Health: Is this treatment really an alternative to the face-lift?

There's no pain or scarring. But will photo-dynamic therapy roll back the years?
AT THE age of 32, I decide it's time for a face-lift. But having a pathological fear of scalpels, I head for the Hale Clinic in London for photodynamic therapy. It's the next big thing in natural face-lifts, apparently.

The treatment uses a light source in the red and infrared. A practitioner, Shenaz Shariff, says, "The light is photodynamically converted into energy that is redistributed to ageing cells in the body. The energy then helps to regenerate those cells. So you have younger, fresher cells, basically.''

She also claims it stimulates collagen production, improving the skin's elasticity; dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow; and helps the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins.

I'm hoping for a similar experience to that of Mrs Woolley. Information supplied by the clinic says 57-year-old Mrs Woolley has been besieged by friends crying ``What have you done? You look terrific!'' since her visits to the Hale. After a course of 10 weekly treatments: "her friends confirm to her that she looks 39 again".

At this rate, I'll end up looking 14 and save a fortune in bus fares. I lie on the couch. My face is cleansed; my eyes are covered with cotton pads. The photodynamic machine is wheeled over and its three panels are placed on my face.

The red lights are switched on and I lie there for 10 minutes. I don't feel anything at all. Shenaz then uses a special pen-like rod, emitting the same red light, to zone in on problem areas. Odourless creams are massaged in, and I am given a short burst of reflexology.

After my session I feel more relaxed, but as an advocate of regular lie- downs this is not surprising. I float over to the mirror to see whether I have achieved "a Woolley". "I can see an improvement already," insists Shenaz. In fact, I do look more refreshed.

I ask Professor John Hawk, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas' Hospital, London, for his opinion. He says calling the treatment "photodynamic therapy" could be misleading, as it is an established medical term for a method of treating skin cancer. And sorry, he says, it won't roll back the years.

``I disagree that red light would be photodynamically converted into energy to make the cells look younger," he says. "It would be absorbed into the body and create a slight degree of warmth - no different from using a heater or hot-water bottle."

Professor Hawk says that the treatment appears to combine two processes: ``One is producing a bit of heat into the skin, which will increase the blood supply and bring fluid into the tissue, making it slightly plumper. The other is the use of a moisturiser that will put a film over the surface of the skin, to retain moisture for a few hours. It will have a short- term cosmetic effect of making the skin look a little more plumped up, therefore a tiny bit younger." He adds: "But you could do the same thing at home with an ordinary household bulb and a bottle of moisturiser."

My brush with nirvana soon evaporates. Back in the real world, I go to a BT phone box and drop in a pound. It keeps the coin. My brow furrows. I wonder how Mrs Woolley would have coped with all this.

One session of photo-dynamic therapy costs pounds 65. Contact the Hale Clinic on 0171-631 0156