Dermal fillers are minimally invasive mainstay cosmetic treatments used to help return the appearance of volume and youth to ageing skin. Volume deficiency, scars, wrinkles, lip augmentation (plumping), facial sculpting and contouring are common facial concerns targeted by dermal fillers.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about them: how they work, the choices of products on the market, and their possible side effects on your body and skin.
What are dermal fillers?
Before starting on dermal fillers, we need a brief understanding of how the face changes as we age. Over time, the thickness and elasticity of our skin decreases, and our faces loses fat. Soft tissues sag, facial muscles weaken, and the outermost layer of skin wrinkles.
Enter fillers. Dermal fillers help restore lost volume to your face and add lift.
Types of dermal fillers
The classifications of dermal fillers vary according to their properties. Fillers are categorized based on their biodegradability, how long it takes before the filling substance is absorbed by the body, and the duration of a treatment’s effect.
Early attempts to use fillers for facial rejuvenation relied on dermal fat or collagen fillers. However, the effectiveness of fat as a filling agent was risky as a number of variables were involved. These included the method and type of fat harvested, both of which could cause inconsistent absorption rates by the body. There could also be significant side effects including prolonged swelling, internal bruising and cause infections. Bovine (cattle) collagen, the first collage filler used, also had limited success due to its short duration of effect (3-4 months) and potential risk of allergic reaction.
Human-based collagen has since been developed but demand for collagen remains low compared to more effective filling agents.
These are fillers that provide temporary or semi-permanent effects as they gradually degrade and get absorbed by the body. Common biodegradable fillers are collagen, hyaluronic acid, calcium hydroxyapatite and poly-L-lactic acid.
Naturally present in our skin and connective tissues, hyaluronic acid is a key structural component that stabilizes cellular structures and binds collagen and elastic fibers. Hyaluronic acid remains as the most widely used dermal filler due to its ease of use, safety and minimal side effects.
When hyaluronic acid is injected into the skin, it combines with the natural hyaluronic acid found in our body. Due to its hygroscopic nature (ability to absorb water from surroundings), hyaluronic acid binds to water quickly, creating volume that lasts for 6 to 12 months before degrading into the body. It also induces new collagen formation, a desirable quality as our bodies gradually stop producing collagen in our late twenties.
Poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA)
A synthetic, biodegradable polymer of the alpha-hydroxyl-acid family (natural acids found in food), poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA) is another common filling agent. Its safe profile enables PLLA to be actively used in other medical applications such as in dissolvable stiches or soft tissue implants.
PLLA triggers mild inflammation to promote the formation of collagen and tissue fibers. The accumulation of collagen creates volume at the site of injection. Over time, PLLA breaks down into lactic acid and is metabolized to carbon dioxide or incorporated into glucose molecules.
Calcium hydroxylapatite (CaHA)
CaHA is a synthetic compound with a chemical structure that resembles a component found in our bones and teeth. Treatment with CaHA is safe and will not cause allergic reactions. When injected into skin tissues, our body gradually absorbs CaHA, inducing new collagen to be produced. Such an effect typically lasts about 15 months or longer.
CaHA breaks down into calcium and phosphate ions before finally being excreted by the body.
Injecting silicone into the face adds volume directly and immediately and also triggers collagen production that adds to the effect. Silicone is favoured for its stable chemical structure, ease of use, low cost, and long-lasting effects. As a non-biodegradable filler, silicone stays in your body once it is injected.
However, the use of silicon in cosmetic treatments is controversial due to its potential to cause long-term complications such as abnormal swelling, blindness or nerve damage. Issues can also arise from poor injection technique, the amount of silicone used and differences in silicone grades. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended you get your fillers done only by a trained dermatologist.
Warnings and alternatives
Administered professionally and with the proper technique and expertise, a dermal filler comes with minimal side effects. However, with many different rejuvenation treatments available, it’s important you consult a trusted dermatologist for a professional assessment before commencing treatment.
For those who prefer plumping effects without an injection, go for Dr TWL’s Hyaluronic Acid serum. As a skincare ingredient, hyaluronic acid draws moisture from its surroundings and keeps the skin well-hydrated; it is able to hold over 1,000 times its own weight in water. This gives a desirable plumping effect and improves fine lines and wrinkles without the needles.