Cosmetic Treatments and the Anti-Aging Spectrum

Due partially to lack of information, and competing interests of various companies, there is a lot of confusion over what various types of cosmetic procedures offer, and what they cost. This article briefs the various beautifying options, and what each offers.

Although history of cosmetic procedures can arguably be traced back to the ancients, it is only in recent decades that procedures like filler injections and facelifts have become popular among the regular working and middle class. Botox used to treat frown lines was not approved by the FDA until 2002. What was long considered a symbol of excess wealth and vanity--reserved only for Hollywood stars, have now become mainstream. The costs of these procedures have become far more affordable, and there have been vast improvements in safety, recovery time, flexibility, and efficacy. There are now more than 10 million cosmetic procedures performed every year in the United States alone, and social attitudes towards cosmetic procedures are rapidly changing as they have become more mainstream.

Still, cosmetic procedures—anything more than applying topical creams—remains an unknown world for many people. Is it safe? Does it really work? Is the “better than Botox” cream for $19.99 the same as a procedure? This is a very high level overview of the common types of anti-aging treatments in terms of efficacy, cost, safety profile, and expectations. It is not a comprehensive breakdown of each procedure—you will need to consult with your physician for this—but it will give you an idea of what you can expect.

Efficacy, costs, risks, and recovery time:

EFFICACY Low/temporary Moderate High
COST Low Moderate High
RISKS Low Low to Moderate Moderate to High

Generally, from left to right, efficacy, costs, recovery time, and risk all increase. It’s important to note that anti-aging products may not be cost-effective in the long-term for what it offers (A high end cream used over decades can add up), but the one-time cost is low. In the middle are what many call “soft procedures,” which do not cut the skin like surgeries, but do come with risks that are not associated with simply using a skin cream. It’s important to note that these are relative risks; for exact details, you will need to consult the doctor that offers the services.

Anti-aging creams:

Most people are familiar with anti-aging creams and topical treatments that are available over the counter. They have limited concentrations of active ingredients, and its effect on the skin are often limited and temporary. These creams are not drugs—they do not alter the function of any cell. Unfortunately, as they do not have the stringent regulations on labelling that is seen in drugs, extravagant claims are all too common in this type of product. Many anti-aging products have additional ingredients that have antioxidant properties that can benefit the skin, but their efficacy is still limited by the skin’s ability to absorb the nutrients. These are the least risky anti-aging options, but it’s important not to have unrealistic expectations of the benefits that they can provide.

Soft Procedures:

Soft procedures include a wide array of treatments that have a low recovery time. Typically these treatments allow the patient to return to work on the same day that the procedures are performed, and are the fastest growing market in cosmetic enhancement. Common procedures include Botox and other neurotoxins to freeze muscle-induced wrinkles on the upper face, and dermal fillers to plump up the skin. The effects of these procedures typically last for 6 to 18 months, and costs range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on how much of the fillers are used, the doctor performing the procedure, and the location and relative demand for the procedure. Lasers and ligh-based treatments also commonly fall into cosmetic procedures, and can be used to treat specific concerns.

Dr. Shannon Humphrey on fillers, a soft procedure:

Cosmetic Surgery:

Cosmetic surgery is the most powerful option available for anti-aging, and can set back the “biological clock” by up to 10 years. These surgical procedures are defined by cutting into the skin to perform the procedures, and carry the risks inherent in any open procedure. There are many types of surgical procedures with varying end goals.

The exact costs of the surgical procedure will vary depending on the type of procedure, performing surgeon, location of the clinic, and other factors, but generally it will start at a few thousand dollars. Surgical procedures are serious procedures—they are elective surgeries, and many procedures require that the patient quit smoking several weeks prior to procedure. Smoking increases the risk of complications from any surgical procedure significantly, and some surgeons may find the risks unacceptable. Open communication with the doctor about expectations, costs, and risks, are absolutely essential. Cosmetic surgery requires the most commitment and has a higher cost, but also promises the most substantial and lasting improvement in terms of appearance.