Keeping skin youthful without surgery: What medical experts do

The editor of an award-winning lifestyle magazine recently asked me to interview medical experts for their tips on how to keep looking young without resorting to surgery and other invasive procedures.

Among those who generously shared advice was Dr Des Fernandes, founder of Environ, South Africa’s best-known international cosmetics brand. Dr Fernandes looks decades younger than he is, which is no mean feat in one of the world’s harshest climates.

Also offering fascinating insights into cosmetics and nutritional supplements that really seem to work were pharmaceutical whizz Brent Murphy of SOLAL Technologies (SA) and Europe-based Dr Erich Schulte who has developed the QMS Medicosmetics range. Scroll down to read what they told me.

Skin DeepDr Des Fernandes

Forget about what your mother and your grandmother taught you about looking after your skin. Little pots of home remedies and old cosmetic counter favourites might feel nice on your face but in the race to remain youthful you are likely to come last if you don’t update your beauty regimen.

Medical advances have ensured that some creams, serums, gels and face masks work much better than others. With huge money at stake in the anti-ageing global product market, experts are working harder than ever in their laboratories to create highly effective skincare ranges.

Scientists are also continually improving ways to make sure you turn back the ravages of time from the inside, so supplements have become more advanced too. Ordinary vitamin tablets are great for overall wellbeing, but they don’t necessarily do the best job of boosting your complexion and smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles.

Beauty from within

As Brent Murphy, director at Johannesburg-based vitamin and supplement manufacturer SOLAL Technologies, says: ‘Short-term, a topical application will work better for appearance. In the long term, oral supplements will probably offer more benefit to skin health, and therefore appearance. They should both be used because neither can completely do what the other does.’

With a massive and ever-growing selection of cosmetics in the world, it can be hard to identify what’s best for you. The proprietors of new patented technologies are secretive about the finer details of how ingredients work, to prevent others from copying their valuable recipes.

You also have to think about what ageing theory works best for you. Experts generally agree that sun, or photo, damage is the significant factor in changing skin texture.

Current thinking in some research circles is that introducing plant stem cells to the skin, in order to activate the growth of new cells in your own skin, is rejuvenating. Other medical specialists emphasise topping up the skin’s chemistry with antioxidants, which basically clean up microscopic debris that builds up over time and wears down cells.

Alternative anti-ageing remedies, like Chinese teas, fall into the antioxidant category. They may have general skincare benefits, but they can’t reverse harm from the sun’s rays.

Choose with care. Murphy notes: some imported teas contain very high levels of pesticides. Some scientists favour coaxing your epidermis to produce more collagen, which is a type of protein that keeps your skin looking supple and firm by working on connections between your skin cells.

Dr Erich Schulte, Europe-based developer of the QMS Medicosmetics range, says: ‘The ageing appearance of skin is also due to lack of collagen, as production of collagen slows down with chronological ageing. Thus, the most effective treatment for wounded, exposed and ageing skin is absorption of collagen.’

Many skincare product developers target the skin from various angles. Dr Patricia Farris of NeoStrata Company argues: ‘Since the effects of intrinsic ageing and photodamage on skin are multi-factorial, no single ingredient can address them all.’

New offerings emerge daily, some very pricey and others aimed at lowering your cosmetics bill and keeping your daily skincare routine simple as well as effective. Many formulations are available over-the-counter.

Others are more like medicines than pampering creams, and can combine anti-ageing promises with other benefits, such as anti-pigmentation treatments. These cosmeceuticals, as they are often called, require a consultation with a dermatologist in order to determine what’s best for you.

Many active ingredients are fairly benign. There are those, though, that can be very bad for your skin if applied excessively or in combination with other, clashing chemicals. Check the labels and stick to usage recommendations, which may include alternating formulations as your face becomes accustomed to a powerful ingredient.

So how do you choose a facial rejuvenation cream that is right for you? An obvious starting point is to look at skincare ranges designed specifically with South African conditions in mind. Commonsense suggests that what works best in cold, wet northern climes does not necessarily do the optimum job in the hot, dry interior of the country or our humid, warm coastal zones.

Turning back the clock with vitamins

Dr Des Fernandes, who started the Environ skincare company, one of South Africa’s best-known local brands and exports, says there may be slightly different requirements depending on your ethnic group. ‘Colours and oil contents are different, although the basic physiology and chemistry is the same,’ he says.

The plastic surgeon is a firm believer in the wonders of vitamin A. Looking through the many developments in skincare ranges around the world, Dr Fernandes says: ‘Nothing has taken the place of vitamin A. It is like you are never going to replace water as something you have to have every day.’

He says that when the sun damages your skin it also depletes your vitamin A. ‘Vitamin A controls how cells grow and mature. You simply can’t do without this master ingredient. Most of us live our lives with deficient levels of vitamin A. It doesn’t mean cells are non-functional; they are just not working properly.’

Gradually, says Dr Fernandes, the deficiency you have in your teens manifests as wrinkles in your 30s and 40s. In the worst case scenario, having low levels of vitamin A manifests as skin cancer.

What sets his vitamin A-infused creams apart from others, he says, is the higher dosage and better skin penetration. Dr Fernandes recently introduced a needle-like applicator to push active ingredients into the deeper layers of the epidermis. He also has cream that relies on electric currents between molecules to help draw the active ingredients, as a magnet would, into the skin – as do other product providers, like QMS Medicosmetics.

Words like ‘ions’ and ‘micro current technology’ are clues your anti-ageing serum is relying on an electric field to enhance its efficacy. Dr Fernandes, who looks at least two decades younger than he is, recommends vitamin A as an anti-ageing drug. ‘I have personally taken 40 000 to 60 000 IUs of vitamin A for the past 19 years.’

Others are more circumspect about ingesting large quantities of vitamin A. Some studies warn there may be links between some forms of cancer and high intake of vitamin A.

Says Murphy: ‘To err on the side of caution, I don’t suggest doses above 10 000 IU daily, unless this is supervised by a healthcare professional. Many experts believe that much higher doses may be required for anti-aging and other health benefits, and they may be correct. However, there is also debate about whether these higher doses are completely safe.’

Also important for Dr Fernandes, though not as important as vitamin A, are antioxidants in the form of other vitamins, including Coenzyme Q10, also referred to by some as vitamin Q. ‘We have quite a good antioxidant network in our skin. If one vitamin is a bit deficient, the others make up for it. They recycle each other.’

Don’t underestimate protein in helping to maintain your skin quality, says Dr Fernandes. ‘Peptides are proteins. They are the building blocks to make proteins. If you want good, beautiful skin you have to have enough protein. Collagen and elastin are also proteins and for your body to make these you must be protein-rich,’ he says.

You also need amino acids, so that your skin can make good collagen. Treat the surface of your skin well with good products, based on research into what really rejuvenates. Also eat well, and take supplements to ensure you aren’t missing out on the substances that slowly disappear with age, is the message from skin experts who practise what they preach.


Super skin foods

Pharmaceutical expert Brent Murphy of SOLAL Technologies rates these as the top 5 anti-aging nutrients:
  1. Omega 3 oils, from fish, krill or algae. ‘Omega 3 from flaxseed works, but is many times less effective.’
  2. Resveratrol, an extract found in red wine and red grape skins. ‘This helps slow cellular aging. You’d need a bottle-and-a-half of red wine to get enough of it, so not a good idea to rely on wine.’
  3. Co-enzyme 10 (Q10). Protects cells.
  4. Vitamin A. ‘Wear a good sunblock because it makes your skin more sensitive.’
  5. Polypodium fern extract. Used in the manufacture of sun blocks, it contains biological compounds that help protect the skin from ageing caused by sun exposure.

Help your hands

A good skincare routine can help you take five years off your face, but don’t neglect your hands, advises Dr Erich Schulte of QMS Medicosometics. He says he always has a good hand cream – his own product – next to his computer. ‘Your hands give away your age. They show the truth as they are exposed to environmental aggression.’

* Other samples of my work can also be found on my blog under the Recently Published Elsewhere tab. If you found this piece interesting, have a look at this article – Tick Tock, Turn Back the Clock – published by the same magazine last year.

And remember, I’m always open to hearing your proposals for feature pieces, and will happily contribute a list of story ideas to your publication for consideration, so please drop me a line at

Beautiful skin

Beautiful skin (Photo credit:


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