When people are in their mid- to late-40s they begin to notice a change in their faces that goes beyond a few wrinkles. The collagen in the skin begins to break down in your 30s, but a decade later that loss becomes noticeable with a thinning and hollowing of the cheeks and temples. This can leave vibrant, happy people looking tired, sad and older than they are.
One fix is fillers—Radiesse, Juvederm, and more— all work well, but last only six months or so and in the wrong hands can lead to the dreaded puffy, overfilled look. The there is Sculptra.
“It is possible to overfill with Sculptra, even though it is your own collagen that is doing the filling out,” says Yone Tierney, Injection Specialist and Registered Nurse at Lucy Peters in NYC. “As with any filler, it is essential that the injector is not only experienced, but has done hundreds injections.”
If Sculptra is placed correctly, however, the results are nothing short of amazing. “Not only are wrinkles and sagging minimized, but the skin looks firmer and more radiant because of the increased collagen,” says Yone.
Sculptra was first introduced in 2004. The difference between this product and other injectables is that instead of filling the face for an immediate effect, the product works gradually to build back the body’s own natural collagen in the deep folds between the nose and the mouth (nasolabial folds), the lines framing your mouth (marionette lines) and chin wrinkles.
It can take from three to 12 weeks to see the full effects of a session, and three to four sessions (spaced four to six weeks apart) are usually needed the first time around. The good news? The effects last up to two years, and in maintenance sessions, only a vial or two are usually needed.
“The gradual fill is something that works to many people’s benefit,” says Yone. “No one can tell that you’ve had anything done. There is no shock of suddenly looking different. It’s one of the most natural ways to look younger.”
The base of the product is poly-L-lactic acid, a synthetic but biocompatible (not harmful to the body) material that has a decades-long history of being used safely for a variety of medical purposes, including threads for surgical stitches.
When the product first entered the market, it was focused on those with fat loss in their cheeks due to HIV. The product had an issue with how much water was used to dilute it, which led to some issues with lumps, especially in facial areas where the skin is very thin, like under the eyes.
While Sculptra is usually still not used in the under-eye area, the additional water added to the product, along with a heavy massage regimen that is prescribed after each session, has virtually ended the issue with bumps and lumps. What’s left? Vibrant skin that looks distinctly younger.
What To Expect
We tried a round of Sculptra at Lucy Peters, and we found the sessions to be pretty amazing. First, let’s talk about what you need to do in the weeks leading up to your first session:
Three weeks out: Stop all aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), fish oil supplements, vitamin E and ginkgo biloba.
Two weeks out: Start taking Arnica to vitamin K supplements.
The day before and day of: No alcohol.
All this is to minimize bruising, which can get pretty intense. This is because the product must be injected deep into the skin (much deeper than other fillers or Botox), and the needles used to place the product are quite long.
“I have turned patients away and had them reschedule an appointment because they told me they had taken aspirin or Advil that day,” says Yone. “You would not believe how much it effects bruising. But, if a person follows directions, the bruising is usually light and easy to deal with.”
A skilled injector will be able to avoid blood vessels and will change out the needles often (as many as seven or eight times a session), to minimize bruising. I had some discoloration that lasted about five days and was easily covered with concealer.
The injections themselves can be challenging. Yone puts lidocaine directly into the Sculptra solution, so after a couple of minutes my face was pretty numb. Expect a session to last about 45 minutes. Two to three vials will be used and about 30 needle pokes. Not a load of fun, but Yone is funny, smart and very experienced. You have no doubt every step of the way that you are in the best of hands. In fact in 2010, she was recognized among the top five leading Sculptra injectors in the nation.
During the session, Yone works like an artist: a little here, a little there; then a step back to study the face and visualize the next move. She takes her time with her clients, and the same people have returned to her over and again.
“I will usually only inject two vials at a time, but I have some clients that have been coming to me for many years who no longer live in NYC. They are here for the weekend to get their tune up…then I will do more. They know what to expect and they trust me.”
The liquid in the Sculptra works to show you what your face will look like once the collagen fills in. Expect this lifted look to last about five days. As those effects diminish, the collagen fills in gradually.
The Importance of Massage
“Ahhh,” you’re thinking, “A calming massage after injections sounds lovely.” Unfortunately, this is not that massage we are talking about here. After the injections are completed, Yone will give you a lesson in the massage you will need to do five times a day for the next five days.
A firm, brisk massage is mandatory for this procedure. Bruised? Massage anyway. Tender? Massage anyway. This is the key step to making sure that no lumps form. It’s uncomfortable, it’s tiring and it’s a nuisance. Do it anyway.
From our experience, Sculptra is a natural way to look younger without going under the knife. As will all non-invasive procedures, you want to be sure that the injector is experienced with the product. In NYC, Yone just might be the most experienced of all. We will be going back to Lucy Peters for more.