4 transforming beauty treatments so good, they’re worth the pain

Ask anyone who’s had a Brazilian, Botox or felt the repeated sting of IPL, beauty treatments can hurt. But some are so transforming, it’s better to embrace than avoid.

Words: Tracey Strange Watts


The road to beauty is paved with petty hurts and humiliations — waxing, laser zaps, disposable G-strings. But few experts offer quite the same menu of indignities as dentists.

Dentists employ a class of professionals to deal with drool. They ask you questions when your mouth is open like a car door. I can usually evaluate the success of a session with my dentist by how many times I sigh involuntarily.

The more sighs, the more nervous I am.

Fronting up at Auckland’s Cameron and Field to get my teeth professionally whitened took fortification in the form of a couple of strong, teeth-staining coffees. I felt anxious. My pearlers were already jumpy. I was forewarned the treatment took more than an hour. It had all the makings of a multi-sigh morning.

Enter Robyn Cameron. Looking for thoroughness in a dentist? Seek no more. “Hmm,” she said sunnily, examining my teeth to ascertain if I were a suitable candidate. “Spinach for breakfast?”

Zoom Whitening is non-invasive and tailored to provide the level of “lightness” you want (dentists here aren’t fans of the pure-white smiles favoured in the United States).

While the mouth is held open by a plastic mouthpiece, light shines on a gel that’s applied to the teeth. The beam activates the gel, made from pH-balanced hydrogen peroxide, and teeth are whitened, sometimes by as many as eight shades.

Some find their teeth get a little sensitive during and after the process, a normal reaction that diminishes in a day or so and the result of teeth becoming dehydrated. Any discomfort is alleviated by over-the-counter painkillers.

The results? Nearly two hours of mute grimacing felt like the best two hours I’d spent when I looked at my new teeth. Perfectly natural but a few shades lighter, they looked brighter, cleaner and fresher. I wanted to smile which, frankly, is the point.

Unless you are going to avoid coffee, red wine and highly coloured foods, your new white teeth will eventually discolour.

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If you are relatively careful, however, the results can last for years. The urge to grin blindingly at everyone also wears off, but for a while, the procedure made me hugely happy.

I guess that’s the power of a smile.

Zoom Whitening is $960 at Cameron & Field. The cost includes a clean and consult, done a week or so before.


One of the benefits of appearance medicine treatments is that they usually offer almost immediate results. But the cost relative to daily skin care and the fact that they are often performed in doctors’ surgeries causes understandable wariness.

Sometimes they hurt. And, sometimes, treatments designed to prevent you from ageing prematurely pose a particular problem for practitioners: how do they prove they can repair something that hasn’t yet happened?

The best approach is to trust the experts. When I ask Dr Ellen Selkon of Auckland’s Clinic 42 for a list of cosmetic therapies she most favours, the Photo Finish treatment (also known as the V2 Beauty Booster) is right up there.

The process combines ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid with botulinum toxin delivered via micro injections. Simply put, hyaluronic acid, which the body produces naturally, gives the skin a smooth, juicy quality.

The botulinum toxin (Botox or Dysport, for example) reduces the output of sweat and sebaceous glands, helping to minimize the appearance of pores. The use of needles — in the case of Photo Finish via a multi-needle gun called the V2 — stimulates collagen production leading to less fine lines, increased elasticity and a long-lasting healthy glow.

A Photo Finish treatment isn’t for the faint of heart.

Two-thirds of the way through — perhaps as the topical anaesthetic started to wear off — I found myself whining.

Full disclosure: this isn’t unusual. I am a wimp. I wince at Botox and find IPL painful. Ping, ping, ping, and on it goes, like an army of ants, all wearing sprigged boots, tap-dancing on your face. In my view — and I am aware that few others think the same — the V2 gun feels like dancing insects on steroids.

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Was it worth it? Yes. My skin since has been plumper, better hydrated and smoother. The result is similar to how the skin on the body feels after it’s been soaked in oil and massaged — firmer and less fragile. Would I do it again? Tick.

A Photo Finish treatment at Clinic 42 costs $1100 and results last approximately six months.


There’s no getting around it: good brows make all the difference. They frame the eyes, balance the features and provide a more polished look.

But if over-plucking has left you with the type of mean arches favoured by the evil stepmother in a Disney movie, microblading may be your saviour.

A form of tattooing that involves “drawing” on individual strokes with a special microblading pen that implants pigment under the skin, it’s like trompe l’oeil for the face. Naturally, its success is hugely dependant on the talents of the practitioner, so choose yours wisely.

As I did. “I hear good brows can take five kilos off you,” I say hopefully, sitting in a chair at Auckland’s Off & On.

“Absolutely,” says brow technician Nichola Tingle. Then, (sotto voce) “… if it were true, I’d be very rich.”

The truth is well-shaped brows won’t necessarily make you look leaner (although many makeup artists claim they can slim down the face) but they can add balance, diverting attention from strong jaws, optically elongating round faces and horizontally balancing long ones.

Beauty editors spend their working lives testing and writing about the latest treatments. We’re regularly pampered, petted and painted. We are among the first to know about the ingredients in the latest miracle creams and the products that will make hair smooth, skin glow and cheeks flush.

Interfering with our brows makes us twitchy. It took me years — and 20 rounds of chemotherapy — to even consider allowing someone to etch on my brows semi-permanently. Nichola, however, was unfazed, confident enough to be hugely reassuring, sensitive enough to listen.

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Thanks to numbing cream, the process — over two sessions — was painless. The results are perfect — natural-looking, effortless and flattering. My 76-year-old mum wants hers done.

“Browography”, Off & On’s signature semi-permanent brow microblading tattoo, costs $895. Touch-ups (about every 18 months) are $250.


Age spots have a way of reminding one of sunny days gone by, days when sunblock should have been applied and was not, days when hands, face legs, back and legs glowed a little too warm after a day of sunshine.

Unlike smile lines, hands covered in liverish blemishes don’t speak of jokes enjoyed and laugh-out-loud moments. They speak plainly of the years that have passed. And if that view isn’t the desired one, it is possible to reverse time by treating the age spots with IPL (Intense Pulsed Light).

At Dr Teresa Cattin’s FaceWorks clinic on Auckland’s North Shore, pigment-spotted hands are routinely returned to a smoother younger look after three or four IPL treatments.

While these treatments are not harsh, they aren’t without discomfort, as they specifically target the excess melanin in the sun-damaged skin.

This feeling — a bit like being repeatedly pinged with an elastic band — is most noticeable when IPL is being applied to the bony backs of the hands. The brown spots turn much darker for up to six or seven days before brushing off, leaving the new skin fresher and more evenly toned.

And it’s well worth slathering on sunblock to keep it so. Regular use of FaceWorks Skin Lightening Crème is also recommended to help keep those brown spots away.

IPL for pigmentation on the hands costs $175 a session at FaceWorks. A similar treatment, using VPL (variable pulsed light) is also offered at Caci Clinics nationwide. VPL safely pulses high-energy light beams through the skin’s surface, targeting pigmentation in the underlying tissue and minor surface blood vessels.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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