mouth are paralyzed.         

Deep lines and wrinkles that cannot be treated with Botox can be repaired using injectable fillers.  The most commonly used fillers are collagen, Restylane, and fat.  They are particularly good for plumping up thinning lips and lines around the mouth.   

As time passes, gravity joins the sun in ravaging the face, and skin starts to sag.  Another set of treatments is in order.         

Thermage is a radio frequency treatment that melts fat on the face and creates a tightening and contouring effect.  “It’s for you if your face gets bigger and flabbier as you get older,” says Belo.  “If you’re the type whose face gets thin and haggard,  what you need is a filler.”  One Thermage session can be enough to produce results, but it takes a few months for full effects to show.         

Aptos threading can approximate the effect of a face lift with no need for surgery.  Extremely thin threads are tucked under the skin to pull up areas that are starting to droop.  The threads are kept in place by microscopic teeth, and last as long as five years.         

When aptos is no longer enough to keep the face tight, a face lift is the drastic next step.  Loose skin and fat are removed surgically to keep the face from sagging.  Eye lifts are popular because the eyes are the first to show signs of aging.  In this procedure, a portion of the drooping skin between the eyebrow and the eye is removed to create a smooth, wide-awake look.    

A stem cell transplant procedure pioneered in the Philippines by Dr. Florencio Lucero and Dr. Bill Paspaliaris of Australia is one of the more radical anti-aging treatments available locally.         Stem cells are the building blocks of the human body.  The body malfunctions when stem cells weaken, causing disease and aging.  However, when healthy stem cells are infused back into the body, disorders can be reversed.  Stem cells have been used to treat diseases like Parkinson’s, leukemia, and diabetes.  Used for anti-aging, proponents claim they dramatically increase mental alertness, improve skin texture, and boost physical stamina.         

Stem cell treatments have a controversial history because early practitioners used human embryos to harvest healthy cells.  At Lucero’s clinic, stem cells are sourced from the patient’s own body fat.  “We call it autologous stem cell transplant,” says Dr. Lucero.  “’Autologous’ means from you, and back to you.”  A simplified version of the treatment called Acti-Stem injects a stem cell activator directly to the face to revive collagen production.         

Lucero’s 47-year-old wife Tinette has undergone the stem cell transplant and says she felt the effects soon after.  “Faster than the gingko biloba anti-oxidant I’d been taking for 10 years!  Within a week, I started to feel a change.”                           

Not all are convinced the procedure works, but in the last two years, Lucero says about a hundred people have had the transplant.  It doesn’t come cheap, but money is no object for those determined to restore their lost vitality.  Lucero usually combines the transplant with liposuction (to source fat for harvesting stem cells) and cosmetic surgery, so patients get a complete anti-aging overhaul.  Expectations are not always realistic.  “I can set back the clock at least 10 years, but not 20,” he says.  His wife Tinette adds, “You still have to feed your body right.  Otherwise, you’re back to zero again even after you’ve had treatments.”  The couple put up an organic farm to have a secure supply of chemical-free vegetables at home.   

It is not hard to believe that 60-year-olds can someday look as young as the 30-year-olds of today.  In Ancient Greece, the average person lived only up to age 40, yet today, medical science has extended the average human lifespan to 66.  Aging seems more a result of biochemistry than the passage of time, which is why rabbits are old at 5, but people are young at 15.  But if the quest for youth is really a quest for beauty, and the quest for beauty is a quest for happiness, is stopping the clock the answer?  Will our days be as precious, if we knew we had an unlimited supply of them?  

Perhaps the lines and the wrinkles and the sagging skin exist to remind us of the transitory nature of the world.  We can slow down the inevitable, stretch 66 to 120, make 50 look like 25, but our search for fulfillment will always be beyond the physical.  Even Vicki Belo agrees:  “If you have no meaning in your life, no amount of treatment will make you happy.”  

(This article originally appeared in Marie Claire, October 2008.)