Thursday, 24 April, 2014

Published December 21, 2013
Shedding light on fountain of youth
US dermatologist Patrick Bitter, who discovered Intense Pulsed Light therapy for ageing skin, develops the next generation of light treatment called BBL Forever Young. By Jaime Ee
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BBL Forever Young goes beyond the skin surface, stimulating changes at the molecular level and literally making old skin cells young again. Before treatment (left) and after treatment (right). - PHOTO: PATRICK BITTER

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MAYBE people who say money can't buy happiness never got what they paid for? You'd be unhappy too, if you spent hundreds or even thousands on beauty products and regimes promising to return your ageing skin to its 20-something collagen-enriched self, only to be reminded once again that this is how the beauty industry makes its money - by selling hope in a jar with minimal results.

But what if someone came up to you and said that they could not only give you youthful skin but skin that continues to get younger with regular treatments? Do you dismiss him as just another snake oil salesman, or would you be vain enough to at least hear him out?

In this case, the person in question - Patrick Bitter - does make a rather convincing case. For one, the California-based dermatologist made his name as the founder of the IPL (intense pulsed light) photo-facial which uses the light-based therapy to remove scars and rejuvenate the skin. The popular method was first introduced in Singapore in 2000 but of late, Dr Bitter has progressed beyond IPL to a newer technology called BroadBand Light, for which he was recently in town for.

The technology comes from a machine built by the Palo Alto company Sciton, which approached Dr Bitter seven years ago to develop a technique for anti-ageing treatments. Essentially a more powerful IPL machine, it uses a broader spectrum of both infrared and visible light to penetrate the skin layers, which is supposed to be more effective than IPL's single wavelength. The real kicker, though, is that this new therapy, aptly named BBL Forever Young, goes beyond the skin surface, stimulating changes at the molecular level and literally making old skin cells young again.

"I did a study with the dermatology department at Stanford University which was designed to look at ageing cells and the expression of the genes," explains Dr Bitter, who published the results of the study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. "We know there's a difference between old and young skin cells in terms of how the genes are read. Essentially, this technology can, with no downtime, change old skin cells and make them look like young skin cells. Regular treatment helps to keep these old skin cells young, and the results we have had of patients over the years is that they look like they have hardly aged at all."

New discovery

In fact, this is a relatively new discovery that people aren't really aware of, says Dr Bitter. BBL technology has been around for around seven years but while they knew about its effectiveness in rejuvenating the skin, "we didn't know that if you did it regularly, it could slow down and even stop ageing".

But put any Benjamin Button fantasies out of your head, because a 50-year-old is not going to look 25 after a few years of BBL treatments. Essentially, it makes your skin look brighter and clearer "and you will look better than other people your age", says Dr Bitter, 58, a regular user who boasts the tight skin of a 40-something.

On whether BBL can replace other non-invasive therapies such as, say, Ulthera or Thermage which purports to tighten skin and lift sagging jowls, Dr Bitter says: "If you start at middle age when you've got some sagginess in the skin, BBL can help a little bit but you might still want to consider other treatments designed to tighten skin, or consider a (surgical) facelift. But if you start younger in your 30s or even early 40s and do regular treatments, your skin will stay tighter than other people your age who don't do it."

Where BBL differs from other treatments is that they use different technologies such as radio frequency or ultrasound and "they are all designed to stimulate collagen and tighten skin, but they don't take old skin cells and make them young again," says Dr Bitter.

In Singapore, BBL Forever Young has been available for almost a year, with plastic surgeon Lee Shu Jin being one of the early converts. Dr Lee, who runs her own practice in Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, says that she does a combination of BBL and another modality called Skin Tight - which uses the same machine - to tighten sagging skin as well as brighten it. "For issues like brown spots, redness, fine lines and wrinkles, most people will see their skin looking better within a week," she says.

Looking brighter

While repeat treatments are required, she reckons that one session that combines BBL and Skin Tight still works out to about a quarter of the price of say, Thermage. One session of BBL alone is priced around $350 to $400 and it takes roughly three to four monthly sessions to see any real effects. The treatment itself is a breeze, as topical anaesthetic cream is applied so you don't feel anything while the probes are run across your face. There's a bit of heat when the probes approach more sensitive areas around the eyes, but there's no painful rubber band snapping hits that you get with regular IPL. Your face looks a little brighter immediately and it feels tighter for a few days but it's largely a temporary effect.

It will take time to see the difference - at least four monthly treatments and then two to three a year for maintenance. But Dr Lee has seen clients coming in every month, so if money is no issue, then happiness - "and the closest we've come to a fountain of youth" - is just a credit card signature away.