THE PLAS­TIC SUR­GEON WITH THE SPACE SERUM

Re­con­struc­tive surgery, as­tro­nauts and Mid­dle East­ern roy­alty. This is the story of how they all came to­gether for Dr Yan­nis Alexan­drides’ 111Skin.

Herworld (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - GOH YEE HUAY

How re­con­struc­tive surgery, as­tro­nauts and Mid­dle East­ern roy­alty came to­gether for the most wanted skin­care now – 111Skin.

“When I made the de­ci­sion to be a plas­tic sur­geon, I was in med­i­cal school in Greece. And my par­ents, them­selves doc­tors, ad­vised me not go into plas­tic surgery be­cause they said no one does this kind of job, there’s no de­mand for it,” Dr Yan­nis Alexan­drides says with a laugh.

Fast-for­ward three decades, and not only is the 51-year-old the owner of a suc­cess­ful plas­tic-surgery prac­tice in Lon­don’s Har­ley Street (a sort of med­i­cal Sav­ile Row) and a well-known name in both the in­dus­try and me­dia, he is also the founder of sci­ence-led luxe skin­care brand 111Skin, which he is in town to launch.

As he walks into the VIP lounge of Robin­sons The Heeren, Dr Yan­nis – as every­one calls him – looks com­posed and pol­ished, un­fazed by the 34 deg C heat out­side. He has the as­sured air of an ex­pe­ri­enced physi­cian, and – as one would ex­pect of a feted cos­metic sur­geon – well-main­tained looks with no tell­tale signs that might sug­gest he’s had work done.

His cre­den­tials are just as im­pec­ca­ble: He’s cer­ti­fied by Amer­i­can, Euro­pean and Greek plas­tic surgery boards, is the au­thor of sci­en­tific pa­pers in pub­li­ca­tions like the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Plas­tic

Surgery, and a for­mer res­i­dent sur­geon at Mi­ami’s Jack­son Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal, one of the largest in the United States.

While state­side, he trained as a re­con­struc­tive sur­geon – specif­i­cally, in

Space is a lab­o­ra­tory for age­ing be­cause of its ex­treme con­di­tions. This means that what as­tro­nauts use to pro­tect them­selves against bi­o­log­i­cal dam­age has to be hands-down ef­fec­tive.

cran­io­fa­cial surgery. “It was a tremen­dous ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause you’re deal­ing with very dif­fi­cult prob­lems like ac­ci­dents, gun­shot wounds to the face, and ba­bies with con­gen­i­tal anom­alies. But this teaches you well about anatomy and how to deal with any pos­si­ble prob­lem,” he says.

Af­ter eight years in the US, he moved to Lon­don in 2001 and set up his prac­tice at 111 Har­ley Street (thus the name of his skin­care line). Al­though go­ing from car crashes to cos­metic surgery seems a step down from a no­ble cause, Dr Yan­nis says the work isn’t all that dif­fer­ent. He still sees pa­tients with birth de­fects and fa­cial trauma like burns and bro­ken bones. Just not in life-or­death sit­u­a­tions that re­quire him to re­spond within three min­utes of be­ing con­tacted.

“Plas­tic surgery is a very broad field that in­cludes re­con­struc­tive and cos­metic surgery, or aes­thet­ics, as we call it. But the same prin­ci­ples ap­ply. They’re not sep­a­rate sciences but the same art ap­plied to dif­fer­ent prob­lems,” he ex­plains.

It was also a mat­ter of find­ing fresh challenges. Af­ter years of do­ing re­con­struc­tive surgery, he wanted to take his work in another direc­tion. He says: “It was a per­sonal jour­ney. I had done a lot of re­con­struc­tive surgery and par­tic­i­pated in mis­sions to South Amer­ica, where we did cleft lip palate surgery. It was a won­der­ful time which I en­joyed a lot. How­ever, as part of my per­sonal evo­lu­tion, aes­thetic surgery was also some­thing that in­trigued me and which I was in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing.”

Contrary to what some might think, giv­ing tighter skin or sharper cheek­bones to well-heeled clien­tele (Har­ley Street is in a chic, af­flu­ent part of cen­tral Lon­don) isn’t all a walk in Hyde Park. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Yan­nis, there is more to aes­thetic surgery than mak­ing some­one beau­ti­ful.

“It’s about un­der­stand­ing the psy­chol­ogy of a per­son who comes to see you. It’s usu­ally be­cause they want to be happy, and plas­tic surgery offers a way. But you have to make the call on whether you can help them reach the point where they’re happy. That’s dif­fer­ent from re­con­struc­tive surgery where you must treat the pa­tients be­cause of de­for­mi­ties. It’s a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion, be­cause not ev­ery­body is a good can­di­date for cos­metic surgery. There are some peo­ple who will never be happy, and they shouldn’t be do­ing it,” he says. N ot only is he cau­tious about whom he op­er­ates on, he tends not to rec­om­mend surgery at all if he can help it – a rather odd take for a sur­geon. His ex­pla­na­tion: With so many non- or min­i­mally-in­va­sive treat­ment meth­ods avail­able, pa­tients often do not need to go un­der the knife to get the re­sults they want.

“I wouldn’t say in­va­sive surgery is the last op­tion, be­cause that sounds like it’s not a good one. A lot of times, it is the best op­tion. But if I have to pri­ori­tise, and there is a non-sur­gi­cal way, I would choose that,” says Dr Yan­nis. “I try to put my­self in the po­si­tion of the pa­tient: If I can get a re­sult with­out surgery, would I still want to do it? And the an­swer is clearly no.”

He stresses, how­ever, that there are still some prob­lems that can only surgery can fix. That, he feels, is what sets plas­tic sur­geons apart from GPs or der­ma­tol­o­gists who of­fer aes­thetic pro­ce­dures – the for­mer lit­er­ally have in­side knowl­edge of bones, tis­sues and mus­cles and how al­ter­ing these will af­fect the ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance.

Though he doesn’t think he knows any more about skin than a der­ma­tol­o­gist does, what he has as a sur­geon is a dif­fer­ent feel and un­der­stand­ing of skin – how it be­haves and how hard it is for post-surgery skin to heal com­pared with skin that’s un­in­jured or whose prob­lem is limited to the sur­face.

He says: “Plas­tic sur­geons are spe­cial­ists who have spent years in train­ing to learn the tech­niques and un­der­stand the aes­thet­ics and ethos of these pro­ce­dures, so we have the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge to per­form them best. As for what sep­a­rates me from other doc­tors, I think it’s my per­sonal choices, my ex­pe­ri­ence, my phi­los­o­phy of com­bin­ing sur­gi­cal with non-sur­gi­cal treat­ments, and not do­ing surgery if it’s un­nec­es­sary.”

It’s a tack that his pa­tients cer­tainly seem to ap­pre­ci­ate. On Real­self.com – an on­line por­tal that offers in­for­ma­tion on cos­metic surg­eries and treat­ments and has pa­tient re­views of more than 20,000 board-cer­ti­fied doc­tors world­wide – clients de­scribe him in glow­ing terms rang­ing from “an artist” and “first-class” to “kind and thought­ful”, “mea­sured in his ap­proach” and “highly ac­com­plished, truth­ful and supremely pa­tient”.

His skills and rep­u­ta­tion haven’t just helped him grow his client list, they’ve also made him one of the go-to med­i­cal ex­perts for ma­jor me­dia like the BBC.

In fact, it was his in­ter­view on a Dis­cov­ery Channel programme about breast re­con­struc­tion that put him in the or­bit of two peo­ple who would be in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing his skin­care line – sci­en­tists who’d formerly worked in the Soviet space programme, look­ing af­ter the health and well-be­ing of as­tro­nauts.

When the Soviet Union col­lapsed, the duo had moved to Bul­garia to work on other projects, but they held some prod­uct patents from their time in the space programme which they wanted to com­mer­cialise. Among these was a wound­heal­ing “sponge” that in­jured as­tro­nauts could ap­ply di­rectly to wounds to stop the bleed­ing and kick-start the heal­ing process while await­ing med­i­cal aid.

Hav­ing learnt about Dr Yan­nis through the Dis­cov­ery Channel show, the sci­en­tists ap­proached him to work on clin­i­cal stud­ies of the heal­ing sponge. Co­in­ci­den­tally, at the time, he was try­ing out avail­able prod­ucts on the mar­ket in an at­tempt to find some­thing that could help his pa­tients re­cover bet­ter, was easy to use, and didn’t re­quire a pre­scrip­tion.

Dr Yan­nis chuck­les when asked if he didn’t find it a lit­tle sin­is­ter to have two for­mer Soviet sci­en­tists knock­ing on his door. Yes, it was the mid2000s and the Cold War was a thing of the past. But still.

“Of course, the back­ground of the sci­en­tists was… dif­fer­ent. Like with any­thing new, you go through a process of judg­ment, and I was very ap­pre­hen­sive about it. How­ever, when we met and they ex­plained what they were do­ing, it be­came very ap­par­ent to me that they could have ways to help peo­ple,” he says.

The way he saw it, “space is a lab­o­ra­tory for age­ing”. The ex­treme con­di­tions faced by as­tro­nauts in space – no at­mos­phere, un­fil­tered UV and cos­mic ra­di­a­tion, lack of grav­ity, and high stress – mean that what­ever is used to pro­tect them against bi­o­log­i­cal dam­age and ac­cel­er­ated age­ing has to be hands-down ef­fec­tive. And if the in­gre­di­ents used in the sci­en­tists’ wound-heal­ing sponge could work in space, imag­ine what they could do here on earth.

“I ex­plained that there were tech­ni­cal rea­sons why I couldn’t do a clin­i­cal study. But if they could come up with a prod­uct my pa­tients could use af­ter surgery, then we might have some­thing,” he says. So, us­ing key in­gre­di­ents

When a mem­ber of Mid­dle East­ern roy­alty ditched her usual beauty shop­ping at Har­rods, the higher-ups at the depart­ment store of­fered to bankroll Dr Yan­nis’ skin­care line.

and tech­nol­ogy from the sponge, they cre­ated the Dra­matic Heal­ing Serum (DHS).

Within DHS is NAC Y2, an an­tiox­i­dant combo of cys­teine, vi­ta­min C, and aescin from horse chest­nut. It’s not the sex­i­est moniker, but what mat­ters is what NAC Y2 can do: boost pro­duc­tion of glu­tathione, our body’s most preva­lent and pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dant.

How pow­er­ful is it? In hos­pi­tals, glu­tathione is an an­ti­dote given in­tra­venously to poi­soned vic­tims – such as those who have OD’d on drugs like parac­eta­mol. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Yan­nis, it pre­vents liver failure by ab­sorb­ing and neu­tral­is­ing the free rad­i­cals pro­duced by the liver be­cause of the poi­son.

In 2008, hav­ing ar­rived at a us­able ver­sion of DHS (“the orig­i­nal didn’t smell too good”), he be­gan giv­ing lit­tle pots of it to his pa­tients as part of their post-treat­ment care. The re­sponse was over­whelm­ing. Pa­tients re­ported, well, dra­matic re­sults. Not only did their skin heal faster and bet­ter, it be­came smoother and more taut, even-toned and hy­drated. The serum was also said to lessen signs of sun dam­age like dark spots and wrin­kles.

Many pa­tients re­turned want­ing more of the stuff. Among them was a mem­ber of Mid­dle East­ern roy­alty who was so im­pressed by it that she pur­chased it in bulk as gifts for her fam­ily and friends. When she ditched her usual beauty shop­ping at Har­rods and raved to her per­sonal shop­per about the serum, the store’s higher-ups sat up and took no­tice.

They ap­proached Dr Yan­nis and of­fered to bankroll his skin­care line to get it on the mar­ket. Back then, he had around eight ba­sic prod­ucts based on DHS. The in­vest­ment by Har­rods en­abled him to fine-tune the formulas and im­prove their pack­ag­ing and brand­ing. And in 2012, the 111Skin range of prod­ucts de­buted at the depart­ment store, head­lined by the serum which was re­named Y The­o­rem Re­pair Serum.

“The skin­care is some­thing very unique. I my­self never thought I would have a skin­care line,” says Dr Yan­nis, laugh­ing some­what sheep­ishly. “It was more a side ef­fect of my craft.”

Since then, the brand has grown to en­com­pass five col­lec­tions, with prod­ucts run­ning the gamut from cleansers to serums, boost­ers, mois­turis­ers and masks. NAC Y2 is in most of them, and is in all the prod­ucts with a repar­a­tive func­tion.

Tak­ing some­thing meant for use in space and ap­ply­ing it to ter­res­trial skin­care may seem like overkill, but Dr Yan­nis says it isn’t so.

“It’s ac­tu­ally us­ing the best re­serve that we al­ready have to the max­i­mum. The the­ory be­hind the orig­i­nal Dra­matic Heal­ing Serum is that it takes your body’s own heal­ing mech­a­nism and aug­ments it. Keep in mind that all the best med­i­cal ad­vances come ei­ther by accident – as in the case of peni­cillin – or in sit­u­a­tions where the tech­nol­ogy has to ad­vance re­ally quickly, such as in times of war. So a lot of ap­pli­ca­tions we use in ev­ery­day life come from ex­treme sit­u­a­tions,” he says. And with in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion and the de­struc­tion of the ozone layer ex­pos­ing us to more ra­di­a­tion, us­ing space­wor­thy skin­care ac­tu­ally isn’t that much of a stretch.

For his part, Dr Yan­nis says he still looks to space re­search for ideas, though not ex­clu­sively. He pro­fesses to be a keen fol­lower of NASA’s space programme be­cause of all the med­i­cal find­ings it turns up, but he keeps an equally close eye on new de­vel­op­ments in med­i­cal sci­ence that may have uses in skin­care and well­ness.

Case in point: His Cryo re­gen­er­a­tive range, and 111Cryo cham­bers lo­cated in Har­vey Ni­chols and Har­rods, are med­i­cally based on cold ther­apy. He says that as life­style and beauty treat­ments, they de­liver health and skin­care ben­e­fits such as en­dor­phin and adrenalin rushes, as well as boosted blood cir­cu­la­tion, me­tab­o­lism and an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory re­sponses.

“Be­cause of my skin­care prod­ucts, my fo­cus is not nar­rowed on surgery as it was be­fore. Now it’s broader and more about well-be­ing,” he says. “I don’t be­lieve that a treat­ment alone helps us achieve all our goals to look good and be healthy. In my opin­ion, plas­tic surgery and aes­thet­ics treat­ments are only the peak of a moun­tain con­sist­ing of a healthy life­style, ex­er­cise and many other fac­tors.”

With the fields of medicine, life­style and beauty in­creas­ingly blur­ring into one another, he pre­dicts that the big thing in aes­thet­ics isn’t go­ing to be one par­tic­u­lar treat­ment like Bo­tox or hyaluronic acid fillers, but the grow­ing ubiq­uity and ac­cep­tance of them all.

“I think it’s al­ready hap­pen­ing. The de­mand has in­creased so much that even we plas­tic sur­geons never thought it would be this way 10 years ago. When I was train­ing in the States, the num­ber of surg­eries that were per­formed then was nowhere close to the num­bers per­formed now.”

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