anti-aging treatments

After numerous questions and comments about how various anti-aging facial treatments and procedures work and differ from one another, we are putting together a glossary. Please regard this as a work in progress that we will keep adding to and improving. So, if you’d like us to add a treatment, just leave a comment.

Botox, medically known as Botulinum Toxin Type A, is an injectable compound that disrupts the release of acetylcholine, which essentially paralyzes the muscle and stops the contraction. Results are fully evident within one week after treatment and remain for a minimum of three months. Studies on animals have shown that Botox can migrate to the brain.

Chemical Peels are when a chemical solution is applied to the skin, which causes it to "blister" and eventually peel off. There are three types of peels. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) — such as glycolic, lactic, or fruit acids — are the mildest of the formulas and produce a light peel. These peels may cause stinging, redness, and crustiness. Weeping scabs are considered normal providing they clear up after a couple of days. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is a deeper peel that requires a couple of days of recovery time according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. However, you’d probably empty the subway if you went out after only 48 hours. Phenol peels work on removing really deep wrinkles. Considerable swelling, oozing and crustiness can be expected afterward and they should only be attempted if followed by two weeks off from work. The upside is results that can last years. Read more on chemical peels.

Dermaplaning requires the use of a sterile, surgical scalpel to gently "shave" the skin's surface, removing the top-most layer of dead skin along with fine, vellus hair (aka peach fuzz). Physical exfoliation triggers the cell regeneration process and allows products to better penetrate skin. Some practitioners perform a chemical peel post-dermaplaning. Read more on dermaplaning.

Dysport (also called Reloxin) is an anti-aging treatment that works in exactly the same way as Botox, but is typically less expensive. It is said that the effects are more immediate (1-2 days against Botox’s 3-5) and last longer than Botox. However, Allergan, the maker of Botox, counters that Dysport is more likely to cause antibodt formation. Read more about Dysport.

Fraxel is a kind of laser anti-aging treatment that, instead of putting out a solid beam, it puts out lots of very tiny beams (fractionated) that punch microscopic holes in the skin. This approach means that damaged tissue can be targeted, leaving healthy tissue unscathed. Three to five sessions are required about two weeks apart.

HydraFacial exfoliates (similar to microdermabrasion) while simultaneously hydrating skin with water. A treatment is approximately 15 minutes and painless, usually with immediate, visible effects after one treatment. It is marketed as a specialized facial designed for all skin types, even sensitive skin (but not rosacea), and treats a variety of skin issues, including acne (not cystic), fine lines and hyperpigmentation. There is no skin irritation or downtime needed, and the smoothness and hydration should last five to seven days. The procedure employs two types of exfoliation: a gentle version of crystal-free microdermabrasion and a mild, pneumatic chemical peel. Skin is hydrated throughout the facial with water infused with antioxidants and vitamins dispensed from a wand connected to the system. Read more on Hydrafacial.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is not a laser per se. It uses broad-spectrum pulses of light which are absorbed into the skin where they eliminate excessive and enlarged blood vessels and brown marks. A computer-regulated light pulse heats a portion of the skin. This removes the unwanted tissue while it spares or avoids the surrounding healthy or “normal” tissue. This is because both long and short wavelengths of light can be delivered allowing better targeting than a traditional laser. Read more about IPL.

Jet Peel A handheld device sprays a high velocity jet stream of sterile saline solution and compressed oxygen on the skin. (The liquid/oxygen combination is the only thing that ever touches your skin.) Benefits from the procedure are deep cleansing, exfoliation, hydration, oxygenating and micro-circulating of the treated area. A Jet Peel can help in treating clogged pores, acne and blackheads, scars, skin discoloration and multiple signs of aging. Also, there is no down time required afterward. Read more on Jet Peel.

Laser treatments remove a layer of skin so that the new skin can flourish and fill in the wrinkles and crevices. An ablative laser facial is like a sandblast, removing the epidermis, or outermost layer of your skin, to reveal a smoother surface below. Typically you would receive topical anesthesia, local anesthesia, and intravenous sedation so that you are awake, but not fully aware. Temporary side effects including swelling, red crusted skin and discomfort. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the national average surgeon's fee for ablative laser skin resurfacing is $2,128. Titan Laser is an example of a non-ablative laser treatment. Read more about laser skincare treatments.

LED is light emitting diode with a low-level power output that uses red light (visible) and infra-red light (invisible). LED is much gentler than intense pulse light (IPL) or laser resurfacing. It works by stimulating the body’s tissues to convert the light energy into cellular energy. It boosts collagen production and scavenger cells that remove excess pigmentation or scar tissue. According to German researchers, it works by changing the molecular structure of a glue-like layer of water on elastin, the protein that provides elasticity in skin, blood vessels, heart and other body structures. The light strips away those water molecules that are involved in the immobilization of elastin, gradually restoring its elastic function and thus reducing facial wrinklesSessions cost in the region of $120 for about 20 minutes and are repeated monthly. There are different LED colors and they perform different functions. For example, red LED light is for wrinkle repair, rosacea and broken veins. Blue or violet LED light is for treating acne. Blue light works on acne by penetrating the skin and producing singlet oxygen, which can destroy acne-causing bacteria. Read more about LED.

Microcurrent uses a subsensory electric current that delivers a pulse to the facial muscles and stimulates them and the surrounding tissue. The theory is that microcurrent improves the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical in muscles that provides energy. It’s supposed to increase elastin by 48% and collagen by 14%. The effects are cumulative and the muscles are purported to “remember” where they are supposed to be (eg: lifted, not sagging). Regular (monthly) salon treatments are an effective face firmer, especially augmented with an at-home device for maintenance. I do both and am a big believer. Read more about microcurrent.

Microdermabrasion is a form of exfoliation that removes the top layer of dead skin cells and uneven, thicker layers of skin. Professional machines use crystal and diamond microdermabrasion tips. The crystals are sprayed and the machine follows by vacuuming them.  The suction or vacuum action also serves to pull the skin closer to the sandy disc in order to abrade the skin and remove dead cells. Home devices use crystal or diamond tips, however, unlike with professional machines, the amount of suction cannot be controlled. Microdermabrasion can be helpful for mild sun damage but will not remove sunspots in the way that laser will. 

Micro-needling is a treatment that constitutes a form of Collagen Induction Therapy (CIT). It is also referred to as a non-ablative skin treatment. This means that the deeper parts of the skin are treated without removing the top layer of skin. Little needle pricks serve to cause bleeding. As a result, the skin perceives that it has undergone a trauma, and it starts to produce collagen to repair the wounds. There are 300 perforations made per square centimeter of skin treated. Needle depths typically range from 0.25 mm, which only affects the epidermis, to 2.5 mm, which can reach the reticular dermis. Micro-needling can be performed by a dermaroller, dermastamp or dermapen. Read more on microneedling.

Mesotherapy — also called lipolysis, lipozap, lipotherapy, or lipodissolve — is unregulated and there are no standard procedures. Mesotherapy uses a cocktail of fat cell busting medications, vitamins and plant extracts. No two doctors will necessarily administer the same cocktail. Some seem to use an emphysema drug called aminophylline. Consumer beware: the FDA has issued a warning about mesotherapy that you can read here.

Pellevé Wrinkle Reduction System is, at least, according to its manufacturer, the next-generation high frequency radiowave technology.  One way of thinking about Pellevé — given FDA clearance in May 2009. Billed as a painless alternative to Thermage, it works by heating where the skin and fat layer come together, resulting in the denaturation of collagen fibers. This takes place at 41°C.  Cost is typically $700 to $1200 and two sessions 30 days apart are recommended. The results of newly formed collagen won’t be seen for about three months. It is supposed to last 18 month.  Read more about Pelleve.

PermaLip implant is a one-time procedure and, unlike injectable fillers, PermaLip can’t redistribute into an undesired portion of the lip, an ugly and obvious sign of having used lip fillers. However, silicone fillers can become hard and migrate in time. See silicone fillers below and Read more about PermaLip.

Restylane and other impermanent, injectable fillers simply worked by providing volume and puffing out the face (especially around the nasolabial folds. The substance injected in a Restylane treatment is sodium hyaluronate. According to an independent study, Restylane relaxes the fibroblasts, which are then re-stretched by the filler, and form collagen. So it may also be doing more than just a temporary job. Read more about Restylane.

Rhytec Portrait Plasma is another high frequency machine. It can be painful and result in damaged skin. People complain about burns, scars, infections, and worsened hyperpigmentation. Some even say that their wrinkles are worse after the procedure.

Sculptra is also called the liquid facelift. It was approved by the FDA in 2005 to plump up the hollowed cheeks of ultra-thin kidney or AIDs patients. Sculptra is made of poly-lactic acid and is injected to add volume beneath the surface of the skin. It is claimed that Sculptra actually stimulates production of collagen. However, I haven’t been able to verify that with any hard evidence. Claims that this is one of those lunchtime treatments that will have you back at your desk before anyone will miss you are also not borne out by studies or anecdotal reports. The cost ranges from around $800 to $3,000, depending on the number of vials used and how many areas are done. Results are supposed to last up to two years.

Selphyl is also known as the vampire filler. Platelets and fibrin are removed from the patients’ blood and then inject the substance into the patient’s face. Skin cell growth and collagen support is supposed to occur as a result. There are no independent studies that prove these claims as of yet. Read more about Selphyl.

Silicone fillers. Liquid silicone is used off-label to fill wrinkles, furrows and acne scars or add volume to lips and cheeks. It is less expensive than fillers like collagen and Restylane (a gel made of hyaluronic acid) and it is easy to work with. But most of all they like silicone because it is permanent. Once silicone hardens, it can also migrate to other parts of the body. Injected silicone is a controversial substance. The Journal of Toxicology reported that silicone injections led to multi-organ failure. Research collected by the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee (PSC) for the National Breast Implant Litigation shows that silicone has marked effects on the adrenal glands and liver, induces chronic inflammation, and degrades into smaller molecules, including silica.

Thermage is a high frequency treatment. It is notable for being painful and results are inconsistent and often disappointing. In 2008 the FDA declared that Thermage had been cleared to introduce its Thermatip CL system for the “temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite”. However, results are not convincing and may even make it look worse. Read more about Thermage.

Ulthera System was launched in 2010, has been FDA cleared and approved to use the word “lift” It uses ultrasound and delivers a focused beam of heat (about 60 degrees celsius) for 20 mili-seconds. This induces production of more elastin and collagen. A full face treatment costs in the region of $2,500 to $3,000, but is supposed have permanent results. Read more about Ulthera.

Ultrasound Therapeutic ultrasound frequency ranges from 1-3 MHz. The higher the frequency, the less effective the ultrasound is. Ergo, 2 is stronger than 5. Ultrasound for the face is typically 3MHz. As the ultrasound waves pass from the treatment head to the skin, they cause a vibration of the surrounding tissues, particularly those that contain collagen. It is important to note that this is not a thermal therapy like Ulthera (see below). The idea is that the rapid oscillation of tissue created by ultrasound energy promotes movement of fluid waves against cells, facilitating movement between the inner and outer cells and thereby increased fibroblastic activity and collagen formation. Read more on how ultrasound works

Vi Peel consists of a blend of trichloroacetic acid, Retin-A, salicylic acid, phenol and vitamin C. Retin-A is a proven wrinkle fighter, TCA can relieve the skin of fine wrinkles and surface blemishes, salicylic acid is an exfoliant and an anti-inflammatory agent, vitamin C stimulates collagen and battles wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and phenol provides long lasting solutions to major issues such as deep set wrinkles. Read more on the Vi Peel.

Note: This article was last updated on September 4, 2014


Marta Wohrle is an anti-aging skin care and beauty expert and the founder/CEO of Truth In Aging. Marta is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind anti-aging product claims.