After we’ve enjoyed summer’s sun, winter is the time to repair and rejuvenate our precious skin. ELSA KRÜGER offers practical advice about available treatments.
It’s winter and many natural processes have slowed down, giving us humans time to reflect, revive and repair. In terms of our skin, this can be a period of assessment and transformation. We first assess environmental damage, then harness procedures and treatments so that we can emerge in spring with a brighter, healthier skin.
The most obvious environmental damage to skin is photoageing, the effect of our glorious African sun on the skin that leaves it wrinkled, leathery, dull and patchily pigmented, and can result in malignant skin cancer. Patchy pigmentation, also known as hyperpigmentation, is extremely common among all races in South Africa and manifests as spots, blotches, freckles or mottled areas that are darker than the surrounding skin. According to an American study, the problem of photoageing should be tackled on three levels. The first level is simple: prevent and protect. Avoid the sun between 10:00 and 16:00, wear protective clothing (a hat) and use sunscreen.
The second level involves the use of topical skincare as well as oral antioxidants and supplements. However, once the damage has been done, the heavy artillery needs to be rolled out: at the third level, chemical peels and laser treatments are the weapons of choice.
Peel it off
Our bodies naturally shed skin cells – about 40,000 per hour or one million per day. It’s a natural process and vital for keeping the skin in top health. There are approximately 1.6 trillion skin cells in the body, but each one lives only for about three weeks. Then it drops off, making space for a new cell. This is one of the processes that slow down as we get older.
A chemical skin peel does as its name suggests: it helps the body to ‘peel’ away old skin cells in order to speed up the regeneration process. Peels are classified as superficial (or light), medium depth and deep. Some can be completed in a lunch hour, but the stronger the concentration of chemicals, the longer the recovery time needed.
- A light peel results in little to no flaking and requires no downtime. It is suitable for treating dark spots and fine lines and wrinkles. The acids used are typically salicylic, glycolic and kojic.
- A medium-depth peel requires 4–7 days’ downtime. Generally containing trichloroacetic (TCA) acid at concentrations of 35% or less, it is useful for treating significant sun damage, acne scars, sunspots and dark circles.
- A deep peel requires 7–10 days’ downtime. It contains TCA at concentrations higher than 50% and targets more serious skin problems such as severe acne, sagging skin or excessive sun damage. It should be carried out by a doctor or an expert trained in peeling procedures.
Various chemical skin peels are used to treat hyperpigmentation and other signs of ageing:
- Glycolic acid peels comprise alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and are one of the mildest of the superficial skin peels. Used to treat epidermal hyperpigmentation, they are an ideal lunchtime peel since there’s no downtime after the treatment.
- Salicylic acid peels are ideal for blemishes and acne. They exfoliate the top layers of skin and have an antibacterial effect to help clean and renew pores.
- TCA peels are generally stronger and, as they penetrate more deeply than other peels, they are used to treat deep-seated pigmentation. TCA peels cause the skin to shed visibly and usually require downtime.
- Jessner peels comprise resorcinol, salicylic acid and lactic acid and are effective for the treatment of epidermal melasma. These very deep peels tackle stubborn, re-occurring acne.
Laser technology to the rescue
Resurfacing the skin by laser or micro-dermabrasion can keep one looking younger for longer and many people opt for a laser facelift rather than the plastic surgeon’s scalpel. Laser treatments can address a range of skin conditions (pigmentation, inflammation, rosacea, dullness, wrinkles) and winter is the best time for them as it is easier to avoid direct sunlight for a day or two. The skin will be red and sensitive after most treatments and sunscreen must be applied.
Many different laser procedures are available and choosing a particular one should be done in consultation with an aesthetic practitioner:
- CO² and erbium laser resurfacing treatments require longer healing time, but the results are excellent.
- Ablative fractional resurfacing, commonly known as Fraxel laser, is the most popular treatment due to its relatively short healing time and great results. It uses laser energy to create thousands of microscopic channels in the skin that are surrounded by areas of healthy, untreated skin. The treated areas stimulate production of new collagen, plumping up the skin and smoothing out wrinkles, lines, scars and other irregularities. Popular areas to treat are wrinkles and lines on the face, neck, chest, and hands, and lines around the mouth.
- Non-ablative fractional resurfacing requires shorter downtime because only superficial wounds are made. It’s a popular treatment for minor skin imperfections such as dullness, sunspots and large pores, and it’s painless and quick.
- The Halo hybrid fractional laser delivers both ablative and non-ablative wavelengths to the same microscopic treatment zone. This dual-wavelength feature means you can attain great results with minimal downtime.
Good to know: It can take up to six months to see the full effect of these treatments, as collagen stimulation continues long after the final session.
Intense Pulsed Light
Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a form of heat and light therapy that personalises each treatment for individual skin types and conditions. The skin absorbs light waves and converts them into heat, which instils new life into cellular tissues like elastin and collagen. The treatment addresses pigmentation, loss of firmness, facial spider veins, rosacea, acne and enlarged pores, adds an instant radiance to the skin and requires little or no downtime. It is relatively quick and most successful in a course of several sessions. The most advanced version of IPL is BroadBand Light which, with great precision, treats fine wrinkles, age and sun spots, small facial veins, broken capillaries and other skin blemishes.
Ablative laser treatments destroy or break down tissue by burning and creating small microchannels vertically into the skin. They usually require downtime or a recovery period.
Non-ablative laser treatments target blemishes by incorporating a light-based device without destroying tissue or breaking the skin, thus shortening the recovery period.
The eyes: Since masks have become mandatory outdoor wear, the eyes are gaining in significance and treatments for eyelids and eyebrows are trending. The Plexr non-surgical eye lift is relatively painless, safe, quick and affordable and it delivers almost instant results. Wrinkles and permanent expression lines are erased, upper and lower eyelids can be treated simultaneously, and the procedure takes 20-30 minutes, with little or no downtime.
The neck: The neck and décolleté are often left out of skincare regimens, resulting in signs of ageing such as ‘turkey neck’, prominent neck bands, sagging skin and wrinkles. Treatments involving Fraxel laser or Ulthera radio frequency sessions, peels or, more recently, skin-lifting threads can achieve remarkable results, rejuvenating an ageing neck by stimulating collagen, removing excess pigmentation and redness, and tightening up the skin.