Seldom thought of as an organ by the average individual, the skin is, in fact, the largest of the body’s organs and has a number of vital functions. In addition to providing an effective barrier against infection and the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, it plays a role in regulating body temperature, contains the receptors responsible for the sense of touch, is involved in the synthesis of vitamin D, and serves as an excretory organ that helps rid the body of certain toxins. Ageing, sun exposure, diet, and various lifestyle choices all tend to leave their mark on this remarkable organ, creating a demand for skin renewal treatments.
Today, there are four main forms of aesthetic treatment commonly used for this purpose, three of which have parallels in the distant past. The use of chemicals to treat scars and wrinkles hit the western world in the late 1800s and by the early 1900s, phenol, followed later by trichloroacetic acid, were being used to remove the outer layer of dead cells and expose the young and healthy layer of cells beneath in a process of dermatological renewal known as skin peeling. Although much refined, chemical peels are highly effective and are still widely used today. For their origin, however, we must thank the ancient Egyptians who used mixtures containing sour milk, a source of lactic acid, for a softer, smoother complexion.
Microdermabrasion employs a mechanical rather than chemical means to remove the superficial layer of dead cells and the body responds to this apparent injury by replacing them with healthy ones. The process became popular in the ‘70s but, once again, its origin is ancient. In 1500 BC, the Egyptians used an early form of sandpaper to achieve this effect. Today, abrasive skin renewal relies on hand-held machines that use fine crystals to buff and polish the skin’s surface.
One might have thought that the laser treatments applied in various ways to promote dermal rejuvenation were purely a product of the 20th century. However, while laser technology certainly is, the ancient Egyptians were already familiar with the restorative properties of light in the form of ultraviolet rays, using exposure to sunlight to treat various dermatological disorders. The practice resurfaced in the 18th century when physicians in Europe began using sunlight to treat patients with eczema and psoriasis.
Without any known parallel in the ancient world, the intradermal injection of botulinum toxin and dermal fillers are minimally invasive procedures and highly effective as a means of skin renewal. Both conceal fine lines and wrinkles to restore a more youthful appearance, while dermal fillers can also be used to plump up sunken cheeks and thin lips.