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Paying the price for vanity?

Thousands of people undergo cosmetic procedures every year and are prepared to pay to improve their appearance or rejuvenate their looks. From laser epilation to crystal microdermabrasion, botox wrinkle smoothing and teeth whitening: these treatments can be worth every penny, or a disastrous and costly mistake. Here we look at some of the most popular procedures, and outline common problems – and the solutions.

The treatment: Teeth whitening

What is it? The dentist applies a strong bleaching gel (up to 35 per cent hydrogen peroxide) on each tooth, and activates it by exposing it to light, heat or ultrasound. Can also be done at home using home whitening systems.

The cost: From £400 to £1000.

The problem: 

Untrained staff in salons are doing the treatment without proper training. Home kits bought over the Internet are not properly regulated and can contain dangerous levels of bleach.

Possible side effects: ‘The chemicals can be difficult to work with. Inexperienced people can burn the gums and irritate the teeth. In the worse case scenario, tooth whitening can lead to permanent damage to the surface of the enamel,’ says Dr Mervyn Druin, of the London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry.

The solution:

Don’t even think about it if you are: Someone who has sensitive teeth, veneers, crowns or a bridge, pregnant or breastfeeding. Children under the age of 16.

Qualifications to look for in practitioners: Must be a qualified dentist.

Further information: The British Association of Cosmetic Dentistry: www.bacd.com


The treatment: Laser eye surgery

What is it? A surgical way to reshape the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye) to remove imperfections and restore sight.

The cost: Between £600 per eye to over £1600 per eye.

The problem:

Possible side effects: Most relate to the cutting of the cornea, including infection, dry eyes and corneal haze. Vision can be worse after surgery.

The solution: 

Don’t even think about it of you are: Less than 21 years old, have had a changing prescription for the last two to three years, suffer from frequent eye infections or problems.

Qualifications to look for in practitioners. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists recommends that refractive surgeons should be ophthalmologists who have undergone specialist training in laser surgery.

Further information: www.rcophth.ac.uk

The treatment: Porcelain veneers

What is it? Veneers close gaps, straighten crooked teeth and make your teeth look whiter. A minimal amount of the tooth’s enamel is shaved off and a custom-made porcelain edge, less than half a millimetre thick, is bonded on.

The cost: From £300 to £1000 per tooth.

The problem:

The process is irreversible and the veneers can snap off. Darkening can occur around the gum line. You need to pay particular attention to dental hygiene.

The solution:

Don’t even think about it if you are: someone suffering from gum disease, bleeding of the gums or tooth decay. Get these problems sorted first.

Qualifications to look for: Qualified dentist

Further information: The British Association of Cosmetic Dentistry: www.bacd.com

The treatment: Laser hair removal

What is it? Brief bursts of laser light are directed at the skin, which is absorbed by dark hair follicles but not by pale skin. In this way the dark hair follicles can be selectively heated and damaged. Hair regrowth is finer and sparser.

The cost: Cost varies. Approx £40 – £400 per session depending on size of area.

The problem:

Skin pigment may be darkened by this bright light. If the skin pigment absorbs too much laser energy, the skin to overheat resulting in blistering and possibly scarring.

The solution:

Don’t even think about it: Individuals vary in their sensitivity to laser light so a test patch is essential. Recent tans are particularly vulnerable. People with darker skins should avoid this treatment.

Qualifications: Make sure your nurse or practitioner holds BTEC qualifications or equivalent in light-based treatments.

The treatment: Injectable fillers

What is it? Substances, including bovine collagen, bodyfat and hyaluronic acid, inserted under the skin to fill out wrinkles and lines.

The cost: Overall prices may vary from £150 to over £750 per treatment session.

The problem: 

Possible side effects

About 3% of the population is allergic to collagen, resulting in skin rashes, headaches and sometimes more severe reactions like breathlessness.

The solution:

Make sure you have allergy testing before treatment with collagen (not necessary for hyaluronic acid fillers.)

Qualifications to look for in practitioners: Medically qualified practitioners including GPs, cosmetic doctors, dermatologists and plastic surgeons, but not beauticians.

Further information: British Association of Cosmetic Doctors. www.cosmeticdoctors.co.uk.

The treatment: Microdermabrasion

What it is? A type of non-chemical peel where layers of skin are literally sanded off by a spray of sterile micro-particles such as fine aluminium oxide, diamond or salt crystals.

The cost: Around £65 per treatment, but cost can vary.

The problem:

Possible side effects: Microdermabrasion can cause temporary redness, increased sun sensitivity, dryness of the skin and bruising.

The solution:

Don’t even think about it if you are: someone with active skin infections (such as cold sores); if you have a history of problems with skin healing; or have taken isotretinoin within the last 12 months.

Qualifications to look for in practitioners. Nurse practitioners or doctors with specialist training.


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