Top 10 quick-fix solutions to looking good this festive season

SINGAPORE - Christmas and the New Year is coming up soon and it's understandable that everyone wants to look their best for the holidays.

There are parties to go to and new people to meet - who knows, you might meet that special someone under the mistletoe. However, despite your fervent wishes, your skin and waistline might not agree.

It's well known that the stress leading up to a big event and the unhealthy lifestyle of partying, drinking and feasting that accompanies it isn't the best combination for maintaining beauty.

URBAN road-tests new aesthetic and pampering treatments that will get you party-ready for the festive season, depending on how much time you have:

FACE: IF YOU HAVE 1 DAY

Exillis facelift
For more defined features

WHERE: Prive Aesthetics, 03-02 Palais Renaissance
PRICE: $600 per session
WHAT: The straightforward 60-minute treatment uses ultrasound and radio frequency waves to destroy fat cells and tighten skin.

TREATMENT: After applying a layer of gel on my face, the therapist stroked my face with a probe - heated to a comfortable 42 deg C - to contour my face. I liked how she paid special attention to balancing the two sides of my face, as they are not exactly symmetrical.

RESULTS: Immediately afterwards, my skin looked brighter and my features, such as the brows and corners of my mouth, looked a little lifted. My face also looked slightly slimmer.

The results lasted for about two weeks.

For best results, four sessions at two-week intervals are recommended.

There is no downtime. Your skin might be a little drier than usual for a day due to the heat applied to it during the treatment, so use a hydrating mask at night.

Reviewed by Gladys Chung

BODY: IF YOU HAVE 1 DAY

GOLD LAVA SHELL MASSAGE

For a pampering treat that will have you looking and feeling good for the festive whirl

WHERE: Spa Park Asia, Grand Park City Hall hotel, 10 Coleman Street, tel: 6593-6938 
PRICE: $198 for 90 minutes (excluding taxes) 
WHAT: Spa Park Asia was one of the first spas here to introduce the lava shell massage in March.

Touted as the new hot stone therapy, the deep-tissue massage uses tiger-striped clam shells from the Philippines which are said to contain skin-nourishing benefits.

Sachets, which contain a gel derived from sea kelp, salt from the Dead Sea and self-heating natural minerals, are inserted into the shells. These are then used to knead the body to stimulate circulation, loosen tight muscles and promote deep relaxation.

Spa Park Asia uses its own blend of massage oil that is infused with gold minerals. The premium ingredients apparently lock in moisture and their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are said to soothe sore muscles and restore skin elasticity.

TREATMENT: My session included a 30-minute Gold Mineral Exfoliation ($68, excluding taxes). The invigorating mineral scrub, which comprises organic sea salts and gold minerals combined with essential oils such as ylang ylang and geranium, made for a nice prelude to the relaxing Gold Lava Shell Massage.

Ms Emily, the genial massage therapist, had warned me before the massage that the clam shells would be hot. But I found them bearable, even comfortably warm once I got used to the heat.

As she worked, with a shell in each hand, down my entire body, I could feel my muscles easing. My body was sore from a kickboxing session the day before and the massage really hit the spot.

More relief was in store. I had asked her to pay special attention to my neck and shoulders, which suffer from a dull, chronic pain from years of poor posture when using the computer.

As she smoothed the polished shells over these areas, pressing them into various points as she went along, I couldn't help but sigh with pleasure. The heat and her practised strokes had combined to relieve some of the stiffness. I only wished the session could have gone on for far longer.

RESULTS: Tense, tired muscles were soothed and I drove home in a state of bliss. But the stubborn knots in my neck and shoulders remained - you can't expect miracles from just 90 minutes.

What you can expect are smooth, hydrated skin and sparkly bits all over your body from the gold minerals, which would certainly leave you party-ready.

Review by Tee Hun Ching

FACE: IF YOU HAVE 1 TO 2 DAYS

Rodial signature facial
For a brighter, more youthful appearance

WHERE: Sccube The Apothecary, 05-25A/B Takashimaya Shopping Centre, tel: 6738-4909
PRICE: $300 for 60 minutes
WHAT: Billed as a premium anti-ageing facial, the treatment uses balms from cult British beauty brand Rodial to reveal younger looking skin. It includes a relaxing massage that is said to aid lymphatic drainage and uses radio frequency technology to lift the skin in the face, neck and eye area.

TREATMENT: The therapist first analysed my skin and concluded I had rather dry skin and visible fine lines around my eyes. She also said I have sensitive skin that does not take well to formulas that are too rich or heavily scented.

The therapist assured me that Rodial's Dragon's Blood range, one of the two product lines used in the facial, contained anti-inflammatory ingredients that would protect and hydrate reactive skin. It is named after the red tree sap extract from which it is made.

The other range, Glamoxy Snake, is touted as a natural alternative to Botox as it supposedly mimics the paralysing effects of snake venom to reduce and plump up fine lines.

The lymph massage, which the therapist performed with light, expert strokes, was so soothing it nearly lulled me to sleep. She then wheeled in a machine for the second part of the facial, the radio frequency treatment.

It was painless but, as I was forewarned, I felt a slight twinge whenever the hand-held device passed over areas of my face that were still slightly tender from where the therapist had removed blackheads and whiteheads earlier.

After gliding the gadget over my right cheek for several minutes, she passed me a mirror. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the right side of my face was slightly, but visibly, more defined than the left.

RESULTS: The redness on my nose and chin from the extractions of blackheads and whiteheads took half a day to subside. So, if you have a date that night, make an appointment early in the morning. Otherwise, there is no downtime to this facial.

I could still clearly see the web of fine lines under my eyes but my crow's feet and laugh lines appeared less obvious. For the next two days, my face also looked brighter and seemed slightly sharper.

Review by Tee Hun Ching

FACE: IF YOU HAVE 1 TO 3 DAYS

Advance super lifting
For radiant, lifted skin

WHERE: AsterSpring, 05-09 The Centrepoint
PRICE: $750 for 1 hour 40 minutes. Urban readers get to enjoy 20 per cent off when they call 6737-9177 and quote "Urban". Promotion ends Nov 30 WHAt: The main focus of the treatment is the use of ultrasound and localised micro-massage technologies to firm and tone the face, eye areas and neck. Accompanying masks and serums help to hydrate and brighten skin.

TREATMENT: The indulgent facial started with a regular double-cleansing and extraction. After slathering my face with anti-ageing serum and a multi-vitamin mask on top, the therapist used a warm ultrasound probe to gently massage and lift my face, eyes and neck for 40 minutes. It was so comfortable I fell asleep. After removing the mask, she gave my face a quick pressure point massage with aromatherapy oil to drain the lymph nodes.

A 15-minute mask treatment followed. First, a hydrating one was applied, followed by a lifting one on top.

The session was completed with a thin layer of Dermalogica anti-ageing skincare and sunscreen applied on my face and neck.

I appreciated how when the therapist noticed my ungroomed brows, she offered to pluck a few stray hairs.

RESULTS: Immediately afterwards, my face and neck looked brighter and my jawline was visibly sharper. The fine lines around my eyes were also less obvious.

The extraction was not painful and there was no redness afterwards.

Three days later, my skin still looked radiant and my laugh lines were softened.

Review by Gladys Chung


CRYOTHERAPY FACIAL
To perk up tired-looking skin

WHERE: Porcelain Face Spa, 15 Cantonment Road
PRICE: $250 for 60 minutes. The spa is offering a 50 per cent discount for first-timers to the treatment
WHAT: Cryotherapy exposes your skin to extreme cold, which is said to increase the production of collagen. This facial includes another treatment, the cryostamp. For that, small electrodes are placed on the face to reduce pore congestion.

Both treatments, when done together, help to enhance your skin's radiance. This facial is suitable only for people with non-problematic skin.

TREATMENT: The therapist started by cleansing my face with an aloe vera gel cleanser.

Then she spread some vitamin C serum - suitable for all skin types - on my face to begin the cryostamp treatment. The serum is meant to have brightening, moisturising and firming properties.

The treatment involves working a device tipped with 70 short round-tip electrodes over the face. It took her about 15 minutes to work the gadget across my entire face. I felt no pain and only a slight tingling sensation.

Then came the cryotherapy, which uses another device cooled to minus 10 deg C. The therapist put more serum on my face before she started to glide the gadget across my face.

I quickly got over the initial shock of the cold against my skin and I found this portion of the treatment very soothing. To end, I was given a cucumber mask and left to relax for 15 minutes.

RESULTS: I did not notice any difference immediately after the treatment. But the next day, I noticed that my skin seemed brighter and it stayed that way for the next few days. Some colleagues agreed that my skin looked brighter after I told them about the treatment. This facial leaves no unsightly marks or redness, so you can plan to have it done and still go out after. Do this treatment a day before your party to see real effects.

Review by Stacey Chia

FACE: IF YOU HAVE 2 TO 3 DAYS

IVR PLUS FACE TREATMENT
To brighten and tone saggy skin

WHERE: Fresver Beauty, 05-18 Far East Plaza, tel: 6100-8108
PRICE: $380 for 75 minutes
WHAT: Immunity, vitality and rejuvenation are promised by the IVR Plus Face Treatment, essentially a facial massage to stimulate the lymph nodes around the face, eyes, neck, shoulders and chest. This massage claims to get the lymphatic system going and decongest the build-up of toxins which causes break-outs and dull skin. It is recommended for people who want to revitalise puffy, sagging or dull skin.

TREATMENT:  Things started off with a skin analysis, aided by a camera zooming in on my face. The therapist identified some redness on my cheeks as dilated capillaries, noted that my skin was thin and sensitive and pointed out a few blackheads on my nose and whiteheads on my forehead.

Some lavender oil was then applied on my face, followed by a citrusy cleanser twice and an exfoliating scrub. Next, a steamer was used to soften my skin to facilitate the extraction of blackheads. That stung just a little.

A rose essential oil for sensitive skin was chosen for the lymphatic massage. The oils are intended to lubricate the massage, as well as penetrate the capillaries in the skin to help decongest the lymph and improve circulation.

Using medium pressure, the therapist kneaded the skin along areas with lymph nodes, including the cheekbones, sides of the nose, behind the ears and beneath the jaw.

The sensation was pleasant and, in particular, I enjoyed the kneading and pulling of the area under my jaw.

She worked on one side of my face at first, and showed me the difference between the two sides. The massaged side felt less puffy and looked a bit more defined. After both sides were massaged, a scrub was applied, followed by a cream and a cold hydrating mask. It left my skin tingling slightly.

RESULTS: Immediately after the treatment, my skin seemed to feel a little less puffy and look slightly brighter. The therapist said the effect would probably last two to three days and that treatments once every month were recommended for consistent results.

That being said, a few troublesome acne spots I had at the time got a bit red for a few hours, so I would not recommend going straight from the treatment to an event.

Additionally, I was told the stimulated lymph nodes and the corresponding toxin drainage would mean I might want to go to the toilet more, which turned out to be true for the following few days.

Review by Leslie Kay Lim

SKIN: IF YOU HAVE 1 WEEK TO 10 DAYS

BRILLIANT SKIN PROGRAMME
For a smoother neck and decolletage

WHERE: The Sloane Clinic, 01-66 Chip Bee Gardens, 43 Jalan Merah Saga, tel: 6471-1108; and 03-18 Ion Orchard, tel: 6509-8108
PRICE: $1,198.40 for one session of Fraxel Light Laser, Radiance Gel Wrap and LED Red Photomodulation Therapy; or $4,375 for a programme of eight sessions of Fraxel Light Laser, eight Radiance Gel Wraps and four sessions of LED Red Photomodulation Therapy
WHAT

This treatment stimulates skin rejuvenation by penetrating the top layers of the skin with fractional laser beams. The laser stimulates the production of collagen, thus smoothing fine lines and wrinkles and lightening pigmentation.

The gel wrap mask and red LED light treatment helps to reduce the downtime of the laser treatment.

TREATMENT: I often forget to slather sunscreen on my decolletage when I'm out in the sun, so I have a few spots and a darker skin tone in that area.

During the pre-treatment consultation, Dr Chua Han Boon warned that the laser beams would sting (like snapping rubber bands on skin), especially as the neck and chest areas are usually more sensitive.

So, before the treatment, the nurse applied two layers of numbing cream on my decolletage for about 20 minutes to make the laser treatment more bearable.

To further reduce the stinging sensation caused by the laser (which was administered by the doctor), the nurse applied jets of cold air to immediately soothe and cool the areas that were treated.

Still, I flinched when the beams reached the sensitive spots near my underarms. Otherwise, the pain was bearable. Immediately after the 15-minute laser treatment, my skin felt hot and it looked flushed like I had a bad sunburn.

To calm the skin, the nurse applied a cool gel sheet mask on my neck and decolletage. Later, with my eyes covered, I was put under a very bright red LED lamp for about 20 minutes to speed up the healing of the skin. The lamp helped to soothe my skin and it felt a lot less raw afterwards.

RESULTS: Dr Chua instructed me to slather plenty of moisturiser and sunscreen on the treated area to protect and to help it heal. I was also told not to exfoliate that area and stay away from outdoor sports for the next 10 days.

I left the clinic with a flushed decolletage. The redness was gone by the next afternoon, although the doctor said it might take two to three days.

Three days later, I noticed that the grooves on my neck and decolletage were visibly smoother, but the skin tone looked the same. My skin did not peel either, although the doctor said it might. A week later, my decolletage looked a shade lighter. Dr Chua said best results are achieved with six to eight sessions done at around a month's interval apart.

Review by Gladys Chung


BODY: IF YOU HAVE 1 WEEK

VENUS FREEZE 
To reduce the appearance of cellulite and wrinkles on the body and face

WHERE:   Only Group, 22 Malacca Street, 09-00 RB Capital, tel: 6220-4434  
PRICE:   $388 for 30 minutes  
WHAT:   The Venus Freeze treatment uses multi-polar radio frequency, magnetic pulses and high heat to break down fat cells, promote collagen production and improve skin elasticity.

The body-contouring device, which also reduces cellulite and wrinkles, can be used on the face, neck and body, on areas such as the stomach, thighs and arms. It will work on post-pregnancy tummies as well.

TREATMENT:   It focused on my outer and back thighs, the latter of which have some dimpling.

Lying on my front, the therapist applied Vaseline to the backs and outer area of my right thigh, which helped to moisturise the skin as well as make it easier for the handheld machine to glide over the skin.

The machine emitted high heat and a low buzzing sound. The therapist kneaded my skin with the vibrating Venus Freeze device, which looks similar to a shower head, going up and down in circles much like a hot stone massage. It was quite warm at times but it was not painful as the machine was constantly moving. The same 15-minute procedure was repeated on the other thigh.

To finish off, my leg was wiped down with a baby wipe and patted dry with a tissue. RESULTS There were no discernable results immediately after the treatment, apart from softer skin thanks to the Vaseline treatment. There was also no downtime. A few days later, the back of my thighs felt a bit firmer and smoother. Dimpling was still visible but less so. For long-term results, six to eight treatments are recommended.

Reviewed by Leslie Kay Lim

BODY: IF YOU HAVE 4 TO 8 WEEKS

VASER SHAPE
To target stubborn fat

WHERE: Dermacare Aesthetic & Laser Clinic, 05-05 Ion Orchard, tel: 6634-6328
PRICE: $888 per session
WHAT: Low-frequency ultrasound waves are said to vibrate the fat cells so toxins and waste leak out from them. A pulsed vacuum that is applied to the skin helps with the drainage of the toxins through the lymph nodes. Sustained heat from the ultrasound - up to 44 deg C - targeted at the fatty tissue also helps to smoothen the body's contours and reduce the appearance of cellulite. This treatment is best for those who eat healthily and exercise regularly but still cannot get rid of fat in specific areas such as the abdomen, thighs, love handles and arms. It is also recommended as a post-pregnancy treatment for women who want to tighten the loose skin on their abdomen.

TREATMENT: Before the session, I had my height and weight, body mass index (BMI), muscle and fat mass measured. The results showed that although I had a healthy BMI, my body fat percentage was 30.6 per cent - over the ideal range of 18 to 28 per cent.

Equipped with that information, Dr Dennis Kwan, the medical director of Dermacare, suggested that I go for 45-minute brisk walks three to four times a week to bring down my body fat percentage.

I tried the treatment on my tummy. Although the skin is taut there, I find it difficult to lose fat in the area. The therapist first gently massaged the lymph nodes on my body, at places such as the underarms and the areas behind my knees.

She then applied a probe - which felt like a very hot heat pack - around my abdomen for about 30 minutes. At certain sensitive spots, I yelped a little and had to ask her to turn down the temperature. Afterwards, she applied the pulsed vacuum on my body for 15 minutes to help move the toxins to the lymph nodes. It felt a little uncomfortable as my skin was already a little raw from the heated probe.

RESULTS:  Technically, there is no downtime. The redness on the treated areas disappeared after about two hours. But my lower abdomen felt sore for the next four days.

I did not see any visible results immediately. But about three days later, the skin on the treated area felt a little tighter than usual. For best results, the doctor suggests five sessions of Vaser Shape, each about a week apart.

IF YOU HAVE 2 TO 3 MONTHS

LIPOSONIX
For a trimmer waistline

WHERE:  Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic, 05-11 Wheelock Place, tel: 6732-4981
PRICE: Starting at $300 per square, which is an area about 4cm x 4cm on the body. Patients get anything from four to 40 squares done, depending on the size of the problem area. This works out to between $1,200 and $12,000 for a session
WHAT: This abdominal treatment uses high-intensity ultrasound energy to target and break down fat tissue several centimetres beneath the skin. The body naturally removes the destroyed fat over time.

This treatment is best for those who are generally active and healthy but want to reduce their waistline and eliminate the flab around their abdomen. It is appropriate for areas where there is at least 2.5cm of fat to lose.

TREATMENT: The focus was on my tummy, which is a bit flabby. The procedure consists of applying shots of ultrasound energy on square patches of skin, measuring about 4cm x 4cm, which are drawn on the skin using a white pencil, stencil and a purple marker.

Dr Calvin Chan, medical director of the clinic, drew 22 squares on my tummy.

He warned that I could expect some discomfort, in the form of heat, and pins and needles-like sensations. The length of time that the ultrasound is applied on each square depends on the intensity of the energy and heat level (between 30 and 70 deg C). Generally, it amounts to a few minutes on each spot.

As I'm not a fan of high heat and with my low threshold for pain, I started off at 40 deg C. The treatment felt like I was receiving sharp pricks of heat but it was bearable.

The assisting therapists sprayed cool water on each spot after the treatment was done. However, I had to switch to the 30 deg C setting pretty soon as the pain got worse, especially on my left side.

The doctor explained that different areas of the body have different levels of nerve sensitivity. Usually, the treatment takes only about an hour, but mine took about 90 minutes because we took two five-minute breaks and alternated squares so as to let the more painful areas calm down.

At some points, I flinched and yelped from the pain and the doctor would quickly remove the machine. He also chatted with me often to distract me from the procedure.

RESULTS: The destroyed fat cells take about eight to 12 weeks to be naturally removed by the body, so this treatment does take some planning. About two to three months later, patients can expect a reduction in one dress or pant size from one treatment alone. So, start now and you should be in shape for Chinese New Year.

In my case, my stomach already felt a bit firmer the week after the treatment.

Even though I was warned there would be some mild bruising, swelling or redness after a few days, I experienced no such effects. I did feel a very mild ache akin to a cramp the morning after the treatment.

The downside is that this treatment is extremely expensive. My 22-square procedure would have cost $6,600. And results will last only if you maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

This treatment is probably worth the splurge only if you have the spare cash, exercise regularly and just need a last bit of help to get rid of stubborn fat around the stomach.

Reviewed by Leslie Kay Lim

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