Once, when I was living in LA, I was invited to a girlfriend’s post baby “reveal”.
Thrown by the kind of women who pressurise one another to regain both figures and freshness within weeks of childbirth, “the reveal” is a coming-out celebration at which, after a self-imposed period of hibernation/incarceration, a woman can parade around in bodycon dresses, while her friends coo: “OMG, you look, like, even better than before.”
Every woman I know (and not a few men) is now gearing up for their own spring “reveal”, after the pandemic has left the average Brit, according to cosmetic treatment company Uvence, feeling that they have aged “by at least five years”.
Save Face – a UK government-approved register of accredited cosmetic practitioners – has reported a 40 per cent surge in traffic to its website. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) says its doctors have had a 70 per cent increase in requests for virtual consultations since the first lockdown. Last week a new “Brotox” boom was revealed to be underway with a report confirming that, thanks to all that Zooming, more men than ever before are planning to have Botox once restrictions are lifted. Today, six million Brits are said to be considering either invasive or non-invasive treatments to fix lockdown ravages. But surely those ravages are all in our minds?
“I’d like to be able to tell you they are,” says Dr Christopher Rowland Payne, “but the truth is that for many, this pandemic has actually sped up the ageing process.” As a Harley Street dermatologist whose patients include members of the Royal family, Prime Ministers (living and dead), rock stars, celebrities and me, Rowland Payne has witnessed a seamless shift from our “Zoom boom” – the well-documented surge in cosmetic “tweakments” after months of being confronted by our own images has left our self-esteem in tatters – to the frenzied preparations Brits have embarked upon, as they prepare to emerge from their chrysalises.
“Post-lockdown cosmetic requests are primarily being driven by the desire to counter the effects of ‘lockdown enlarging’,” he tells me, “the weight gain of lockdown.” Add to that our screen dependency throughout the pandemic and it’s not surprising Rowland Payne has had a rush of “patients hurrying in for treatments of their jowls”.
“I do tell all my patients that they must try and hold their devices higher than face-level,” he maintains, explaining that since “the effects of gravity are magnified by technology” and the pandemic has magnified our use of technology “what I call the ‘half a pound of butter’ that slips down from beneath the eye to the jowl as we age will have speeded up its descent over the past few months.”
Anyone who has met Dr Rowland Payne will be used to his extraordinary statements – and their softly-spoken delivery. The length and breadth of the dermatologist’s knowledge is such that when he pronounces on any subject, his patients listen. I have personally heard Dr Rowland Payne pronounce on everything from “the constellation of freckles beneath your chin, which tells me you swim a lot in a hot country and need to wear more sunscreen,” to the mole on my thigh “which is not a friend and might well become a foe – so let’s not wait until then”. Which is how I know that there isn’t a lockdown ravage out there this man can’t fix.
Sure enough, it turns out there are ways to avoid turning into a melting Lurpak sculpture. “People always seem surprised to find out that you can lift and tighten jowls without a facelift,” he tells me. “HIFU [High Intensity Focused Ultrasound] helps to tighten the skin and the SMAS [the deeper layer of collagen, elastin fibres and fat cells extending from the neck up to the forehead], and very small amounts of filler behind the angle of the jaw and at the cheek bone are also very useful for this. Meanwhile a thread lift – a 30-minute procedure – can be dynamite for jowling.”
For the many patients suddenly coming to him with complaints of “frontal hairline recession”, there is also a solution. “Again, there has been a speeding up of the natural process,” says Rowland Payne. “Mild thinning and recession of the frontal hairline is not only a male problem; I see women in their 40s suffering from it too. But an application of minoxidil [a hair loss medication] at night and the taking of a food supplement by day can make a huge difference. For those who want to achieve more, scalp PRP treatment [platelet rich plasma] boosts the hair by 20 per cent in the affected areas.”
The uptick in PRP treatments has been matched only by the number of clients booking in for upper lid blepharoplasties (eye jobs), he says. Whether our newly hooded eyes are, again, due to screen time or the “alco-eye”, Dr Rowland Payne assures me is a thing – “Alcoholic weight gain can contribute to those unwanted bulges beneath the eyeballs and at the upper inner corners of the eyes, especially if those drinking habits have persisted throughout the past year” – issues can also be treated by “injection lipolysis,” he tells me. “This comprises three or four injection treatments at eight weekly intervals and will get rid of those bulges.”
Then there’s the “late surge in demand we’re seeing for treatments on parts of the face which are currently covered by our masks, as this ‘post-operative concealer’ is soon going to disappear from our lives… we hope!”
Given all the unwitting damage we’ve done to our physiques over the past year, it’s comforting to know that in one area, at least, the pandemic may have undone a little wear and tear. Because it turns out that some of our most basic technologies, like women’s underwear, have had the most marked impact on our physical shape this century – and women shunning bras and tight clothing over lockdown “may actually have been helpful. I see women with deep dents in their shoulders from their bra straps being too tight all the time,” he tells me, “and likewise around their waists, from wearing overly tight pants.” The medical term for that permanent localised loss of fatty tissue is lipoatrophy, he goes on to explain – and it’s here that I have interrupt.
Wait a minute: does this mean that all those girdles and waist-trainers popularised by the likes of Kim Kardashian actually work? “Yes. If you wore a waist-trainer assiduously for a few years you would squash the unwanted fat away forever.” Doesn’t it have to go somewhere though? “No, it just dies.” So why are we not all sleeping in sausage-wrap? “Well I’ve often thought that we should be doing that and moving our waistbands and belts up or down to the unwanted bulges and fullnesses above or below the waist.” But… but this is huge! “Yes,” Rowland Payne agrees impassively. “It might be the answer to everything.”
Until he patents the “Dr RP fat-cell-busting compression suit” the dermatologist will continue to get Britain ready for its spring “reveal” one patient at a time. Although he is anxious to stress that “ageing has always been a privilege – but particularly now”, the traditional British notion of “grinning and bearing” any part of the physical deterioration process that can safely and effectively be diminished isn’t one he feels we should still be subscribing to.
It’s time for Dr Rowland Payne to get back to his patients but, before he goes, I’ve always been curious to know what the top three skin ageing factors are – in order. The dermatologist pauses, and I feel another extraordinary pronouncement coming: “The sun is more damaging than smoking. But more important than either of those things is choosing your parents carefully. Philip Larkin”, he adds with a twinkle, “might have been talking of ageing when he wrote his famous poem.”
To book an appointment with Dr Rowland Payne, go to www.thelondonclinic.co.uk