Dr Asheena Mehra calls it the fire ’n ice room. It’s stocked with ‘mesomega guns’, that is, syringe guns that move a fine needle like a sewing machine to microinject the scalp at 150-200 shots per minute. There are ampoules of compounds for injection, a small rackful from the materia medica of skin and hair treatments—cartinine, phosphatidylcholine, glutathione and glycolic acid. A gun is primed with a concoction for injection into Reema’s scalp to reach and revitalise the mesoderm (the skin’s inner layer). Conducted without anaesthesia, this ‘mesotherapy’ will be a fire-and-ice experience. She hopes it will revive her once lustrous hair, lost in clumps to a hormonal imbalance.
The machine-gun assault by a needle on her scalp brings a film of tears to Reema’s eyes. This is her third session, but she’s hanging on gamely. “When I started balding five years ago, I thought the damage was irreversible,” says the 35-year-old beauty parlour manager, just about smiling. “I was haplessly experimenting with therapies.” But she is resolute she wants her hair back.
In the brightly lit area of the Delhi Dermatology & Allergy Clinic, the buzz among patients is happy and as bright. Like Reema, they are part of a growing trend of people who are opting for a range of non-invasive cosmetic procedures—with names like ‘Dracula and vampire’ therapy, thermage, threadlift, microcurrent facelifts. The methods are new, the driving purpose age-old: the need to keep looking young and good. “The demand is huge,” says Dr Ahmed Zaheer, head of dermatology at Max Healthcare. “Some patients seek minor alterations, others are just not interested in the surgical option. These procedures are less expensive, less painful, less disruptive than say, a facelift or nose repair, which also take weeks of recovery time.”
Feeding the fad for such treatments is some hype and a borderline science as difficult to debunk as to defend with evidence. The procedures may be new to India, but they have done the global rounds. Most of these non-invasive procedures cost Rs 3,000-20,000 per session; a treatment can last 10-15 sessions. Another patient-bait is the comparable affordability over surgery. Since February, when Dr Asheena started shooting her mesogun, the patient count has risen to touch 25 per week—from beauty-concious college students to middle-aged uncles and aunties.
The science talk convinces many an edgy customer. In ‘Dracula and vampire’ therapy, the patient’s blood is withdrawn and the platelet-rich plasma separated. Injected, its ‘baby cells’ aid rejuvenation, say therapists, who offer it for scar removal and improving dry, rough or patchy skin. In any case, a soupcon of vain hope is all it takes to silence scepticism.
“Medical advances in beauty, higher disposable incomes and rising awareness allow people to pick from seemingly problematic options. With experienced doctors, these procedures hardly ever go wrong; if they do, they can be rectified,” says Dr Jamuna Pai, consultant aesthetic and cosmetic physician at Blush Clinics, Mumbai. Another popular procedure is ‘back of the hand’ therapy that promises to plump up the skin with fillers of hyaluronic acid, hiding ropey veins (the back of the hand is a common problem area) and correcting hollows created by punishing weight-loss regimens.
Buyers seeking the unblemished look are willing to go the extra distance to experiment, and doctors, including some with full-fledged degrees in dermatology, have sensed a business opportunity. But sociologists are worried at the skin-deep ethos. Says Indrani Bari, a Calcutta-based sociologist, “The obsession with looks, especially among youngsters, is quite alarming. Demanding jobs, economic independence, peer and parental pressure, as well as the thinking that you can pass any test if you score full marks in that department, all contribute to this one-pointedness.”
Consultant dermatologist Dr Manish Pahwa says that these days, there are many people visiting doctors out of concern for their looks—and the belief that it has now become easier to make their imagined and real appearances match. “This is driven both by societal factors and, of course, medical technology,” he says. “But it’s the responsibility of doctors to cater to these people within the limits of medical ethics. And anyone seeking medication should have realistic expectations of the outcome.” Doctors also warn that the decision to alter one’s looks calls for careful consideration. Says Dr Zaheer, “Experimenting with new technology is good so long as quacks and random clinics don’t start flourishing and dupe people into believing in overnight transformation. It’s only the real doctors who can deliver change.”
But sceptics and hard-nosed psychologists will still have no truck with the vanity and the hardsell that drives the cosmetic business. They could find alliance in people like Naresh Arora, a Delhi-based naturopath, who says it’s time we fell back on natural processes of healing instead of obsessing over what doesn’t really need altering. “Eat healthy, drink enough water and exercise: that’s the key to good health,” he says. And, one might add, think straight.
Dracula and vampire therapy
The Microneedle Is The New Lancet
Ageing gracefully now has become a lost tradition (The Bloodless Vampire Glow, Sep 9), courtesy all these new-age skin treatment methods. The day will come when a child will be unable to differentiate between his sister, mother and grandmother.
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