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The Big Reveal

Best Health / May 2014

The newest technology in facials is a camera that sees below the surface

“Don’t be nervous,” the aesthetician tells me. “ Your skin looks fine.” I question that–I just got off a long overseas flight, after all–but this futuristic facial I have been invited to try out is not about what my skin looks like on the surface. I am about to put my 30-year- old face into a damage-assessing UV analysis machine, officially (and forebodingly) called the “Reveal Imager” at The May Fair Spa in London, England, and will follow that with a facial using Murad skincare products that will target my skin’s unique needs.

A confession: While I am an admitted spa junkie and facial fanatic, I nonetheless harbour some bad skin-hygiene habits. I rarely wear sunscreen if I’m not on a beach. Even then, I have snuck in a few barefaced days by the water lest I be as white as the sand. I drink more coffee than water, and am not a teetotaller. Needless to say, my face isn’t as “fresh” as it could be.

But have my skin sins really done any serious damage? If so, how much? And, more importantly, do I even want to know the answers? Yes, says Rachel Van der Walt, a Murad skincare specialist, and for a very good reason: “If we see what is happening beneath the skin, we can start treating it before it really becomes a problem.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” consoles Van der Walt, as she fiddles with the Reveal, a shoebox-size super-high-resolution camera that is connected to her computer. The camera will reveal different views of my skin’s pigmentation and hemoglobin (blood vessels), as well as other issues my skin is having: “We’re going to see your sun damage or pigmentation, sensitivity, dryness, pores, irritation and dehydration,” she says.

She instructs me to place my chin in the chin rest. I balance my face on the outstretched arm of an otherwise un- assuming plastic machine. It is the size and shape of a laptop, the screen a brick- sized white block with a lens in its centre. “Keep your eyes closed,” she says (important advice since I am not wearing eye protectors). The machine itself is not unlike one you would see on a visit to the eye doctor, but soft spa music plays in the background–and your eyes remain closed. I hear two fast flashes and we’re done. Easy peasy?

Not so much. Taking the photo is easy–but looking at the photo is hard. There I am, my image transmitted to Van der Walt’s computer screen, eyes closed and face sombre. It is not pretty: my freckly Irish skin, frecklier many times over what is apparent in normal light, chocolate brown with spotty pigmentation. Sun damage, and lots of it. “I’m going to have a nightmare about this,” I say.

“This is actually pretty good,” says Van der Walt, insisting that she has seen far worse sun damage on far younger faces. She advises me to pick my jaw up off the floor and think objectively. Instantly, by the density of brown pigmentation, I can see exactly where on my face I have neglected to apply sunscreen over the years. My hairline, which probably never sees SPF, is nearly solid. As is the top of my lip, where my usually cute Cupid’s bow looks suspiciously like Hitler’s moustache. My poor nose has been particularly sun-kissed.

The Reveal shows more than just sun damage, however. When we switch to a 3-D version, we look at fine forehead lines–they don’t run too deep, yet, but now I know where I really need to pump up my moisturizing regimen.

Van der Walt points out the oil glands on my face, which appear as round white dots, ample but even. “You’ve got nice coverage; that’s very good,” she says. But dehydration, formerly a meaningless term I hardly even thought about, takes the form of visible downward grooves beneath my eyes, not unlike dunes in a desert.

A well-hydrated face should look plump and smooth up close, like fresh dough, explains Van der Walt–but she almost never sees it. “Ninety-nine percent of people are dehydrated,” she says, suggesting I increase my water intake and “eat my water” via fruit and veggies so that it stays in my system longer. Seeing my skin like the Sahara is all the convincing I need.

Together, Van der Walt and I choose a facial–the luxe Murad Sun Undone, infused with vitamin C that promotes new cell growth–to combat environ- mental skin agers like sun, pollution and stress. Then she writes me a new prescriptive skin regimen, with creamy cleansers, easy-to-apply spray toner, repairing serum and, of course, SPF 30 sunscreen to avoid any more damage. I vow to apply it diligently.

The Reveal has been, to say the least, revealing. My skin may look fine for now–on the outside–but cells beneath the surface are telling tomorrow’s story. And the star of that future story is, for me, sun protection.