How to Treat Skin Pigmentation

Pigmentation is the third greatest skin concern among Australian women and can age your appearance as much as lines and wrinkles. If “soft” options haven’t worked, it might be time to bring out the big guns. 

As your summer glow begins to fade over the next couple of months, you might find yourself left with some stubborn hangers-on, in the form of dark spots or other patchy discolouration.

In fact, you may be among 62 percent of Australian women who suffer from pigmentation to some degree all year round, a statistic revealed in a survey conducted by skincare giant Clinique in 2011. The survey concluded that pigmentation was our third greatest skin concern.

If “soft” options such as topical lightening/brightening products or exfoliation treatments performed at a salon or medi-clinic haven’t achieved the desired results, it might be time to bring out the big guns.

These treatments are, however, better left until summer is over as they can make the skin far more sensitive to the sun and its effects.

Fractionated laser therapy is currently considered the gold standard for the treatment of pigmentation.

It works by targeting both the epidermis (upper skin layer) and dermis (second of the skin’s three layers). It does this by delivering a laser beam that is divided into thousands of tiny but deep columns of treatment into the skin. These are called microthermal treatment zones (MTZs).

Within each MTZ old epidermal pigmented cells are expelled and penetration of collagen in the dermis causes a reaction that leads to collagen re-modelling and new collagen formation – ie. younger-looking and firmer as well as with reduced pigmentation.

By using MTZs, the laser targets and treats intensively within the zone while surrounding healthy tissue remain intact and unaffected. This “fractional” treatment results in a faster healing process than if all tissue in the treatment area was exposed to the laser.

Not everyone, however, will be a suitable candidate and the intensity of the wavelength(s) used will depend on the type and severity of the pigmentation. Downtime depends on the intensity of treatment and several sessions may also be involved.

Before going down the laser route, it is important to ensure you are in the care of a properly trained and experienced operator. It is an unregulated practice in Australia and can be offered by anyone from beauty therapists to plastic surgeons. The quality of devices used also vary wildly and “cheap” treatments may cost a patient dearly – by doing nothing at all, worsening the condition or actually burning and scarring the skin.

A good starting point in your search for a qualified practitioner is with the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia (CPSA). Visit http://www.cosmeticphysicians.org.au/findadoctor.asp?pageid=4

Any dark spots should also be checked by a doctor before having a treatment. If they are actually pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions, laser and light therapies can accelerate their growth.

Chemical peels
More intensive chemical peels than can be offered at a beauty salon or spa – usually involving TriChloroAcetic Acid (TCA) – can be carried out in a doctor’s office, or medi-clinic under a doctor’s authority. These medical-strength acids help remove outer damaged layers of skin.

“The chemical solution is applied to the skin for a set period of time and helps the skin renew itself and, so when new skin grows, any discolorations are less noticeable,” says Sydney cosmetic surgeon Dr Mark Kohout.

Depending on the intensity of the peel, downtime may be anything from a few days to two weeks or more.

Intense Pulsed Light was once the go-to for treating pigmentation. It is still extremely popular and effective in the right candidates.

IPL systems work on the same principles as lasers in that light energy is absorbed into particular target cells with chromophores (skin components that absorb light). The light energy is converted to heat energy, which causes damage to the specific target area.

IPL systems are different to lasers in that they deliver many wavelengths (or colours) in each pulse of light instead of just one wavelength.

This enhances penetration without using excessive energy levels and enables the targeting of specific chromophores.

Not being as intense as a laser treatment may mean it is not as effective and multiple sessions are usually required to see results.

What skin treatments have you tried to treat skin pigmentation?

Light Relief: How to Get Rid of Skin Pigmentation

As you bask in your summer glow, you might also be getting visits from its unwelcome relatives, including dark spots and uneven skin discolouration – pigmentation by any other name. Ways to out those damned spots.

Lines and wrinkles are the most lamented signs of ageing skin, but dark spots or patches (aka pigmentation) caused by sun damage, hormones or inflammatory reactions to skin trauma can, incredibly, make you look 10-15 years older than your true age.

In Australia’s harsh climate, this makes it a very big deal. Indeed, a survey conducted by skincare giant Clinique in 2011 revealed that pigmentation was the third largest skin care concern among Australian women, with 62 percent of those surveyed saying they suffered from it to some degree.

“When we look at skin, we see a reflectance of light,” says associate professor Greg Goodman, from the Dermatology Institute of Victoria. “Light bounces off the epidermis and, if it’s well hydrated and even in tone, the result is a nice vibrant effect. If, however, the epidermis is unevenly coloured, light will bounce back at you in a scattered, dull way.”

So …  just as a key hallmark of young or youthful-looking skin is its ability to reflect light (ie. radiance), dullness and discolouration that “swallow” light create the perception of an ageing skin.

Not only can pigmentation contribute to an older appearance, in more severe cases it can cause emotional distress. Sufferers may resort to wearing thick, layers of makeup to mask it or avoid social situations they believe will place them under negative scrutiny.

They main causes of pigmentation are:

Excess of melanin, or pigment,  in the skin as a result of too much UV exposure (solar lentigines: isolated dark spots, or spreads of finely clustered freckle-like spots). Some people are so sun-sensitive, however, that that a short walk in the park can bring it on. Pigmentation as a result of sun damage takes the form of.

Hormones play a role in many cases. Many women develop pigmentation from taking the contraceptive pill or during pregnancy. This is known as melasma (it can also result from genetic and other factors) and, while it usually fades after childbirth, it may persist in some cases. Melasma is notoriously difficult to treat and may recur even after an apparently successful treatment.

When the skin scars after an injury (whether from an accident, surgery or from acne outbreaks) it may develop post-inflammatory pigmentation.

Being vigilant about applying a high SPF, broad spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis, wearing protective clothing such as hats and avoiding unnecessary or prolonged exposure to the sun are key to avoiding pigmentation.

However, once you have it, these basic rules may stop the condition worsening, but won’t cure it. The dark spots and patches usually fade in the mellower months but they’re bound to make a comeback when the sun is once again at its seasonal peaks.

Reducing and ideally reversing pigmentation requires dedicated treatment. Depending on its severity – or your level of concern and your budget – this can range from home skin care regimens to salon or spa solutions or calling in the bigger guns – scientific-medical technologies and treatments. SheSaid looks at the options in the first of two parts.

Topical treatments
Just about every chemist, department store and “boutique” skincare outlet (from medi-clinics to beauty salons and retail cosmetic chains) carry lightening/brightening products to cater for pigmentation conditions and budgets across the spectrum.

They vary greatly in the range and intensity of their active ingredients – eg. kojic acid, niacinamide (Vitamin B), bearberry, coffeeberry, liquorice extract, Vitamin C, rice bran extract, glycolic and salicylic acids (to name but a few). These “melanin inhibitors” target the pigment production phase.

All can help pigmentation to fade, but they require dedicated use and it may take weeks or months to see an improvement. Melanin is not only hard to remove but has a dark habit of coming back (hence wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen every day is crucial when treating pigmentation).

When pigmentation is particularly problematic – as in the case of melasma – you are probably best to get a referral from your GP to a dermatologist.

“Melasma is a difficult condition that causes a lot of distress,” says Sydney dermatologist Dr Chris Kearney, who prefers to address this type of pigmentation with prescription formulations incorporating hydroquinone. The latter is commonly mistaken for a bleaching agent, when it actually works by blocking tyrosinase – the enzyme that tells cells to produce pigment.

What’s going on in the top layer of the skin where excess pigment is housed can be helped with exfoliation – such as peels or microdermabrasion. This also allows for greater penetration and effectiveness of lightening/brightening products.

If you’re using skin peels or microdermabrasion systems at home, remember that over-zealous use can actually contribute to making pigmentation worse by inflaming the skin or making it weaker and, so, more vulnerable to sun damage.

Beauty salon or medi-clinic treatments use various types and strengths of enzyme or acid peels that are usually conducted over several intervals. These chomp away at the dead, discoloured superficial layers of the skin. In some clinics, peels are followed by an LED (Light Emitting Diode) treatment, such as Omnilux, to help reduce any side effects and speed up the time your tissue takes to regenerate.

What products have you used to treat skin pigmentation?

“Design” Your Ideal Body

Surgery was once the only option to reduce fatty trouble spots that wouldn’t budge with diet or exercise. We look at the new non-surgical solutions to permanent fat reduction.

There’s nothing more frustrating than to watch what you eat and drink and exercise regularly (even when you’d rather stick pins in your eyes) than to have fatty trouble spots that just won’t budge. The ones that might be smaller for the effort but remain relatively bigger than everywhere else!

We’re talking “love handles”, “mummy tummies”, “muffin tops”, “spare tyres”, “tuckshop lady arms”, “thunder thighs”, “chicken fillets” under your bra line … the list goes on.

Spot fat reduction isn’t possible through diet and exercise. Moreover, when you go to great lengths to get rid of your particular trouble spots, you’ll probably find that you create more trouble – eg. losing weight in areas you don’t want, such as the face (ageing) or bust (deflating) – but the niggling spots continue to niggle.

Surgical procedures such a liposuction were once the only option to resolve this dilemma. Now permanent reduction of fatty trouble spots is possible with a variety of non-surgical techniques.

Unlike body wraps and fancy schmancy machines in salons that basically stimulate drainage of excess fluid (hence a short-term result), these technologies provide significant and lasting fat reduction, enabling you to “design” your ideal body shape.

It’s important for patients to understand, though, that non-surgical body-contouring is not designed for weight reduction or as a treatment for obesity. To maintain results, you have to keep up the good work of a healthy diet and regular exercise.

If you think you can rest on your laurels and pig out because the trouble spots have finally gone, you may well discover that fat cells in other parts of your body celebrate by getting bigger – hello, new trouble spots!

Fat cavitation
The use of energy sources such as ultrasound (sound waves), radio frequency and infrared at low frequency has been proven successful in reducing unwanted local fat deposits.

There are a number systems offering this process – brand names include Liposonix, Ultrashape and TruSculpt – which is non-invasive, with only minimal or moderate discomfort in the majority of cases.

A great advantage is that there is no downtime as with surgery, but there can be some redness, bruising and swelling for several days or up to a week or more, depending on the intensity of the treatment.

The fat cell cavitation process can be likened to a highly pitched singing voice shattering glass: the energy waves that pass through the skin shatter the wall of the fat cell. This causes its contents to leak out and kills the cell.

However, no damage is caused to the skin, blood vessels, nerves or connective tissues nearby the treatment areas.

After the breakdown (“lipolysis”) of fat cells, the waste is processed by the liver and excreted via normal body functions.

Usually these procedures require 3-4 treatments, spaced about 3-4 weeks apart, with optimum results seen three months after completing treatment.

Gold Coast cosmetic physician Dr Lindsey Hooke believes in the saying “try before you buy”, which she did with the TruSculpt ultrasonic fat-reduction technology. She and two of her team had one session each and all reported pleasing results.

“I had TruSculpt on the fatty areas of my back around the bra line. Within a month of the treatment – which I found painless – the fatty pockets are significantly reduced and my bras fit a lot better. I feel I can now wear close-fitting tops and dresses without bulges showing through.

“One of my staff had TruSculpt on her inner thighs and she’s delighted. She says she feels and looks a lot better in leggings and jeans.”

This technology literally involves freezing fat cells to death. Zeltiq CoolScupt is the result of years of research by Harvard University-associated scientists, who were intrigued by how babies given ice lollies to suck to relieve teething pain lost fat in their cheeks.

CoolSculpt can target and kill fat cells without harming surrounding tissue.

Fat cells are frozen, then crystallise and are gradually eliminated through the body’s natural processes between 6-12 weeks.

In any one session it targets a particular area such as “love handles”, “muffin tops” and stomachs. The device is positioned on the area to be treated; two “rollers” cooled to 7 degrees C for around 60 minutes. The fatty treatment areas are suctioned between them.

The technology has evolved so that larger areas of localised fat can be treated in one session than initially possible.

Again, optimum results are seen around three months after the final treatment.

A more traditional form of spot fat reduction, mesotherapy (also known as “lipodissolve”), involves a series of essentially pin-prick injections, containing substances such as enzymes, vitamins and phosphatidylcholine (a natural soy substance) into unwanted fat pockets.

These increase fat metabolism to break down fatty deposits in order to naturally absorb and remove them from the body.

Most patients will experience some degree of redness, swelling, itching/stinging, bruising or tenderness. This peaks at around 45 minutes after treatment and can take 24-48 hours to fully subside. Bruises can take a week or more to vanish.

As many as six sessions spaced around a month apart may be required and not everyone will be a “responder”. That will only be determined around 4-6 weeks after your first treatment.

Have you tried – or would you try – non-surgical fat reduction treatments?

6 Ways to a Whiter Smile

A beautiful white smile makes a knockout impression. Scientific studies have shown it’s one of the biggest reasons a person is perceived as more attractive, successful or youthful than perhaps they actually are. On the other hand, discoloured teeth can have exactly the opposite effect. There are numerous options for whitening your smile, whatever your budget or time constraints.

1. Watch what you eat – and not just for weight control!
Cut consumption of staining agents such a coffee, tea, red wine and cola drinks. Clean your teeth for 2-3 minutes at least twice a day using a brush with a small head and soft bristles or, better still, an electric toothbrush. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends placing your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your teeth, aiming the bristles toward the gum line. Jiggle the brush gently back and forward, only brushing one or two teeth at a time. Use an advanced formula whitening toothpaste to help reduce stains. Rinse with a whitening mouthwash and floss every day to keep plaque and decay at bay.

2. Dental checkups
Regular dental checkups and professional scaling and cleaning to remove tartar once or twice a year are highly recommended if you want to keep your teeth healthy. Indeed, keep them in your head, as well as clean and bright.

3. Do-it-yourself whitening
DIY whitening kits, paint-on solutions and adhesive strips will give subtle, cumulative results at home. For more “wow” and longer-lasting results, you can’t beat professional teeth whitening from your dentist. He or she will use either laser or bleaching systems, or both, with take-home kits to enhance results.

Not everyone is a suitable candidate.  If your teeth and gums are not in a healthy condition before you whiten, the procedure may cause more damage. There may be other reasons. See your dentist first. This caution applies to commercial whitening toothpastes and mouth rinses, as well as cheaper shopping centre/beauty salon tooth-whitening systems that are usually performed without dental supervision.

4. Smile restorations
Smile restorations are a huge investment of time and money. If your teeth are making you feel self-conscious, are beyond whitening techniques but you can’t right afford a substantial outlay, Snap-On Smiles (www.snaponsmile.com) are an effective means of achieving a stunning smile , instantly. They are a custom-made set of teeth molded from a top-secret formula. They simply slide over the top of your existing teeth, giving you the appearance of an ideal smile. You can jslide them out again whenever you want.

5. Dental crowns and veneers
To transform the look of your smile (and thereby your whole face) or simply to protect damage to a tooth’s surface, dental crowns and veneers have become an integral offering of modern cosmetic dentistry.  With veneers, a thin layer of material is placed over a tooth or teeth and can be used to recontour their shape, fill gaps, improve the contour of the gum line and overall make the smile look straighter, whiter and more beautiful. Veneers are usually made of porcelain or a composite resin (the latter is also known as bonding, and is a somewhat cheaper option). But only a highly qualified dentist can determine if veneers are the best solution for your teeth issues. Technology has advanced so that, with some veneers, there is no need to remove any of the tooth’s natural structure. An added benefit is that veneers can add more support to the lips, making them look fuller and more youthful.

A dental crown is a “cap” that covers a tooth to restore its shape, size, strength, and to improve its appearance. When the crowns are cemented into place they fully encase the entire visible portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line. Crowns can restore an already broken tooth or one that has been severely worn down by grinding (bruxism) or general wear and tear. They can protect a weak tooth from breaking or to hold together parts of a cracked tooth, hold a dental bridge in place, cover and support a tooth with a large filling when there isn’t a lot of tooth left, cover a dental implant or misshapen or severely discoloured teeth.

6. Change your lipstick
Astonishingly, the colour of your lipstick/gloss can make or break a beautiful white smile. Using a dental color guide, cosmetics giant Clinique compared the brightness of teeth before and after applying certain lipstick colors. These 10 were found to make teeth look a full shade whiter, depending on your individual colouring: Peach Pop, A Different Grape, Cranberry Cream, Red-y To Wear, Raspberry Rush, Raspberry Glacé, Go Fig, Pink-a-boo, Ice Bloom, and Twilight Nude.

Have you tried teeth whitening? What worked – or didn’t – for you? Share it in the comments!

A-Z of Cosmeceutical Skincare

We’ve come a long way, lady, from the days when cold cream and rosewater were the biggest guns in the skincare arsenal.

Harnessing the power of science, over the past decade “ cosmeceuticals” have changed the entire landscape of skincare, arming us with clinically proven weapons against (and for the prevention of) lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and other signs of skin damage and ageing.

Australian experts have been at the forefront of this revolution, no doubt driven by our harsh climate and a generation of sun-worshipping Baby Boomers paying the price for the unwitting follies of their youth, seeking solutions.

But the cosmeceutical industry has also become a dizzying minefield of ABCs and A-Zincs of vitamins, minerals, peptides, ceramides, microbial technology, rare and exotic marine and botanical extracts to ingredients from Icelandic volcanic soil … and blah, blah and blah.

What to choose? What works? How does it work? What works with what? Will it work on me? These are but a few of the questions on consumers’ minds when deciding how to spend what are not insignificant prices for “miracle” formulations.

SheSaid asked a leader in the cosmeceuticals industry, Australian biomedical scientist and cosmetic chemist Terri Vinson, founder of Synergie Minerals and Synergie Skin, to make it simple:

“Most over-the-counter (OTC) products are created for a budget and often more money is spent by the manufacturer on marketing and packaging than the contents on the bottle!” she says.

“Consumers are now becoming aware of the media hype and are savvier than ever in understanding ingredients.”

This is her advice for choosing your basic cosmeceuticals and how to use them wisely:

Prepare your skin for active ingredients with a gentle cleanser: “Since a cleanser is a wash-off product and only in contact with the skin surface for less than 30 seconds, adding active ingredients is not logical. Save your precious actives for products that remain on the skin.” After massaging cleanser into your skin for maximum removal of makeup and dirt, remove with a face washer (don’t be too rough with it) or splashing clean with tepid water.

For day, apply a Vitamin C serum (or L-ascorbic acid powder mixed with a water-based serum immediately before use) under your moisturiser and/or sunscreen. It assists with sun defence, as well as helping clarify the complexion, addressing pigmentation and brightening. However, not all vitamin C serums are created equal, according to Terri. For more detail, visit www.synergieskin.com

The most important skin care product of all is sunscreen – of the high SPF, broad-spectrum variety used every day, rain or shine, all year round. Luckily we live in an age where these abound, are eminently affordable and can come combined as a moisturiser, foundation, BB or CC cream. Apply over face, neck and “dec” (decolletage). “Sunscreen is your primary insurance policy against environmental ageing,” says Terri.

For PM skincare, remove the day’s makeup and dirt with a gentle cleanser. Apply a Vitamin A serum over face, neck and dec and wait for three minutes. Vitamin A encourages cellular turnover for firmer, more youthful-looking skin. Again, not all “A”s are top of the grade. Check out Synergie’s site for more info. “World-renowned [US] dermatologist Professor Leslie Baumann states that mixing [retinol] with acids, particularly chemical exfoliants, results in its chemical breakdown and ineffectiveness.

The next step is to apply Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) over the same areas. B3 helps boost skin hydration and reduce pigmentation. Contrary to a lot of advice out there, Terri urges that niacinamide serums should not be used at the same time as L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), lactic, glycolic or salicylic acid-based products for the same reason as not combing them with Vitamin A.

Follow with a nourishing moisturiser for overnight regeneration.

“Formulating cosmeceutical skincare is based on complex chemistry,” Terri concludes. “It’s not simply throwing together various active ingredients and expecting a result. Any cosmetic formulator must respect and have a deep understanding of how ingredients interact with human cells, how ingredients react with each other and clinical data to support scientific claims.”

Have you tried cosmeceutical skincare? What are your favourite products?

We Review Infini Non-Surgical Facial Rejuvenation

Non-surgical facial rejuvenation technologies have ramped up several notches with the introduction of Infini, and a clinical study claiming it is up to 49 percent as effective as a surgical facelift.

As little as 10 years ago the answer to sagging facial contours and wrinkled, lax skin was a choice between the scalpel or ageing graciously. Then non-surgical rejuvenation technologies came along and revolutionised the face of ageing.

Devices harnessing energy sources such as light (laser), radiofrequency and ultrasound allowed consumers to achieve a firmer, younger-looking appearance without the invasiveness of surgery, its expense and the healing downtime involved.

This, in turn, allowed them to prolong the need for cosmetic plastic surgery (if that was ever on their radar) or avoid it altogether.

Now non-surgical facial rejuvenation has ramped up several notches with Infini, a treatment described as “3D Micro-Needling Fractional Radio Frequency (MFR)”.

A clinical study conducted among 499 participants in five countries showed that Infini could be up to 49 percent as effective as a surgical facelift.

When asked to trial Infini at cosmetic plastic surgeon Dr Darryl Hodgkinson’s Sydney clinic (the first in Australia with the technology), I wasn’t exactly skeptical but, as a specialist writer in cosmetic anti-ageing for more than five years (and with a great personal interest in subject for years prior to that), I have heard my share of extravagant product claims.

I have also had a number of non-surgical facial firming/rejuvenating treatments over the years. While they certainly made a difference, it was of the subtle kind that attracted comments from others like “you look well – have you been on holidays?” rather than seeing it for myself in the mirror. Because the improvements are gradual, over a period of 3-6 months as collagen in the dermis is regenerated, it’s hard to see these changes for yourself.

After the first session of Infini (two down, one to go), I began to notice distinct improvements within about two weeks. It wasn’t that I was staring in the mirror watching for results – it was catching random glimpses of myself in glass reflections (the latter are way worse than mirrors as they tend to exaggerate every groove and depression. Or maybe they just tell the plainer truth!).

The hollows under my eyes appeared less … well … hollow, my jawline seemed firmer and my mouth corners not so ☹. In the mirror my skin looked fresher. Llnes weren’t as pronounced around my eyes and pigmented patches were lighter. Overall my complexion looked and felt more hydrated and it absorbed product more effectively.

My skin is definitely improving all the time and I still have one session to go. I’m told I’ll see optimal results 3-6 months after my final treatment.

One not-so-great by-product is that the intensive process of cell renewal generated by Infini seems to have dislodged all the murky stuff that lay beneath and brought it to the surface. For about a month I was getting breakouts, particularly around my chin and lip area. I’m told this is a good thing and a sign Infini is doing its work. Thankfully the eruptions have now subsided but I delayed my final Infini treatment as a result.

So, what is Infini? 

Non-surgical rejuvenation technologies using radiofrequency (RF) heat the dermis (the second of the skin’s three layers) to stimulate the production of new collagen and, so, renew and tighten the skin. Because RF doesn’t affect the epidermis (surface of the skin) there’s no way of telling what effect it is having underneath if the setting is too high – until it’s too late and the patient is burnt.

By using a “micro-needling” handpiece that creates fractional micro-holes in epidermis, higher levels of RF can be delivered to the dermis with more predictable results than RF used alone. Micro-needling is also well documented to generate production of new collagen in its own right.

This all means more dramatic results. It also meant my face was left beetroot red immediately after treatment, and it took up to a day for the red-pink blush to fully subside. But more of that in shortly…

What does an Infini treatment involve?

I was told there could be pain or discomfort, but I’ve heard that before. Yeah, yeah. yeah. I consider myself an aficionado of these treatments and, combined with extensive corrective dental work over the years, have a high pain threshold.

So maybe I was just too cocky. I won’t lie…it hurt. Quite a bit.

After two applications of numbing cream at 20-minute intervals, Hannah, my designated therapist, got down to biz. There were to be three “passes” over my face and upper neck of decreasing intensity. Hannah started on my forehead and worked down (with extra attention to the droopiest and most lined areas), along systematic lines. On each “line” there were up to five short, sharp pulses of micro-needles delivering RF.

Each pulse of the first “pass” jolted me and I asked for micro-breaks. The second pass was easier and by the third it was bearable. It was all over in about 30 minutes.

Redness is an oft-cited side effect of skin rejuvenation treatments. I’ve rarely suffered any but in this case it was no lie, either. My face was bright red (mainly the result of the micro-needling) but fortunately the clinic recommended Synergie Minerals’ Mineralwhip Antioxidant Cream Foundation as the ultimate post-procedure cover-up. Although light and silky, it covered the redness so no one could tell I’d had anything done. I went straight on to a meeting.

My skin was still a bit red, then pink for a day after each of my two sessions so far and felt somewhat dry and flaky for up to a week.

Is Infini for you?

Dr Hogdkinson says Infini is ideal for those concerned by moderate signs of facial drooping and skin laxity who aren’t ready for, or want to avoid cosmetic surgery.

“However, if a patient has passed a certain point, I will recommend they save their money for when they are ready to have a surgical rejuvenation procedure,” he says. “Otherwise they will be wasting their money and I don’t condone that.”

Although I found Infini … uncomfortable … I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it in light of the results I have achieved so far. No pain, no gain as the cliché goes.

I would, however, advise accepting the offer of a pre-procedure painkiller or sedative (in that event, make sure you have a lift organised home, or get a taxi)!

You don’t have to go the “whole hog”, either, as I did. Patients can have either the superficial RF or the micro-needling as individual treatments. This is ideal for younger patients and those who just want a subtle boost.

What anti-ageing treatments have you tried and loved (or hated!). Tell us in the comments!

Big Belly Blues

If your stomach is bigger than the rest of you and diet and exercise don’t help, it may not be a weight issue.

In Part 1, SheSaid looked at how poor digestion, gut flora imbalance and food intolerances could be why your belly is bulging. We look at other possibe reasons…

Stubborn belly fat may be down to your hormonal make-up. Hormones never work in isolation and behave differently according to their synergy in your particular body.

For instance, the testosterone (“male” hormone) to oestrogen (“female” hormone) ratio is critical for women. Those with higher testosterone levels, such as sufferers of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), have thicker waists.

Cortisol is associated with stress, and more stress-reactive women release more cortisol and have higher amounts of belly fat whether they are slim or overweight.

Menopause is one of the key manifestations of how hormones literally shape our bodies. Menopausal women may not gain weight (though many do) but their shape changes as oestrogen/progesterone levels fall and testosterone, cortisol and insulin levels rise. This is usually reflected in more fat around the abdomen.

“When oestrogen starts to decline our bodies will hold tightly to the fat deposits and even lay down more fat from every available source in order to keep the hormone levels ‘normal’,” says natural therapist Jennifer Chalmers, of Sydney’s Phoenix Holistic Centre. This is particularly the case in areas that are oestrogen-specific: stomach, breasts and buttocks.

TIP: A good first step would be to visit a GP who may order a blood test to rule out any other cause. Then he or she may suggest seeing an endocrinologist or other appropriate medical or health specialist.

If menopause is a definitive factor, to combat declining oestrogen levels your diet should be high in phytoestrogens found in soy products, linseeds, fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes and whole grains, says Jennifer Chalmers.

“Phytoestrogens provide just enough hormones to prevent excess fat being stored without producing the stronger effects of oestrogen,” she says.

Declining muscle mass as we age is another contributing factor.

“We burn more fat when we have muscle, because our metabolic rate increases as our muscle mass increases,” Jennifer says. “The body also secretes more hormone with more muscle mass.

“So weight-bearing exercise as well as moderate aerobic activity is necessary to shape the body and improve the metabolic rate, with a minimum of 30 minutes

Bad posture
If you don’t hold your body in proper alignment (and many people don’t know how, especially in our desk-bound, computer culture), it isn’t just unattractive but can make you and your belly look bigger.

One of the reasons for poor posture is lack of strength in the core (abdominal) muscles. Pilates is a method of exercising designed to help strengthen the core and improve posture, flexibility and muscle tone.

Says Pilates instructor Annie Robin of Balance Moves, in Sydney’s Bondi Beach: “It doesn’t matter how many ab crunches you do, it won’t give you a flatter stomach if you’re not holding your body the right way.”

TIP: “One of the core muscles (the tranversus abdominus) functions as an `internal corset’,” says Annie’s fellow instructor Margot McDonald. “It attaches on one side of the lower spine and wraps around the front to attach on the other side of the lower spine. When this muscle engages by virtue of correct posture it draws the belly inwards. It’s this core muscle that is responsible for reducing the waistline and giving you a flatter stomach.”

Cortisol is one of our main stress hormones, produced by the adrenal glands.

When we experience chronic stress – reasons vary from emotional difficulties to poor diet, pain or illness, job pressure and major life changes, to name some – the body is constantly churning out cortisol.

This triggers high insulin and high blood sugar, which cause everything from increased fat storage (especially around the mid-section, aka “belly fat”) to anxiety, insomnia, poor digestion, inflammation and lowered immunity.

TIP: Stress reduction techniques are as varied as there are individual personalities and needs. Yours might be exercise, meditating, having dedicated “me” time enjoying pursuits you love, having fun with good friends, a massage or seeking professional help. The important thing is to look for something that suits you and then make the time for it on a regular basis.

Poor sleep
Magazines are known to run crazy headlines like “lose weight while you sleep”, but maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Prolonged lack of quality sleep, according to scientists, can play havoc with your weight and health.

This has a lot to do with our nightly hormones, notably ghrelin and leptin, explains Dr Michael Breus, author of Beauty Sleep.

“Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin,” Dr Breus says. “Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived,” Breus says.

Sleep deprivation usually also leads to eating and drinking more of the wrong things for “comfort” and energy boosts while neglecting exercise. This not only leads to weight gain but bloating.

TIP: “On average, we need about 7.5 hours of quality sleep per night,” says Dr Breus. “If you are getting this already, another half hour will not help you lose [5kg] but if you are a five-hour sleeper and start to sleep for seven hours a night, you will start dropping weight.”

Some things are just meant to be – they’re in your DNA. Then, as metabolism slows with age, areas of your body that are pre-destined to carry more fat than others – such as the abdomen – will get fatter. Spot reduction isn’t possible with diet and exercise. Non-surgical fat reduction procedures may be the answer. And that’s a whole new story!

Read part 1 of How to Flatten a ‘Fat’ Belly here.

How to Flatten a ‘Fat’ Belly

If your stomach is bigger than the rest of you and diet and exercise don’t help, it may not be a weight issue.

As you’re reading this, the odds are you’ll be feeling more…well…rounded than at other times of the year. Festive overindulgence and get-togethers full of bubbles and nibbles that we lose count of in the name of celebrating the season, lingering breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners are likely to leave you looking and feeling larger than life. Not in the best possible ways.

The stomach usually suffers the lion’s share of festive excess, and so New Year diet resolutions inevitably kick in. But for many women, no amount of eating well and moderately or exercising regularly will burst that balloon belly because it’s not always a weight issue.

There are a number of other possibilities that may surprise you.

Poor digestion
If your body isn’t properly processing what you eat and drink, waste can accumulate in the intestines and lead to gas bloating and constipation. All of which equals a distended, or fat-looking stomach.

The most likely culprits of poor digestion are not drinking enough water, eating a poor diet, eating too many different food groups in one meal or low levels of stomach acid or digestive enzymes. Modern processed diets and stress leave us more prone generally to digestive issues.

Persistent bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or even more serious issues so see a doctor to rule before taking matters into your own hands.

TIP: A good way to kick start your digestion is with colonic therapy to help rid the body of accumulated waste, gas and toxins. “Colonics rehydrate the bowel to stimulate peristalsis [contraction and relaxation of muscles to propel contents through the digestive tract],” says Anna Paredes, of Sydney’s Colon Care Centres.

“When digestion is sluggish, food – even good, healthy food – ferments in the intestines and produces gas, which causes bloating and discomfort. Dehydration makes matters worse, as the faeces become dry, impacted and hard to move.

“Colonics rehydrate the bowel to get things moving again. You might need several treatments a week apart to start, depending how severe your symptoms are. Then maintenance treatments every few months, or sooner if you feel you need one.”

While colonics are not recommended as a weight loss treatment, once the digestion/elimination process is pumping again, many people find stubborn extra kilos just drop off.

Gut flora imbalance
Not having the proper amount of “good” bacteria in the body allows food to ferment in the intestines and feed “bad” bacteria. Constipation can result, causing toxins to flow through the body. 

One of the most problematic forms of gut flora imbalance is candida, a fungus that is a form of yeast. A small amount lives in your mouth and intestines to aid digestion and nutrient absorption but when there is an overgrowth it can have exactly the opposite effect. It breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxins.

A bloated belly is one of the most obvious symptoms but it can cause a range of health problems from digestive issues to depression.

Candida overgrowth can be caused and fed by a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and fermented foods and drinks (eg. wine), taking oral contraceptives or too many antibiotics, which kill bacteria, including the friendly kind.

TIP: Once confirmed that you do suffer from it by a doctor or health therapist trained in treating candida overgrowth, a change of diet may be necessary to reduce or eliminate foods that feed the fungus. Taking natural supplements that help restore “good” bacteria levels, such as acidophillus bifidus, can help.

Food intolerances
An inability to digest certain sugars and proteins, such as lactose (in dairy products) and gluten (in some grains and the foods they’re used to make; eg. bread and pasta), will cause bloating, constipation or, conversely, diarrhoea. They are not the same as food allergies. You’ll certainly know if you have one of those as “offending” foods can cause extreme reactions such as difficulty breathing, swelling, rashes or vomiting. 

Food intolerances are not noticeable to most people because they believe the signs of digestive distress are normal. A study carried out by food intolerance website Foodintol found 42 per cent of sufferers experience symptoms for more than five years before realising they have the condition and seek help.

If you suddenly become bloated after a meal, take note of what you’ve eaten and in what combinations. Keep a record to compare with future incidents to see if there is a pattern or common food denominator.

TIP: Food intolerances are too often self-diagnosed and lead people to unnecessarily exclude vital nutrients and basic enjoyment from their diet. The first step should be to see your GP, who may refer you for a gastroscopy or a blood or skin test, where a suspected allergen is placed on the skin and the reaction is monitored. If confirmed with a food intolerance, you may need the help of an immunologist, allergist and/or a dietitian to help you manage the condition.

However, there is no test that can definitively diagnose food intolerance. The best thing to do is to keep a food diary to help isolate intolerances, according to Deborah Manners, founder of Intol.

“For a few days, note what you eat and what symptoms occur,” she says. “Then avoid a food you think you are intolerant to for 10 days and note how you feel. Bring that food back into your diet and notice if any symptoms arise.”

Next week, we’ll look at other ways to reduce your belly.

6 of the Best New Age Facials

Facials aren’t what they used to be – thank goodness! It’s no longer enough to be pampered. We want real results, and there’s something for every skin.

While blissful, traditional pampering facials really don’t do much for the skin beyond a fleeting after-glow. With huge advances in rejuvenating and corrective skincare technology, women now expect to see visible, ongoing results from solutions-driven facial treatments.

SheSaid looks at six of the best facial treatments, whether to give your face a boost for festive season frolics – or to recover from them! (Prices and treatment protocols may vary according to the location).

PRIORI® CoffeeBerry Yoga Facial with Omnilux Light Therapy
Equal parts pampering and potent. The treatment starts with a blissful “yoga” massage of the arms, hands, neck, décolletage and scalp. Next comes a cleanse, exfoliating peel, facial massage and mask using Priori CoffeeBerry products. CoffeeBerry extract is the most potent form of natural antioxidants of any fruit, vegetable or tea – indeed, it’s three times more potent than green tea. Priori products are also free of parabens and petro chemicals. The Yoga Facial improves hydration for anti-ageing benefits such as a visible reduction of lines,  wrinkles and pigmentation and refines skin texture for a smoother, more radiant complexion. You won’t recognise yourself afterwards (I barely could!). The Yoga Facial may be followed by Omnilux Light Therapy for around 20 minutes, a non-invasive treatment that helps boost skin regeneration with no downtime.

Visit www.spauniverse.com.au for a salon near you.

Eminence Firm Skin Facial
For people who want real results from products without chemicals, the Firm Skin Facial starts with a thorough cleansing and enzymatic peeling using “active organics”. This stimulates blood flow, transporting fresh nutrients and oxygen into the tissue. There is a lot of active product application and a great “organic Botox” massage that combines some facial muscle manipulation with lymphatic drainage. The skin looks immediately lifted, firmer and more hydrated. The “holiday glow” has lasted up to a week in my experience, using home care products from the Hungarian range to maximise results. Firm Skin Facial is particularly effective for anti-ageing, hydrating and detoxifying.

Call 1800 142 182 or www.eminenceorganics.com.au

Ariane Inden Personalised Facial Treatments
An Ariane Inden facial starts with a computer analysis of your skin’s condition to determine the percentage of moisture and sebum. A treatment is then prescribed according to which one of the 32 skin types you are, as identified by the Dutch-based skin care company.

These are based on eight skin characteristics (Tired, Stressed, Acne, Wrinkles, Sensitive and allergic, Thick Skin, Thin and couperose, Perfect and beautiful) and four skin conditions: (low moisture/high natural sebum; high moisture/low natural sebum; low moisture/low natural sebum; high moisture/ high natural sebum). All facial treatments use high concentrations of anti-ageing vitamins A, C and E. There is a big emphasis on face, neck and shoulder massage (sublime!) to promote better blood flow and infuse the tissues with youth-giving oxygen.

You float out of the clinic looking radiant – but only after a complimentary makeup session and armed with a menu suggestion of ideal home care products.

While high tech, Ariane Inden products are hypoallergenic, dermatologically tested (not on animals), do not contain animal ingredients and are available scented and unscented, without colouring agents.

Call 02 8964 7005; www.facebook.com/arianeindenaustralia

MEDIK8 “Lunchtime” Facial Peel Treatments
High performance British cosmeceutical clinical and home skincare range Medik8 has “lunchtime” acid and enzyme peels for different conditions that leave skin looking younger, clearer and more radiant, with increased hydration and elasticity. During treatment, there may the sensation of tingling or even mild stinging for a few minutes, but there is no redness or peeling afterwards, so no downtime. Skin continues to improve after treatment. Depending on your preference and practitioner, the peels may be combined with massages or masks.

There is Superfacial, to pep up dull skin, White Peel to help lighten pigmentation, Age Peel to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and imperfections, Eye Peel to improve tone, texture and plumpness around the vulnerable eye area (also good for upper lip, decolletage and backs of hands) and Beta Peel to combat and help prevent future occurrences of acne, breakouts and congestion.

Call Advanced Cosmeceuticals on 1800 242 011 or visit www.medik8.com.au

Clear + Brilliant
Designed to fill the space between a microdermabrasion and more aggressive laser treatments such as Fraxel, Clear + Brilliant can be used as a one-off treatment for younger-looking, more radiant skin before a special event or over a course of treatments for longer term youth-giving improvements. It’s not a pamper fest, let’s get that straight. Numbing cream is applied and then the laser device is moved over the face in precise areas in meticulous strokes (simultaneously with cold air for comfort). There may be a sensation of slight, warm prickles or even of getting sunburnt. Skin can look pink to red for up to a day afterwards and feel a bit dry, so Clear + Brilliant needs to be planned ahead. It’s ideal perfect for those who want to refresh their skin, or are looking to prevent the signs of ageing (or both!). It’s is designed for all skin types, colour and age, even people in their 20s.  You will see results immediately and more as time goes on.

Visit www.clearandbrilliant.com/consumer/find-a-doctor

Luminiere Microdermabrasion, Peel and Omnilux Facial Treatment
A Luminiere microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals to deeply exfoliate the build-up of dead cells that contribute to conditions from breakouts to dullness and fine lines. Products used afterwards will penetrate more effectively to enhance results. Microdermabrasion also improves lymphatic drainage and circulation for a clearer, brighter complexion. It sounds scratchy but in fact it is a very soothing, almost massage-like experience as the therapist systematically works the microdermabrasion device over the face.

A light chemical peel follows to remove the top layers of skin and help stimulate collagen production and combat the signs of sun damage. The type used at Luminiere will be completely dependent on your skin type and concerns. You may feel a tingling, or even mild stinging sensation for a few minutes as the peel works its magic.

Omnilux Light Therapy follows to stimulate the body’s natural process to heal and rejuvenate the skin. You glow!

Call 1300 586 000 or www.luminiere.com.au

What’s your favourite facial treatment? Share it in the comments!

A Bright Pink Ray of Hope in the Breast Cancer Battle

She did an “Angelina Jolie” long before Angelina did it herself. But while the superstar received global recognition for undergoing a preventative double mastectomy and sharing her experience for the benefit of other women, Krystal Barter’s decision to have the surgery was at time when it was little-discussed or understood.

The lack of information and professional psychological support available in 2008 left the then-25-year-old Sydney mum of two young boys with a devastating sense of isolation and anxiety. Despite the unwavering help and encouragement of her husband, Chris, family and many friends, Krystal felt very much alone.

Rather than succumb to her turmoil she was inspired by her mother, a breast cancer survivor, to channel her experience into a crusade to make the journey a whole lot easier for others in future.

It was conceived in her hospital bed while Krystal was recovering from her preventative double mastectomy and, in 2009, Pink Hope was born. It is Australia’s first online community focusing on informing, empowering and supporting women at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer and their families.

On September 20, Pink Hope is staging its annual Bright Pink Lipstick Day, encouraging women to “wear, share and show you care”; to raise awareness of breast and ovarian cancers as well as funds for Pink Hope’s work. But more of that shortly …

When Krystal made the monumental decision to have both breasts pre-emptively removed and reconstructed, she had lived in the shadow of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers her whole life.

“I grew up part of a family where pretty much every woman didn’t have any breasts,” she says. “Of the 25 women in our extended family, 80 per cent of them died from breast and/or ovarian cancer. My great-grandma was 68 when she was diagnosed. My Nan was 44. My mum, Julie, was only 36. So I also grew up scared I was going to get cancer.”

Krystal’s mother and grandmother were among the first women in Australia to be tested for and diagnosed with the BRCA1 (breast cancer) gene fault, the same as Angelina Jolie’s, which meant that Krystal was at very high risk for developing the disease.

Yet she wasn’t emotionally ready to be tested until she was 22 and cradling her first baby son in her arms. It was then she decided she was finally ready for “the gift of knowledge”. It wasn’t for another three years, however, that she was ready to contemplate a preventative mastectomy and only then when an abnormal mammogram result tipped the balance.

“I wanted to live my life, not under the cloud of cancer, but in happiness with my kids,” she recalls. “I decided, right then and there, book me in. Losing my breasts was such a small price to pay. I had the operation and it felt like my new life started.”

Nevertheless the decision wasn’t a clear-cut one, and nor did she simply recover from her surgical wounds and breeze on with her “new life”.

Preventative mastectomy, even as recently as five years ago, was shrouded in myth and mystery and the lack of information available created a sense of isolation that Krystal found traumatic.

But from childhood, Krystal’s mum had encouraged her to help other people, particularly through charity work. This was the genesis of Pink Hope, “a support network, source of accredited information, haven of support and trusted place to ask questions. [It] is a testament to Krystal’s spirit and dedication,” according to a testimonial when she was nominated for the 2012 NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year award.

“With more than 2500 forum members, millions of web visits, 28,000 social media followers and 100 national ambassadors, the website highlights the importance of Krystal’s storytelling and rare ability to bring people together to raise the profile of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.”

Krystal, now 30 – and with a third child, daughter Bonnie, added to her brood since her surgery – demurs. “I’m just an example of the 120,000 Australian women who walk this journey every day,” she says. “Having experienced the isolation and lack of information for women like me first hand, I decided to be proactive about helping others.

“I didn’t have anyone to talk to who had gone through what I was going through – throughout my journey from being a young girl whose mother, grandmother and great grandmother had breast cancer, to the genetic testing and the anxiety of knowing I had an 87 per cent chance of breast cancer and up to a 60 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.

“Then there was the preventative surgery itself. There was no support outside the doctor’s office to help me understand my risk and options.

“I thought, `Why hasn’t someone created something to help people like me?’ And then I realised `I am the someone and I’ve got to do it’.

“I came out of surgery knowing I was the first woman in my family who wouldn’t have to battle breast cancer. I felt strong and alive and, for the first time in so long, I felt like `me’ again. I wanted to share this feeling with others and make sure no woman had to go through what I went through alone.

“So as I lay in my hospital bed, I got on my laptop and started Pink Hope. And here we are.”


Bright Pink Lipstick Day came about because “I wanted to give families like mine a day globally that belonged to them,” Krystal says. “I’m a girly girl at heart. I love to wear bright lipstick, so that was the start.

“A big part of the community we’ve created is to be engaging, positive and bright and I wanted to create an awareness day that reflected that.

Wearing bright pink lipstick is a fun and fabulous way to increase awareness and also engage with the community in a way that they can enjoy and share.

“We’ve also aligned Bright Pink Lipstick Day with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Month in the US to raise awareness as much as we can on an international, as well as national, level.”

Revlon is a major sponsor of Bright Pink Lipstick Day and, indeed, has created a Limited Edition Pink Hope lipstick that is available this month from Target, Priceline and selected pharmacies.

“By slicking on your brightest pink Revlon lipstick, you are promoting the importance that all women everywhere should be proactive about their breast and ovarian health by investigating their family history,” Krystal adds.

Says Janet Muggivan, Revlon Corporate Communications Asia/Pacific: “Revlon has supported women’s cancers for many years now. The Los Angeles and New York Revlon Runs/Walks have become famous for the funds raised going to women’s cancers.

“We believe Pink Hope is a valuable resource and, as someone who has actually walked that path, Krystal’s work is invaluable to women dealing with cancer.

“Pink Hope and the Bright Pink Lipstick Day have the perfect synergy with Revlon, whose core message is for women to use makeup to express themselves.”

Other business sponsors include Deshabille, Running Bare, Murchison-Hume and Skipping Girl, “who have created gorgeous products and in-store sales for Pink Hope,” says Krystal. “Going Up Elevators has given us an office within their warehouse and space to store everything.

“My family lives and breathes Pink Hope – my mum and grandmas help in the office as well. We literally have one part-time employee and a small group of people who volunteer their time when they can.

“There have been so many amazing people who have helped me along the way. My husband, Mum, Dad and my Nans. They have helped me pack boxes, attend fundraisers, cleaned my house when things have got incredible busy … so much else. It’s a real family effort.

“[Nine Network Today Show co-host] Karl Stefanovic is also an amazing family friend. He made sure Today supported me when we started Pink Hope and has been there ever since. I am so grateful for his support and friendship.

“Bright Pink Lipstick Day is our one big event that can help us to create a more permanent team and help us help the community that no one else is putting the time into.

“We are hopeful we can raise significant money so Pink Hope can grow and keep up with demand. I desperately would love to have a genetic counsellor who works alongside me making sure all the information, support mechanisms and families are supported at a high health care level.”

Although Krystal was in fact the pioneer, she can’t thank Angelina Jolie enough.

“It wasn’t until May this year when we were called upon as the only unique charity to pass comment on Angelina’s story around the country and in the UK that I felt the media, health care community and philanthropic sector could see how truly valuable Pink Hope is,” she says.

“I hope people will give generously to Bright Pink Lipstick Day – either by fundraising, donating, becoming a sponsor or holding a workplace event. Any donation, however big or small, won’t be a drop in the ocean. It will make a huge difference to our charity.”

Krystal’s passion for making other women more at peace with their journey is sharing tit-bits, if you’ll pardon the pun, of personal information about her own experience.

She was recently chatted up by a hopeful admirer, who admired her new-ish cleavage (which she says is better than the one Nature provided). “I said to him, `Well, you know I don’t have any nipples?’. He just replied, `Then you’re the sexiest woman without nipples I’ve ever met …’.”

To learn more about Pink Hope and how to participate in Bright Pink Lipstick Day, visit www.pinkhope.org.au.

Jenni Gilbert is a longtime journalist with a passion for sourcing and sharing information about how to look and feel better, inside and out. Jenni’s resume includes Editor-in-Chief of New Idea, launch editor of Good Medicine magazine, London correspondent for Fairfax’s The Sun newspaper – she even covered the wedding of Charles and Diana! – Deputy Editor of Who, senior writer for Woman’s Day, News & Features Editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly and much more. Family, friends, her cat, travelling, Pilates, yoga, holistic health and anti-ageing treatments are what makes Jenni’s life go round.

The Skinny on Quitting Sugar

Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar was one of the year’s Australian publishing sensations, spawning a mini-industry telling people how to kick the white stuff. The former Cosmopolitan magazine editor and erstwhile sugar “addict” says she once consumed the equivalent of 25 teaspoons a day, much “hidden” in foods and drinks.

A health and life crisis made her re-evaluate her lifestyle and ultimately recognise a link between her OTT intake of the sweet siren and years of mood disorders, fluctuating weight, sleep problems and thyroid disease.

By radically moderating her sugar consumption “I lost weight and my skin changed, it cleared,” she says, “but I also started to heal. I found wellness and the kind of energy and sparkle I had as a kid.” Her personal experience resulted in the book, interactive website and cult following.

As with any apparent diet “miracle”, I Quit Sugar has already generated a counter-movement with nutritionist Cassie Platt soon to publish her own book, I Didn’t Quit Sugar.

It’s created a stir in the sugar bowl with Wilson blogging in her book’s defence that “I don’t suggest quitting all sugars. I certainly don’t advocate quitting glucose. I’m very clear: fructose is the issue, mostly in the form of sucrose.  I agree, quitting all sugar, and carbs, could create health issues, such as hair loss.

“Yes, yes, yes, the title of my book is I Quit Sugar. But when we say “sugar”, most of us are referring to sucrose or table sugar (the stuff they put in doughnuts), right? And within about three words of opening the book I highlight I’m referring to fructose specifically.”

Okay, so that’s two women’s experiences. But what are we talking about, really? How much sugar do those of us not committed to a radical lifestyle change (but who’d still like to lose weight, feel and look brighter etc) need to give up? What are “good” and “bad” sugars”? After all, fruit has sugar and fruit is good for you, or so we’ve been told for generations.

Is sugar really the devil – or “Satan’s crystals” as some colourful detractors have dubbed it? There was a time when it was just blamed for rotting your teeth and making you overweight.

Now, over the past decade, sugar has been deemed a culprit behind everything from obesity to feeding cancer cells to ageing the body (particularly the skin) at an accelerated rate (glycation), heart disease, dementia, macular (eye) degeneration, chronic kidney disease and failure, and high blood pressure.

There’s always impressive-sounding studies and statistics to support such claims. If you’re not a scientific expert, though, it’s hard to digest what’s best for you.

The biggest problem with sugar is that, these days, it’s everywhere, whether you know it or not, and it comes in far more processed forms than nature intended. It’s to be found in such sources as Macca’s French fries, breading on most packaged and restaurant foods, hamburgers sold in restaurants to reduce meat shrinkage during cooking, canned salmon (before canning, it is often glazed with a sugar solution), cured/sliced meats such as ham, turkey and chicken, bacon and canned meats, stock cubes (which usually contain MSG as well), many peanut butter brands, dry cereals and carb-dense foods, particularly highly processed ones such as commercial bread and rice.

A telling comparison:

  • In 1822 Americans consumed 45gm of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in a can of Coca Cola.
  • In 2012 Americans consumed 756gm of sugar every five days, or 58kg of sugar a year. That’s the size of some adults!

When you eat sugar – and, especially, too much of it – your body can deal with it one of two ways:

  • Burn it for energy. Great if your body is firing on all cylinders and you have a fast metabolism.
  • Convert it to fat and store it in your fat cells. With today’s stressed lifestyles and diets, there’s more scope for fat storage. Excess sugar is used to provide the energy our body needs rather than drawing on our fat stores.

When your pancreas detects a rush of sugar, it releases the hormone insulin to deal with the blood sugar spike. Insulin helps to regulate the level of sugar in the blood; the more sugar in the bloodstream, the more insulin is released. Insulin helps store glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen and in fat cells.

If too much insulin is released, blood sugar drops below normal levels causing hypoglycemia – essentially a sugar “crash”. Our bodies respond by craving sugar and this is where the “addiction” cycle can come into play. We consume more sugar and the process starts again. The more severe the blood sugar spike, the more insulin required. This means it becomes easier to skip using sugar as energy and go straight to extra insulin and fat storage.

We’re not genetically designed to consume the amount of sugar we’re currently eating. For that reason, our brains get the “happy feeling” (eg. spike of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin) from sugar that we could otherwise get from exercise.

So is eating less sugar the answer? Actually, it’s only part of the battle.

You’ve probably heard of the Glycaemic Index. It’s the calculation of how quickly a particular type of food increases your blood sugar level, on a scale from 1-100 (100 being pure glucose).

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, from the University of Sydney’s School of Molecular Bioscience and Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, also author of the best-selling Low GI Diet franchise, talked to She ‘Said’:

How bad really is sugar for you?

No worse than any other source of carbohydrate (starch, glucose etc).

What are the side effects (apart from weight gain) of eating too much sugar?

Some studies suggest that it increases the level of triglycerides (fats) in your blood and liver, but this type of study usually involves a supra-normal dose. When more realistic doses are used, there’s no difference.

What are the side effects of having no sugar at all?

Studies suggest that people who avoid sugar end up eating more saturated fat. It’s called the sugar-fat seesaw and it’s well documented in all population groups.

When people become overly zealous about deleting all sugar (indeed, any type of food) from their diet, can it can cause feelings of deprivation that eventually make you obsess over and crave the “forbidden fruit”?

Absolutely agree. And the liking for sweetness is programmed into human brains. Many primates are “frugivores” – they get the majority of their calories from fruits.

What are the benefits of reducing sugar in your diet?

If you get currently more than 25 per cent of your calories from refined sugars (the average is actually 10-12 per cent), then cutting down may improve the nutritional value of your diet. But it’s no guarantee. A completely sugar-free diet if often high in refined oils, refined starches and alcohol, which are also empty calories.

How much sugar should an average person consume each day and from what sources?

Most authorities say 10 per cent of your calories can safely come from refined sugars – that’s 200 calories in a 2000 calorie diet, and that’s 50g of sugar, or 10 teaspoons.  My recommendation would be to use this sugar to increase the palatability of bland but wholesome foods such as muesli, porridge, yoghurt or jam/honey on wholegrain bread.

Is there such as thing as “good” and “bad” sugars?

No. Nature provides a mix of sugars, including sucrose, glucose and fructose. Some ignorant people think glucose is better than fructose but that’s wishful thinking. If anything, glucose alone would increase your risk of diabetes.

What is your advice about finding balance in your diet overall, and keeping your sugar intake at acceptable levels?

Eat a higher-protein, lower GI, Mediterranean diet because this will help to control appetite. Go to bed early, get a good night’s sleep and get 30 minutes of exercise a day.  THEN allow your appetite to guide food intake. Eat for both pleasure and wellbeing.

If someone is keen to give such a low-sugar diet a go, how would you recommend they go about it?

They should seek advice only from people with university qualifications, preferably with APD after their name (Accredited Practising Dietitian).

Is sugar the enemy, or do you indulge your sweet teeth? How do you feel about sugar? Tell us in the comments!

Jenni Gilbert is a longtime journalist with a passion for sourcing and sharing information about how to look and feel better, inside and out. Jenni’s resume includes Editor-in-Chief of New Idea, launch editor of Good Medicine magazine, London correspondent for Fairfax’s The Sun newspaper – she even covered the wedding of Charles and Diana! – Deputy Editor of Who, senior writer for Woman’s Day, News & Features Editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly and much more. Family, friends, her cat, travelling, Pilates, yoga, holistic health and anti-ageing treatments are what makes Jenni’s life go round.