The Annual Cost of Looking Young: Confessions of Beauty Addicts

Defying gravity has a steep price.

As an aesthetic dermatologist, I have all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people. Women (and men) come in with specific demands all in the quest of perfection and youth. There’s a deluge of products and procedures out there that claim to re-drape, re-volumize, plump, stretch, refine, revitalize, rejuvenate, re-touch everything to retain and recapture youthfulness. All of which, I must say, require a level of commitment.


So how much does it cost to remain ageless and how much is enough to push you to file for bankruptcy? Dermatologists like me will say that it depends on the patients—how old they are and the general condition of their skin. Some women are lucky—ultimate winners in the genetic lottery who just don’t seem to age. But every woman has her own trouble areas and, of course, budget. For some patients, maintenance and upkeep are second nature. “It must be done. I’ve always considered myself lucky, but what’s luck if you don’t maintain it,” says Clarisse, a patient of mine who swears by Botox, lasers, fillers and a very extensive skincare regimen.


As for myself, I started getting Botox in my mid-20s. Since then, I’ve been doing it twice or thrice a year. I used to do it just for frown lines but eventually progressed to using it to slim down my face and prevent sweaty armpits. Botox injections cost between P300 to P450 per unit. Face injections can set you back around P10,000 pesos. With facial slimming (think Korean V-faces), expect an additional P43,000 or so. Hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating treatments on the armpits also go for about P43,000. One of my patients, Matty, a yoga instructor, swears by it. “It’s worth it. No sweat, no smell for more than six months,” he says. Well, sweat-free under arms are best when they’re toned, hair-free, and even in color and texture, otherwise, don’t even think about raising your arms in victory like Pia Wurtzbach.


Laser hair removal for the underarms costs an average of P2,500 per session every month and must be done at least five times. For fixing pigmentation and texture problems, treatments like a chemical peel (P1,500 to P2,000), thulium laser treatments with whitening serums (P15,000) or pigment lasers (P4,500 to P8,000) add up to the monthly bill. “The amount of money I spend on my armpits is ridiculous. It gets the same care as my face,” says Matty. “There’s just no excuse to look bad in this day and age. Not doing anything seems irresponsible. I feel like I owe it to myself. I don't really think about it as an issue of vanity. It’s more of a reward.”

My patient Ruby is a gorgeous 50-something single mom who runs a successful retail chain. Every day she runs, trains, and attends every workout class du jour she can fit into her schedule. Each session for fitness classes like boutique boxing or group cycling costs around P1,000. Ruby also gets pigment-zapping lasers (P4,500) every two weeks; non-ablative fractional lasers for scars and stretch marks (P20,000 per session) every month; and high-intensity focused ultrasound three times a year (P120,000 per session) for the face and neck, which she alternates with fractional radio frequency needle stamping also three times a year (P150,00 each session). “Sometimes I feel like I live at my dermatologist’s office. But when I think about having a turkey neck and having more folds than my precious French bulldog, I go nuts. Give me my Xanax! I can’t!” Ruby says. The fitness regimen and herculean discipline of braving Makati traffic to see her doctor obviously pays off. She is the epitome of a modern Nefertiti. With beautiful skin, high cheekbones, perfectly contoured jawline, and a long graceful neck, she is exquisitely preserved. And believe me, there are more women like her.

At 40, Clarisse claims that while diet and exercise have helped her maintain her physique, her pregnancies loosened her skin. She had signed up for a package of monopolar RF for a year for about P60,000. “It helped but I recently tried macro-focused ultrasound (P120,000 per session) and it’s been amazing. I lost an inch in just one session,” she says. Matty agrees. “Yoga and pilates have helped me all these years. But I was overweight growing up and while I lost all the weight, I still had that loose skin. Surgery was not an option so tried a lot of things and so far I’ve found the Ulfit HIFU quite promising.”


All these youth rebuilders are proof that we have been experiencing great advances in technology in recent years. “There’s just so much innovation. The things that you can do with fillers, for instance, are wondrous. It’s a personal favorite. You can forego surgery and keep it at bay for a long time. They also come for various indications and can be used to hydrate, lift, volumize, and correct virtually every part of your body,” says Dr. Jacqueline Ty-So. At P20,000 to P30,000 per ml, hyaluronic acid fillers don’t come cheap. Doctors have been using them for immediate corrections around the eyes, cheeks, temples, lips, hands, and more. “The most I have injected in a patient in one session totals to about 15 syringes. At P30,000 per syringe, that was a hefty sum,” she reveals. “But on average, most people just need two syringes (2 ml) so that’s about P60,000 in one session. Then usually, touchups every 18 months are necessary.”

Doctors are also doing fat transfers for facial and body augmentation. It’s not a new technique but doctors have improved ways to harvest the fat and separate stem cells from it to make what used to be liposuction waste into a new face or new breasts. It is an invasive surgical procedure so prices range from P300,000 to a million pesos.

Given conservative estimates, keeping up with the women of Manila’s non-surgical armamentarium will set you back around P1,565,000 year. This does not include regular health and beauty supplements, haircuts and coloring, makeup, nail services, and skincare products.

“But really, if you would buy a Birkin—basically a luxurious piece made of skin—why wouldn't you spend as much on your own skin, face, and body? There shouldn’t be a disconnect,” says Ruby. I listen to these women and I see their point. The diets, fitness classes, trainers, and visits to the doctor yield results evident on glowing skin and healthy bodies. In a media-obsessed, visually short-sighted world, beauty remains a commodity, measurable in wrinkles, spots, and Facebook likes.

I have to agree with author Paolo Coelho: “People always say it’s inner beauty that matters, not outer beauty. Well, that’s not true. If it were, why would flowers put so much energy into attracting bees? And why would raindrops transform themselves into a rainbow when they encounter the sun? Because nature longs for beauty, and is only satisfied when beauty can be exalted. Outer beauty is inner beauty made visible, and it manifests itself in the light that flows from our eyes.”

Dr. Windie Villarica is the managing director of Skin Inc. Dermatology and Laser Center.

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