Why. . . Aesthetic Medicine?

by Jessica Nagelkirk

While they might have only been for movie stars in the past, today cosmetic surgery and anti-aging medicine are booming.  The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports almost 9.5 million cosmetic procedures were done in 2010, costing consumers $10.7 billion. That’s not including the countless anti-aging products on the market, often referred to as “cosmeceuticals,” promoted as being more powerful than regular cosmetics.  We’re going to look at the motivation behind all of this spending, the physiology of aging, and some of the unexpected health benefits of aesthetic medicine.

Fine Lines & Wrinkles
Collagen is the main structural component of skin, acting as its glue and structural support. UV light is known to damage collagen, reducing the amount and causing the formation of microscopic contractions that appear as wrinkles. Oral and topical use of antioxidants can provide a good supply of nutrients to the skin that help protect collagen from damage.  Supplements that increase collagen production and reduce damage include:

– Vitamin C Orally:  1,000- 3,000 mg daily
– Vitamin C Topically:  Preliminary evidence shows that the product Cellex-C High Potency Serum reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and roughness, and improves tone.
– Exfoliation using sugar or salt scrubs that contain alpha-hydroxy acids
– Green Tea
– Glucosamine: Popular for arthritis due to its ability to help regenerate connective tissue.  In   skin, it re-generates collagen.
– Vitamin A Topically:  May cause irritation, so use with caution

It is commonly known that increasing intake of antioxidants has widespread benefit throughout many systems of the body and is much more than skin deep, reducing damage to tissue ranging from arteries to brain tissue.

Estrogens are noted to increase the thickness of the skin and promote hydration, creating supple, smooth skin.  A decline in estrogen during menopause is associated with the thinning of the skin, loss of moisture retention, and accelerated aging.  A side effect of hormone replacement therapy is often skin benefits, but there are many negative side effects to this therapy so it is seldom used for its skin benefits alone.  Topical estrogens and phytoestrogens (from plants), however, may have a role in cosmetic applications.  Rodiola, Panax, and Cimicifuga are the best herbs to consider for providing phytoestrogen support to the skin and entire endocrine system without the negative effects associated with estrogen therapy.

Laser therapy may be used to resurface the facial skin.  However, it can be used to kill only the most superficial living skin, which will then flake and shed like a sunburn, revealing younger, temporarily less wrinkled skin.  The results are not dramatic but are pleasing enough to a large number of people that the practice and specialty is growing.

Soft tissue fillers and injections are another cosmetic option.  The difficulty is that the skin does not usually leave such injected materials alone, and they are slowly broken down, so repeated injections are needed.  These treatments also come with some risks, like infection and tissue death.

Light & Heat Energy, (LHE), is a device that delivers gentle pulses of light and heat energy to activate the body’s natural healing ability.  For its wrinkle reduction benefits, it creates mild thermal damage to skin cells that triggers a wound-heal response and new collagen is produced.  This action occurs over a period of a few weeks to a few months, leading to improvement in skin texture and smoothing of fine lines.

The above therapies can be extremely expensive, usually costing well over $1,000 for a series of treatments, so maximizing the skin’s ability to maintain its new, younger appearance is a great motivator for a more healthy lifestyle, and it’s a great way to protect that investment!

Sun Spots
Sun spots have been shown to respond well to laser and light therapies like LHE.  These therapies use light and heat to damage the darker pigmented cells, causing them to die and be brought to the surface of the skin where they are sloughed off.

Topicallly, axelaic acid is noted to inhibit the synthesis of melanin and can be useful for hyperpigmentation disorders.

Spider Veins
Veins contain one-way valves that help encourage blood to flow back to your heart, against gravity.  Spider veins form when these valves stop working properly, allowing blood to pool and dilate the veins.  Spider veins, also known as varicose veins, are the most common vascular disease in the U.S., affecting up to 60% of adults.

One often successful treatment for small spider veins, sclerotherapy, involves injecting an agent into the vein that damages the lining enough to shut the vein down, directing blood to a deeper vein on its path back to the heart.  No anesthesia is required and it has been reported to achieve improvement in 80-90% of cases.  Deeper spider veins may require the use of lasers or surgery to remove the dilated vein.

Some natural therapies that can improve vascular stability include compression stockings, ranging from 18 mmHg to 50 mmHg;  horse chestnut tincture, applied externally;  1/2 tsp. daily of hawthorne solid extract; and regular intake of Vitamin C, flavonoids and antioxidants.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

General Skin Care
The basic anti-aging protocol is to cleanse, protect, and nourish your skin daily.  Wash your face with a natural, gentle cleanser twice daily.  You can mist your face with an herbal or green tea toner for topical antioxidants.  Apply almond, coconut, or jojoba (pronounced “ho-ho-ba”) oil topically in the morning.  Of these, jojoba is the most similar to natural facial oils.  Also apply a good sunscreen every day and use a makeup that contains sunscreen.  (See What is the Best Sun Protection for You in the Summer 2011 issue of Health & Happiness for ingredients to avoid, or go to http://www.skindeep.org.)  Before bed, wash your face and apply toner. Moisturizer is not recommended, as it decreases your body’s natural production of oil, which is important for protecting against wrinkles.

Consider following an anti-inflammatory diet, For more information see Dean Ornish’s book  The Spectrum, or Dr. Jessica Black, ND’s The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book.  Eat five to seven servings of vegetables and fruit daily, focusing on brightly pigmented foods that provide antioxidants and flavonoids.  Sleep at least eight hours per night in a dark, cool room to maximize tissue repair, which happens during deep sleep.  Exercise regularly to improve blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues both inside and out.  Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to support and improve your body’s ability to remove toxins.  Start each day with a full glass of water before breakfast and drink water throughout the day.  Cod liver oil provides omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and support healthy cell membranes.  Proper nutrition and self-care are critical adjuncts to aesthetic medicine.  Consult with your physician to formulate a plan that suits your individual needs.

When people feel good about how they look on the outside, they are often more motivated to take care of their bodies on the inside.  This is the reason that I, as a naturopathic student, have become an advocate for aesthetic medicine.  By taking care of the body on the inside, patients can make the expense and effort involved in these cosmetic procedures worthwhile.  That motivation for improved self-care through better nutrition, more exercise and adopting many other healthy activities, in addition to supporting a person aesthetically, decreases her chances of suffering debilitating medical conditions as she ages.  The connection between looking good and feeling good cannot be separated, and perhaps all the money spent on aesthetic products may not be as frivolous as some may think, due to the improved wellness associated with the healthier lifestyle it encourages.

 Jessica Nagelkirk, medical student at National College of Natural  Medicine in Portland, Oregon will graduate in the spring of 2012  as a Naturopathic Physician (ND).  View her blog at http://modernnaturopath.blogspot.com/p/medicine.html for more articles and resources about natural medicine.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2011 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

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