By Elizabeth Wellington
Knight Ridder Newspapers
PHILADELPHIA - Claudia Cammarata gets microdermabrasion performed by Susan Henley at Skin Deep Cellulite Solutions.
Her eyes protected by bumblebee-yellow goggles, Kimberly Campenella relaxed at Pierre & Carlo Salon and Spa as aesthetician Alexis Brown traced the contours of her face with a red laser.
The scarlet light will stimulate collagen, and in a few weeks the skin around the architect's eyes, lips and jawbone will plump up, slowing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Fine lines and wrinkles? Since she's only 33, you wouldn't think that was one of Campenella's issues. One would need a magnifying glass to see the tiny lines that hug her thin lips - and with her raven hair and milky skin, she looks 28.
Still, she stresses about it. And on this rainy day in June, Campenella is ready for her second wrinkle-fighting laser-light treatment at the Center City salon.
"I'm looking in the mirror and I'm concerned about my appearance," said the buff mother of two who works out three days a week.
"I see lines. I see wrinkles. I'm getting older. I want to stay young and fit ... We can control the aging process a little."
While the large majority of folks tucking and nipping are over 40, age-fighting procedures are being aimed at - and are luring in - a younger set that, strangely enough, is just starting to enjoy its acne-free years.
People from 25 to 35 are going for nonsurgical techniques from botox to glycolic peels and microdermabrasion to prevent aging before it starts.
Last year the average age of patients dropped to 51 from 55 in 2001, according to the Illinois-based American Society of Dermatologic Surgery - largely because of the under-40 clientele.
"There's no question, we are seeing a lot of women in their 20s and 30s who want to fight wrinkles," said physician Roy Geronemus, president of the group and director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. "People are more attuned to the early signs of aging, whether they are frown lines, age spots or skin laxity."
The procedures can be expensive - from $100 to $1,000 - and have side effects, from temporary paralysis (with botox) to itchy rashes (with chemical peels). And their effectiveness can be debatable - in some cases, the benefits are seen over time, if noticed at all.
But interest continues to swell. Savvy marketing and new technologies are the main reasons young adults are spending hundreds of dollars a month to maintain the looks they already have. Glossy ads in fashion mags tout nonsurgical procedures as part of a hip, happening 20s-30s lifestyle - and these procedures as proactive parts of a long-term skin-care regimen.
Procedures such as microdermabrasion and glycolic peels are also popular with Gen-Xers because they can be done in dermatologists' offices as well as in swanky, lavender-scented salons between eyebrow waxes and pedicures.
As a teenager, Claudia Cammarata spent hours frolicking in the sun sans sunscreen. The 37-year-old personal trainer doesn't have significant lines yet, but she's determined to stave them off as long as she can.
Every six weeks, between working and working out, Cammarata has aesthetician Susan Henley slough off the top layer of skin on her face. The process is called microdermabrasion, and Henley, who owns Narberth's Skin Deep Cellulite Solutions, concentrates on Cammarata's eyes and the corners of her mouth.
"It feels like a cat licking my face, it doesn't hurt," Cammarata said one day last week over the whir of the machine. Cammarata lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, as Henley used a machine to shoot exfoliating crystals at her face and then vacuum up the crystals and dead skin.
"I'm fighting to take care of my skin, and this is the icing on the cake. My pores are no longer clogged. My skin is smoother and my makeup goes on better. People can tell the difference."
What wrinkles are to white women, acne scars are to black women, said Susan Taylor, a Center City dermatologist. They rob the skin of its youthful glow.
Sonja Ezell's adult-onset acne has marked her face with dark spots; she has a chemical peel scheduled for next week.
The pigment in African Americans' skin doesn't react well to lasers, and microdermabrasion often steals needed moisture, Taylor said. She directs patients of color to chemical peels and botox to confront their age issues.
"I want this peel to make me look fresher, clearer, and rid my skin of these dark marks," said Ezell, 32, a Philadelphia secretary. "This, hopefully, can take me back to the days when I was younger and my skin was clearer."
Nonsurgical procedures aren't the only sector of the age-fighting market that's growing. In the last three years, cosmetics made by dermatologists - cosmeceuticals - have begun to line department store shelves next to the lip glosses and mascaras.
Dermatological lines by Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Dr. Brandt and DDS mix Vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid in their creams, promising to erase wrinkles and blemishes. Younger prestige brands such as Bobby Brown, Philosophy and Joey New York are following suit.
Even in a stagnant beauty market, sales of luxury skin-care items, those costing more than $70, rose 40 percent last year, to $264 million, according to NPD Market group in New York.
"These products are targeted to younger women who want to smooth their skin," said Natalie Granik Seidman, director of beauty at NPD Group.
"The hot thing is skin care. Even makeup brands are introducing skin-care lines that will undoubtedly include products to fight aging."
But these products and procedures aren't panaceas. And some sociologists see them as yet another advantage that will distinguish the haves from the have-nots.
"Only certain classes of people can afford any of this kind of stuff," said Linda K. George, a professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and a specialist on aging. "Yet because of the hype, the media hype and the ads, you will have people getting these procedures at a cut rate. And that can be dangerous."
And then, she said, there is the self-esteem issue. The earlier women become obsessed with fighting aging, the harder it will be for them to realize that what's inside is more important.
"Twenty-five-to-30-year-olds are still trying to figure out who they are," George said. "Somewhere in your 40s is where it's acceptable. By that age, most women's sense of self-worth is based on a whole lot more than the wrapping on the package."
In the meantime, Campenella will continue to be aggressive in treating her skin. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself, and if lasers can help make it happen, so be it.
"My husband didn't notice at first," Campenella said, her cheeks a little red from the laser's heat. "But then one day he looked and said my skin looked clean and fresher. He wanted to know what was up with me."
Then she smiled, and hopped off the table and into her clothes.
© 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.