There are plenty of medical reasons for people to visit skin specialists. But those medical visits don’t account for a global industry that is estimated to be worth US$121 billion in 2016. For many people, skin treatments are about looking good and the confidence that comes along with that.
Kay Manuel runs Scalp Aesthetics out of The Cutting Room Salon & Spa on 121st Street. There, she practices Scalp Micropigmentation (SMP) – basically tattooing the heads of people who have hair-loss issues. The treatment gives a client the permanent appearance of a close-cropped buzzcut.
“I’ve had guys who, really and truthfully, their personalities change once they’ve had it done. That’s the best thing about it,” she says. “Guys that still keep in contact with me, they’re like, ‘Hi Kay! You don’t realize what you did for me!’ They think somehow I’ve saved them from misery.”
While many of Manuel’s clients are men ranging in age from 19 to their 50s, women also file through her doors. Some of them are suffering from alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss in patches all over the body.
“For a woman to lose her hair – hair is everywhere. Shampoo commercials with women with long flowing hair, flicking it over their shoulders. If you can imagine a woman that’s lost her hair – to lose their hair and their eyebrows as well – you’re losing a part of yourself,” she says.
Meanwhile, at his clinic in Sherwood Park, Dr. Vance Elliott administers a number of rejuvenating treatments, including injectable fillers, laser hair removal, photofacial treatments and cosmetic muscle relaxants like Botox and Dysport.”They don’t come in – at least not to me – saying, ‘I want a different nose.’ It’s usually, ‘I want to look a little fresher,’ or, ‘I want to look less tired or more rested’ – and often, a little younger,” he says.
“Most of my patients are just looking for a little bit of help in those areas. They’re not looking for radical stuff.”
Photofacial treatments use a type of laser light to remove excess pigmentation and reduce the appearance of small blood vessels in the skin.
With cosmetic muscle relaxants, patients often have fears about looking “frozen” or unnatural. But Elliott, who has had these sorts of treatments as part of his practice for the past 11 years, says that, if you’re in good hands, those fears are unfounded.
“You can certainly create that appearance if you overdo it. If the face doesn’t move and there’s no expression, that doesn’t look normal,” says Elliott, adding that most careful physicians will counsel patients away from wanting that sort of look.”The problem is that patients don’t get to see good results in others, because you can’t see good results. Those faces just look like normal people.So the art in doing it is to minimize or take away expression that we don’t want, such as frowning, but still leave the face normally animated.”
He adds, though, that fillers – which replace the facial volume that we lose as we age – might be a better option for patients looking to restore the “round, full contours of youth.” These fillers are gels containing hyaluronic acid, a substance that is naturally found in the human body.
“In skilled hands, you can create a much greater improvement in the face with volume replacement than you can with purely relaxing muscle,” Elliott says.
Manuel’s hands also have to be very skilled to administer SMP treatments. She first read about the procedure on the Internet in 2013, and went to British Columbia for training before setting up shop in Edmonton.
For a whole head, SMP can take up to 12 hours total – three appointments of three to four hours each. The ink is specially made, but can fade in sunlight like other tattoo inks, so Manuel always does a test patch first.
“There is some fading; it is always darker to start with. But it should last a reasonable amount of time,” she says. “And the pigments we use, they’re not iron oxide. Iron oxide pigments tend to fade and go into the body. The ones we use are carbon-based, so they stay for longer.”Manuel describes the actual procedure as “like mosquito bites over and over again.”
She administers topical anaesthetics while doing it, but her patients’ tolerance for pain can vary wildly.
“One guy was an ex-football player, at least 250 pounds. It didn’t matter what anaesthetic I put on – he felt everything. … And then I’ve had people who weigh 120 pounds who say, ‘Have you started yet?'”
As the skin treatment industry continues to grow, Elliott expects treatments to evolve alongside it. He is starting to use more and more permanent fillers like Bellafill – a collagen gel containing microspheres – and silicon, noting that he’s seeing more demand from patients for these products, making them the fastest-growing area of his practice.
“It simply gives patients an alternative to the temporary fillers that last eight to 12 months,” he says. “With permanent fillers, you’re buying, not renting.”