Meg Farris / Medical Reporter
NEW ORLEANS -- Plumping up wrinkles with fillers has been a quick way to reverse sun damage and aging in the doctor's office. But some people don't like being stuck several times with a needle for the treatment.
Now there is a new, safer way to get rid of wrinkles on the face and in some new areas of the body.
For her entire life, Kimberly Maronge, 45, has damaged her skin for the sake of a tan.
"I was tanning in tanning beds daily, sun, every weekend (for) 45 years. A long time. Too long," said Maronge.
The photo damage and wrinkles she's concerned about are in the décolletage area. So she turned to dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo for help, who says sunbathers and people who sleep on their sides are much more prone to these chest lines.
Lupo is using fillers, those temporary injectables that plump up wrinkles, usually on the face. But she's using a new twist on an old medical tool. It's a blunt cannula, not a needle, and with just one initial stick the longer cannula can be moved around under the skin, fanning out and filling in the damaged crevices.
Just a topical numbing cream is used to stop pain.
"A little pressure, that's it. Nothing major, just a little pressure. It was numb so just a little pressure," recalls Maronge about her first treatment with the cannula.
Even though 'Jane' has three children, at 43 years old, she keeps her lean body by teaching yoga and taking ballet. But while a lean body is youthful, it's a full face that takes off the years. So she is getting fillers to plump areas up and take away the gaunt look. And now with the cannula, fillers can be used around the eyes more safely than a needle because it is much less likely to puncture a blood vessel.
"It just gives you an overall increase in the safety margin when you're dealing with these very delicate areas. As we age, we lose fat pockets in specific areas. The temple is the big one," explained New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Mary P. Lupo, who said filling under the eyes gives a more youthful appearance.
With one poke in each area, Jane can have her cheeks, under her eyes, and her chin and jaw line plumped and contoured.
"It did not hurt. It was just a pressure-type feeling. So it wasn't like a prick, pain-type feeling," she said.
Dr. Patricia Farris also uses the cannula. Her patient Joann Roberts is 70 years old and was tired of having no upper lip and creases on the side of the mouth. But she did not want surgery.
When asked if given a choice which would she choose, the needle or cannula, Roberts said she has a preference. "Probably the cannula is better because you don't have as many sticks."
Cannulas have become popular in Europe and are now starting to become more popular in the United States because they're less traumatic on the skin.
"We believe that cannulas have a much less chance of causing any kind of bruising because the tip of the cannula's blunt, so it's not like a sharp needle where you're entering the skin over and over again," said Dr. Farris.
Dr. Lupo said patients are more comfortable, and she can treat new areas of the face.
"The other reason it's safe around the eyes is obviously, it reduces bruising, it reduces the potential of getting into a blood vessel, but it also reduces any possibility that if the doctor slips, there's no penetration or injury to the glob," said Dr. Lupo.
Fillers are not permanent but last longer, possibly years, in places like cleavage and around the eyes that don't move as much. And the good news about fillers is the stretch theory of aging.
"Studies have shown even with hyaluronic acid fill, when you stretch the skin, you stretch the fibroblasts and this actually stimulates the fibroblasts, which are your cells in your dermis that make collagen, you actually wake them up and stimulate them," Dr. Lupo explained.
So with your own body making it's natural collagen filler, you could need fewer touch ups.
Dermatologist Dr. Barbara Bopp uses cannulas and says procedures can take longer than with needles and are not as easy to work with. So make sure your doctor has experience with them.
"Cannulas will be the way of the future though, without a doubt. People use cannulas under the eyes to inject the fillers because again this is an area that so many people bruise. So I see that it's definitely going to be big in the future. Right now I think there's a big learning curve," said Dr. Barbara S. Bopp, a dermatologist in Metairie who is on the faculty at Tulane.
When asked if cannulas will be used one day to make thin skin on the hands more plump, Dr. Farris had this to say.
"Cannula injecting is very new and so those of us who are doing are in our infancy in terms of our use of this particular new procedure."
For now patients on the cutting edge seem happy.
"I definitely see a change. Yeah, it's definitely tightened up some," said Maronge as she looked in the mirror at her cleavage.
Dermatologists say getting rid of sun damage in the chest area takes a combination approach.
Patients will need to combine the fillers with laser treatments, prescription retinoids, such as Retin-A or Renova, and sunscreens.
Editor's note: Dr. Patricia Farris is no relation to Medical Reporter Meg Farris.