Is it really possible to look younger without going under the knife?

12 Jan 2022|By Rob Crossan

Using micro-focused ultrasound and radiofrequency technology, treatments like ultherapy and brands like Thermage promise to lighten the bags around ours eye and tighten the skin under our chins

HHow much would you pay to stop looking tired? It was a question I’d been asking myself since late 2020, when I’d grown so tired of solitary daily walks in every local park that I abandoned them in favour of boxsets, biscuits and 14-hour naps.

And yet, despite spending more times in the arms of Morpheus than at any point since I was a new born, I still felt absolutely exhausted. And it was starting to show in the dark rings under my eyes, which could no longer be described so much as bags as industrial-sized postal sacks.

As we emerged into summer 2021, and the sort-of-but-not-really bright-and-breezy post-Covid London, I noticed that those postal sacks weren’t going anywhere; despite my newfound desire for fresh air, fresh fruit and liberal amounts of moderately-expensive moisturiser.

Not only that, but I was developing the start of a noticeably baggier double chin. And although an increased bout of daily walking and rice cakes, broccoli and raison eating removed the lockdown flab from my midriff, the lazy hammock of drooping skin under my chin refused, steadfastly, to retreat back into my neck.

As a man in his early 40s, it was perhaps inevitable that an internal row would begin in my mind; veering between simply accepting that these signs of physical ageing were here to stay, or raging against the dying of the light and doing something about it.

Until very recently, the amount of money needed to head to Harley Street for anti-aging treatments meant that it was only individuals with Coutts cards and who holiday in the south of France that could do so. No longer. Don’t get me wrong: Harley Street isn’t going ‘budget’. But there are at least two relatively new anti-ageing treatments that have migrated over from the States which are attracting people (particularly men) for their competitive price point and speed of delivery. Treatments that can be administered in the time it would take to order and eat eggs benedict in The Wolseley on a busy weekday morning (actually, probably quicker).

The first thing to address: the bags under my eyes.

Having worked in and around Harley Street for the past 17 years (she’s currently located in nearby Upper Wimpole Street), Dr Angelica Kouvani was one of the first surgeons in the UK to start using a brand called Thermage. Bright, chatty and hugely hospitable, Dr Kouvani explained a little bit more about how Thermage (a brand name, rather than a type of procedure) works.

“At its core, it’s basically a skin tightening treatment,” she said. “It’s a non-invasive treatment that uses radio-frequency energy that produces heat to help the skin.” Thermage, Dr Kouvani continued, can be used on both the face and the body, the treatment stimulating the formation of collagen in the skin. Jennifer Anniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are apparently big fans, both having long eschewed Botox in favour of Thermage.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who has confessed to being a fan of Thermage (arriving at the amFAR Gala, Hollywood, 2019)

So what was going to happen during the 45-60 minutes that I’d be in the room? “Firstly, the area to be treated gets prepped”, said Dr Kouvani. “We clean it with an anti-septic. Then we make some markings to define where I’ll do the treatment and identify the areas where I need to use higher energy. Then we apply the electrode, which looks a bit like a little bath mat, to your back. This safeguards against any burns and controls the temperature. Then we apply the electrode that delivers the energy onto the area to be treated. It’s a closed circuit so it goes through the electrode to the skin and then to the electrode on your back and then back into the device – nothing travels to anywhere else in the body.”

Covers were put over my eyes and soon I could feel a sensation akin to small needle pricks around my eye sockets, strange considering that there’s no needle involved. The electrode that Dr Kouvani uses looks like a thick ballpoint pen but the nib is flat and gives out micro-pulses. It’s mildly uncomfortable but nothing to get worked up about.

“The increase I’ve seen in male patients coming to use this treatment is tremendous,” says Dr Kouvani, “particularly among younger men in their 30s and early 40s.” Whereas Dr Kouvani used to treat less than 40 male patients a year, that number has increased to more than 100.

“You’ll start to really see the difference after about six weeks,” she says, “although the effects will last for up to two years. Patients in their 30s and 40s only need to come back for another treatment every two to three years.”

Another Thermage fan, Jennifer Aniston, attending the premiere of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, 2019

The non-invasive, long-lasting benefits of Thermage are obvious and, whereas once the price might have been off putting, the cost is coming down year by year.

My treatment cost £2,000, which is a lot of money. But stretch that over the three years that it will have a positive impact and you’re looking at less than £700 a year. A lot of men will spend more than that on haircuts and grooming products every 12 months.

“What I have here is the third generation device,” says Dr Kouvani. “I got the first one in 2012. Back then, a treatment cost £4,500 and it was a lot more painful.”

Sessions of Thermage cost from £2,000

Next to address: that increasingly slack double (triple?) chin.

Further down Harley Street, a similarly discreet doorway leads to the clinic of Dr Ariel Haus; a native of Brazil and one of the UK’s leading practitioners of another non-invasive anti-ageing treatment, ultherapy.

Administered in 45-minute sessions, ultherapy also claims to help tighten sagging skin through micro-focused ultrasound technology, which triggers the growth of natural collagen. Like Thermage, ultherapy also promises results that can last up to two years. It sounds unfathomably easy. The cost? £3,000.

“The jawline really does affect the whole face when it comes to the ageing process,” says Dr Haus, as he guides me to a dental chair in his immense office, which is all parquet flooring, ceiling frescos and modish furniture.

Dr Haus presses a handheld device, which looks like a mobile phone from the 1980s, against my neck and moves it around slowly while what feels like very minor pin pricks of tiny electric shocks coarse into my skin. There’s even a concomitant crackling sound.

Dr Ariel Haus of Dr Haus Dermatology

It sounds slightly disturbing but the process is strangely serene. It’s not entirely without pain, but, frankly, is nothing compared to the minor irritation of, let’s say, stubbing your toe on a pedal bin.

While he’s working on me, Dr Haus explains that the ultrasound energy initiates the body’s healing response, stimulating the production of collagen. This leads to the skin lifting and tightening over time. Not bad for what feels like a slightly uncomfortable clean shaving experience in what could be London’s most distinguished-looking barbershop.

A week on from both treatments and I know that the real effects won’t be seen for a few months, which I consider the ultimate piece of delayed gratification after more than a year of lockdown solitude.

“It’s very straight forward,” says Dr Kouvani. “This is just an investment in the future of your skin.” It’s an investment that, for me, is already yielding returns with friends (who had no idea I was having the treatments) remarking that I’m looking healthier, trimmer and happier.

That may seem like a lot of money for a mild ego trip from friends. But, as the weeks roll by and I noticeably see my chin tighten and the bags under my eyes diminish, I feel I’ve invested wisely. A week in the South of France can wait. This long-haul trip to a younger me is, with respect to the Côte d’Azur, a far more satisfying journey.

For more information on Thermage treatments at the Ion Kavouni clinic, visit ionkavounilondon.com; for more information on Ultherapy treatments at the Dr Haus clinic, visit drhausdermatology.com

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