Cosmetic surgery vs products: Mariella chairs our debate

It was standing room only last month when Mariella Frostrup moderated between the experts, posing the question: are the needle and the scalpel a step too far?

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Are you staring back at yourself, or are you turning into someone you don’t recognise? Are you happy in your older skin? Or would you like to turn back the years?

At our age, it’s a topic that is aired regularly. Do wrinkles give a face character? Should we simply accept them? Is it possible to have a nip and tuck here, a bit of filler there, without ending up looking like Mr or Mrs Frankenstein? Should we do something? Or nothing?

Our beauty guru Jo Fairley believes in ageing gracefully without surgical intervention. Through her work as an award-winning journalist, her best-selling Beauty Bible books and as founder of a boutique wellbeing centre in Hastings, there is very little she doesn’t know about the subject.

Conversely, Dr Daniel Sister is a world-renowned anti-ageing and hormone specialist who believes in giving nature a helping hand where appropriate. This might take the form of his age-defying food supplement, Youth, designed to reverse the signs of ageing from the inside out by stimulating growth hormones. Or his more radical Dracula S3 Therapy, a groundbreaking treatment that adds amino acids and vitamins to the client’s blood and then injects it back into their face to stimulate DNA repair.

So when high50 editor Tim Willis came up with a cracking idea for an anti-ageing debate, answering the question ‘Are the needle and the scalpel a step too far?’, Jo and Daniel were keen to do battle. After listening to each argue their point, it would be up to high50 members to decide.

Fast forward to early December, when 120 of you joined us at the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, for the cerebral battle. The stylish women – and several men – who gathered in the majestic Council Room for the debate were an affirmation that our age group is vibrant, interesting and interested.

Friend of high50 Mariella Frostrup chaired the debate. First, she talked about her recent 50th birthday. “I’m enjoying it [being 50] so much, I don’t give a damn,” she declared. “I’m saying yes to everything.”

Jo Fairley’s case

First up was Jo Fairley, who began by declaring her age, to much applause. “I’m 56,” she said, “and I have personally taken the choice to age gracefully.” She argued that women are guinea pigs when it comes to cosmetic procedures, with many of the adverse effects not becoming apparent for years – by which time there is little room for recourse.

Jo called for regulation in the system and for more pre-procedure psychological assessment. Many women believe cosmetic surgery will fix depression or low self-esteem, when that isn’t the case at all. Anyone considering cosmetic surgery should be given a makeover on a quality make-up counter to show how ten years can be wiped off their age.

If surgery is still on the cards, they should be encouraged to ask many more questions, check their practitioner’s credentials and see examples of work.

Finally, she encouraged us to get good quality sleep, pay more attention to our diet –  because good nourishment is key to ageing well –  and to take regular exercise.

Dr Sister’s case

Daniel Sister doesn’t perform cosmetic surgery himself but will refer patients if necessary. He sees surgery as a last resort, and agreed with Jo that patients should undergo psychological assessment. However, how did we qualify what is step too far? Dying hair is toxic, he argued. He believed in innovation backed by science, safety, efficiency and ethics.

Medical procedures are based on scientific proof and a wealth of evidence, he told us, whereas cosmetics favour marketing rather than research. L’Oreal, for example, has 600 patents, but not one has been reviewed in a medical journal. Its research budget, he said, is £700 million – but its marketing spend is £1.34billion.

In his 40 years’ experience, Dr Sister has witnessed huge changes in cosmetic and anti-ageing medicine. He talked about the difference between chronological and biological age, the pressure on men and women to look good, and said that lotions and potions penetrate only the first layer of skin. A population that retires later has to compete with younger people; divorce means that more middle-aged people are searching for a new partner; and airbrushed images in magazines all add to the need to look our best.

With good humour, Mariella kept Jo and Daniel to their allotted ten minutes. She then opened the floor to the audience, who flooded our speakers with questions and comments. An aesthetic doctor talked about empowerment; couldn’t that mean both sides of Jo and Daniel’s coin? There seemed little argument to that.

One attendee asked Dr Sister why he would use his skills and procedures on healthy skin, prompting him to explain the fat and bone loss that is a process of ageing – making skin, therefore, not so healthy.

The questions came fast and thick, with a lot of clarification from both Jo Fairley and Dr Sister and a healthy dose of humour and wit from Mariella. Quite a few of the audience commented that they had come to the debate with their mind made up, but they had been forced to think again after hearing both sides of the debate.

How you voted

And then it was time to vote. Is the needle and the scalpel a step too far? Amazingly, the result was a dead tie; proof that each opponent had argued their case well, and that the issue is not a stark black and white one.

As our guests filed out and collected their high50 gift bags, the comments were positive and encouraging. More of this please, said many. It could have gone on longer, said others. So good to hear such issues discussed, was the consensus.

The contents of our bulging gift bag – worth almost £200 and including a month’s supply of Dr Sister’s Youth supplement – caused much excitement, too.  So we’re absolutely delighted that you enjoyed our first debate. Thank you for coming and adding your voice. We’ll be staging another event soon. Be prepared to be provoked!