What are Dermal Fillers?

Dermal fillers are used to soften and contour lines, wrinkles and folds in the skin. They achieve this by plumping up or volumising areas of deficiency, giving a smoother effect.

As skin ages, it loses collagen, fat and other natural moisturising substances from our skin. These can be thought of as the foundation or ‘scaffolding’ that keeps it looking young and feeling firm. This can occur both naturally and because of other factors such as sun damage, smoking, and poor diet. The effects of ageing or damage are usually more noticeable on our faces.

What are dermal fillers made of?

Various kinds of materials are used as dermal fillers, including both natural and man-made substances. Some fillers have a temporary effect, such as Hyaluronic Acid (HA) based treatments, whilst others are semi-permament (eg. Sculpra), lasting up to 18 months before the effects wear off.

Hyaluronic acid (HA)

HA is found naturally throughout our bodies: in our skin, bones, joints, and eyes. It acts as a lubricant and moisturiser due to its ability to attract and store water. Hyaluronic Acid is clinically produced, usually from bacterial, not from animal or human sources.

Some well-known brands of HA dermal fillers in the UK include:

  • Juvederm
  • Restylane

Restylane is probably the most widely used filler, having been used worldwide for over a decade with millions of patients having benefited from this treatment.

Alternative materials used in dermal fillers:

  • Collagen fillers. Collagen fillers are made by purifying collagen from animal sources. Prior to the treatment an allergy test is carried out to ensure that you are not sensitive to the constituents of the filler. Collagen fillers do not last as long as HA fillers and their use has declined as a result. Examples are Zyderm and Zyplast.
  • Radiesse. This dermal filler is composed of a gel containing synthetic calcium. It has the effect of a dermal filler but it also encourages collagen production in your skin to help increase its volume over time.
  • Sculptra. This is more of a volumiser rather than a true dermal filler. By stimulating the skin’s own collagen production it achieves skin thickening and improved volume. It usually lasts for about 18 months.

Is the treatment painful?

A local anaesthetic cream is sometimes used to make the treatment as comfortable as possible. For treatments near the mouth, such as lip treatments, your surgeon will numb the area with a local anaesthetic injection which is similar to a dental anaesthetic.

After the treatment your surgeon will advise you regarding do’s and dont’s and will give you instructions to take home.

Are there any side effects?

Most people can return to their normal daily life immediately after the treatment. The commonest side effects are related to the area being treated and can include slight bleeding, mild bruising and swelling. These can last up to 3-5 days particularly following lip treatment, but more usually the effects are more short-lived.

Allergic reactions are rare but if they occur will cause redness, itching, swelling, and hardness, or small bumps under the skin.

If you have a history of cold sores, dermal filler treatment in the same area might trigger a reactivation. Your surgeon may prescribe a course of anti-viral tablets (e.g. acyclovir) immediately after the treatment and for a few days afterwards, to reduce the possibility of a recurrence.

How long do dermal fillers last?

The length of time that dermal fillers last depends on the type of filler used and the area injected. A Hyaluronic Acid dermal filler typically lasts around 6-12 months, collagen between 3-6 months and Sculptra about 18 months or more.

As the dermal filler is gradually broken down, the area can be ‘topped-up’ to retain the effect. However, if you decide against further treatments, the area will gradually return to how it was before the treatment if a non-permanent dermal filler was used.

Can anyone have dermal filler treatment?

Whilst most people can benefit from this treatment, there are certain medications and conditions that preclude its use.

If you are pregnant or breast-feeding you would be advised to delay treatment until breast-feeding has finished. This is only suggested as a precaution as non harmful effects are known to have occurred in these groups of individuals.