FACETIME: Filler turns back the clock on your face by replacing volume lost from aging

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

In their never-ending quest to maintain a youthful appearance, Americans of a certain age and mindset are increasingly choosing dermal fillers over surgery to smooth the cracks and crevices of time. Together with Botox, fillers can erase a decade or more of age’s cruelties in a relatively inexpensive and painless hour. Unlike cosmetic surgery, which carries the danger of branding you with that alien or “wind-tunnel” look, fillers are subtle and non-invasive. 

Those on the fence should know that fillers come with a double-edged benefit. If you don’t like the results, you can just wait: They generally dissipate after eight months. But if you do like the results, that temporary nature is a liability. As one of the latter, I was excited to learn about ArteFill, a dermal filler that, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, cannot only pave over the potholes of time but also resculpt the youthful contours of your face.

Best of all, the effects can last for seven years — or longer. 

Comfort level

When Dr. Stacy Kaiser, who owns A Younger You Medical Spa in Brookfield, offered me the opportunity to try out ArteFill, I instantly agreed. Kaiser is a Picasso with a syringe, as she’s proven several times in the course of applying various injectable products to my face. Because I have very thin skin (literally, not metaphorically), such procedures usually leave me with a few bruises. But Kaiser, who began her medical career as an ER doc, has given me dozens of injections without even breaking a capillary. She says that’s a matter of luck, but after 15 years of undergoing such procedures, I’m convinced that it’s skill.

A Younger You operates three small offices, in Burlington, Lake Geneva and Brookfield. The Brookfield office is a small, homey suite, a welcome contrast to the faux McMansions and strip mall castles where I’ve generally had such work done.

Feeling at ease is an essential ingredient in achieving success with cosmetic fillers. You have to be comfortable enough with the doctor or practitioner to share insecurities about your most defining physical characteristic — your face. The practitioner must have not only technical skills and product knowledge, but also the ability to manage your expectations, and to read and maintain your level of comfort during the procedure. The best practitioners engage you in the process, soliciting your input and approval.

Dermal fillers correct changes in the face that accompany aging, particularly the loss of subcutaneous fat and protein-like substances. Those losses create the sunken cheeks, hollow eyes, creases and wrinkles that are inevitable markers of our golden years. 

Beginning around age 25, the body stops producing collagen and elastin, which are in the deepest layer of the skin. As a result, your skin becomes gradually thinner and looser. It’s not gravity that makes your face look like it’s fleeing to Mexico as you get older, it’s the loss of elastin, the substance that holds your skin in place.

Fill ’er up

The dermal fillers Restylane, Juvederm and Radiesse (I’ve tried them all) are effective at correcting the loss of volume in the face. They’re used most commonly to plump up cheeks and fill crevices in the nasolabial fold, the area of the face between the nose and mouth. Fillers also add volume to the lips, replace fat loss under the eyes and erase “puppet lines” — those pesky creases that form at the corners of the mouth.

I’ve used dermal fillers for more than a decade and, in most cases, I’ve been highly satisfied. They create subtle improvements that make my face appear healthier and refreshed but not artificial. The only times I’ve been disappointed were when I failed to heed the doctor’s advice and insisted on overdoing it.

Making collagen

There are several important differences between ArteFill and other fillers. It’s injected with a blunt-tipped cannula tube rather than a syringe, which I found more comfortable. ArteFill is also more flexible, and can be used in more areas of the face and for more purposes.

Most importantly, the technology behind ArteFill, the longest studied of all dermal fillers, provides twofold benefits.

One ingredient in ArteFill is bovine collagen, which instantly plumps up the skin as it is applied, just as other fillers do. But contained within ArteFill’s collagen are beads of polymethylmethacrylate (PMA), a compound used for years as a surgical glue and a permanent filler for soft-tissue augmentation.

After the collagen in ArteFill breaks down and is absorbed by the body, the tiny round particles of PMA remain behind. “They’re too big to eliminate and they’re inert,” Kaiser says. “The body can’t dispose of them or degrade them, so they just remain there.”

You want that because PMA stimulates collagen production. Kaiser says the PMA works like scaffolding, on which the body goes to work building new matrices of collagen. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Before my procedure, Kaiser scrutinized my face to identify areas of fat loss and asymmetry. Research has shown that people rate symmetrical faces as more attractive than asymmetrical ones, so Artefill can improve on what you had before aging began.

From lax to firm

I quickly discovered ArteFill could help out cosmetically in ways that I’d never imagined. When I complained about some droopiness over my right eye, Kaiser simply inserted a dollop of filler over my brow. The filler slightly pulled up the skin above my eye and voila — the droopiness was gone.

Kaiser also used ArteFill above my cheeks and forehead to balance out the volume added to the lower part of my face, where I had ArteFill placed in my jawline. The filler also made the sides of my face more symmetrical.

As Kaiser predicted, the initial volume slowly dissipated over the course of several weeks. But after two months, the collagen-making process began to show dramatically in many ways.

After three months, my skin is appreciably smoother and healthier looking. The volume lost after the initial collagen injection was absorbed, but now collagen has returned in force, supplied by own body. The skin on my jawline is dramatically firmer, an effect that I hadn’t thought was possible. 

All told, Kaiser used five syringes of ArteFill on my mug, which carries a total price tag of $2,750. That represents far less than I would have spent on my annual doses of fillers, which are now unnecessary. In fact, the treatment accomplished many of the goals of a facelift, which costs upwards of $12,000.

And the process might not be over yet. With my body now in collagen-churning mode, I will likely continue to see improvements, Kaiser said.

Because of the body’s delayed response to the treatment, she requires patients to wait three months after their initial application of ArteFill before receiving more. But I think she got it just right for me the first time. My face is good to go.