The Expanding Scope of Modern Medical Aesthetics


It is an inescapable fact that, for millennia, human beings have searched for ways in which to improve their appearance and make themselves more attractive in the eyes of others. For the vast majority of those years, the only means open to them was the use of cosmetics prepared first from natural sources, such as plant materials, and eventually on a commercial scale using both natural and synthetic ingredients. Although such activities would once have been the exclusive role of the beauty industry, the advent of cosmetic surgery signalled the entry of the medical professional into the field of aesthetics.


While so-called plastic surgeons offer their skills to remodel misshapen or overly large noses, and conduct facelifts to restore the image of youth, their services are quite costly, and the procedures involved are highly invasive. They are often painful, accompanied by swelling and bruising, and generally require a lengthy recovery period before their results become evident. While, for instance, it was apparent that a facelift was a more effective means with which to overcome wrinkles than heavy make-up, the need for less invasive but equally effective procedures was clear. The answer came in the early ‘70s with the use of botulinum toxin to treat facial lines, thus heralding the birth of medical aesthetics.


Although involving the injection of Botox™, the first of a number of commercial preparations of the botulinum toxin, the procedure is only minimally invasive when compared to plastic surgery. Today, it is just one of several minimally invasive procedures performed routinely by specially trained physicians in South Africa and their colleagues worldwide. The last few years, however, have seen an unprecedented boom within this field. Fuelled to a large extent by the emergence of several powerful new technologies of a totally non-invasive nature, the result has been a steadily increasing demand for the services of the medical aesthetics practitioner.


Botox™ continues to remain a popular choice for the treatment of fine lines, while deeper wrinkling responds well to alternative injectables, such as hyaluronic acid fillers, still widely considered the most effective means with which to restore the former youthful appearance of an aging jawline, neck, or wrinkled hands. One of several areas in which non-invasive treatments are proving to be particularly effective is body contouring.


Requiring neither injections nor incisions, these medical aesthetics procedures employ a range of energy sources, such as lasers, ultrasound, and radio frequencies as the means with which to disrupt subcutaneous fat cells. The released fat and cellular debris is then left in situ to be disposed of by the body’s immune system, rather than aspirating the debris as in the surgical liposuction procedure. Sometimes described as lunchtime lipo, there is also an intermediate technique that is minimally invasive, and which employs extremely fine needles for both the injection and aspiration steps.


Another non-invasive approach to fat removal, and one that is now favoured by a growing number of medical aesthetic centres, is cryolipolysis. In this technique, the adipose cells are selectively destroyed by the use of a low-temperature applicator, leaving other tissue types unaffected. The lipolytic process is further enhanced by the use of a pulsed vacuum which enables the applicator head to deliver the effect of a simultaneous physical massage. Once again, it is the task of the immune system to absorb the detritus.


Sclerotherapy, skin-peels, microdermabrasion, and laser depilation are just a few of the many other treatments that are keeping medical aesthetics practitioners busy today and, in the process, providing doctors with a valuable new income stream. In order to avail themselves of this opportunity, however, doctors are first required to undergo some form of recognised, specialist training in the techniques they wish to practice. Leading the field in this type of instruction is MedSkillsCo.