January 18, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Measuring wrinkles, sun damage with software
I tested, firsthand, emerging bioscience technology that applies hard numbers to my skin's health. With two flashes of white-light digital imaging to my face and some sophisticated mathematical algorithms, the system I subjected myself to could calculate all that frightening detail in a few minutes.
This thing will either be youth-obsessed America's godsend or nightmare, I can't decide.
Apart from numbers, the technology, called Clarity Pro, can depict the depth and severity of wrinkles in a 3D chart, show the extent of bacteria-filled pores in a graph, or represent UV damage in purple dots scattered about your face in a white-light image. It can also calculate how long a person can be exposed to the sun, in minutes or hours a day, before incurring more UV damage.
When patents are finalized in the next year, the technology will also be able to forecast a patient's likelihood for skin cancer as a consequence of UV sun damage, according to Raj Chhibber, CEO and founder of BrighTex Bio-Photonics, the Silicon Valley-based maker of Clarity Pro.
"Diagnostics are key to assessing your health. Early intervention can solve a lot of problems," said Chhibber, a physicist by trade.
"We put a doctor in a computer," Chhibber said.
The technology is not out on the market yet, but it's poised for release next month to a number of high-end spas, medical health clinics, cosmetics companies and researchers, Chhibber said. He said he could envision an exam costing anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars at a commercial spa or clinic, depending on its stature. (For their privacy's sake, he would not release names of customers.)
With the tool, doctors and aestheticians will be able to recommend creams, salves or surgeries based on skin condition, and then show patients before and after effects of recommendations. Independent researchers may also be able to test, quantifiably, the claims of those companies selling antiaging procedures or corrective creams. Cosmetics companies will be able to produce similar research and back up their claims--or not.
All this could shake up the cosmetics industry, which has long sold its antiaging products with subjective claims of worth. Technology that can be used to fact-check product efficacy could ultimately be a blemish on sales. Or it could boost an already booming market for facial antiaging products, which is worth more than $10 billion in the United States annually.
Creams that claim to reverse aging can easily sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Health spas promoting chemical peels, micro-dermabrasion treatments, facials and Botox have popped up all over the country. Just turn on the TV for shows like "Extreme Makeover" and "Nip/Tuck" to see that facelifts and collagen implants are child's play when it comes to the country's fixation with youth.
Computer diagnostics for skin health could be the next generation of the business. After all, advancements in science and technology are merging at a fast clip, and demand for ever-better data about health is catching up.
"Hopefully we can help people understand what's helping them by understanding the process and show people the reality of UV damage," said Chhibber.
In Asia, Chhibber said, demand for such diagnostics may be more robust because spending on looks is much greater. And many Americans venture overseas to get facial procedures done because it's much less expensive than in the United States. "We don't know how Americans will accept this," he said.
At least one California company likes the results.
Ray Mead, founder of a skin specialist in Carlsbad, Calif., recently met the BrighTex team at an antiaging conference in Las Vegas. People at the conference who tested his company's product, Lumiere, an LED light-therapy treatment for removing age spots, tried Clarity Pro before and after the treatments and found that Lumiere worked, Mead said.
"We had people go measure the size of their pores, their number of
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