Some not-so-pretty stuff about beauty aids

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Advertisements for a facelift mask said to dissolve cheek and chin fat and give the face a V-shape like many South Korean showbiz figures. Vendors in Ho Chi Minh City say there is huge demand for the mask although doctors call it a hoax

Come festival time, like the big one coming up in Vietnam in two weeks Tet and a lot beauty tips and aids begin doing the rounds.

People should remember, however desperate they are to improve their looks, that many of these are not real, doctors said.

An instant teeth-whitening pad is a trendy one, although doctors have warned about the lifetime damage it can cause because the pad must use more than the safe quantities of bleaching agents, given the short time it needs to take effect.

The thin pads are available with Chinese or western brand names at markets, supermarkets, cosmetics shops, and even in some drugstores although they are not recommended by doctors.

Advertisements say a person only needs half a minute to stick the pad onto their jaw and wait for five minutes for the same effect they would have from a bleaching service at dentist's, which costs ten times as much.

The pads are usually sold in box of 21 pairs, each pair for two jaws, and said to make a difference after just five minutes and give perfect results in 14 days, keeping the whiteness for two to two and a half years if one uses the whole pack.

A western brand box costs VND1 million (US$47) while the Chinese one costs just VND200,000.

Early November, Hong Phuong, a clothes vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, bought five packs after being persuaded by commercials, first for herself, and then for other people in the family. She also persuaded many of her friends and acquaintances to try it.

But Phuong was to realize she had not done anybody a favor.

She said her teeth significantly whitened in the beginning, although it was neither comfortable nor painless as advertised.

But after around two months, her teeth, and that of others in the family, became more stained than earlier. They had maintained the habit of drinking coffee, tea and smoking as the advertisements said there would be no problems if these habits are continued.

Worse still, their teeth became highly sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods.

Doctor Hoang Cong Minh of the Nhan Sinh (Humanity) private hospital in HCMC said most teeth whiteners use the strong oxidizer hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), the same liquid used at dentists' clinics.

But while dentists would use the safe concentration of 10-15 percent, the pads have to use much more if they are to act faster, Minh said. He said a high dose of hydrogen peroxide will cause the tooth enamel to erode, making the teeth weak and easily colored.

The pads are not designed to just fit the teeth but also cover parts of the gum, and this can cause inflammation or even necrosis of the gums, he said.

Doctor Pham Nhu Hai, director of Hanoi Odonto-Stomatology Hospital said they have received many patients who had contracted gingivitis after using the whitening pads.


A teeth whitening pad that is available in many cosmetics shops is likely to contain dangerous amounts of bleach if it is to take effect in days as advertised, doctors warn

Since they did not know better, most people allowed the pads' chemicals to touch their gums, he said. 

Doctors recommend that people keep their teeth in shape by avoiding coffee, tea and tobacco, water that is too hot or cold and using more natural whiteners like strawberry, apple, sugarcane and celery.

They need to see a dentist every six months, besides brushing their teeth after meals, enough to clean them off bacteria. People should also not brush their teeth for too long or too strongly, because this can damage the enamel, Minh said.

Mask unmasked

Doctors at Ho Chi Minh City Odonto-Stomatology Hospital also sound caution about a mask that is in high demand in the southern region.

No damage associated with the mask has been found and confirmed so far, but doctors maintain it is a hoax. 

The mask is sold under the counter and advertised as helping people get rid off cheek and chin fat,  and giving them a V-line face like showbiz idols in South Korea, which is known for its plastic surgery industry and sometimes dubbed a doll house.

The V-line mask is said to be made in Korea and a popular beauty tool in many Asian countries including developed ones like Korea and Japan.

One set is priced VND700,000-1.8 million and has 28 pads, which are to be stuck on the face to help dissolve fat and provide nutrition like collagen to the skin, and an elastic belt to be stretched around the face to keep the pads in place and also provide heat to the process.

It is recommended for people who are recovering from facial cosmetic surgery as it helps fix the face's shape and prevent it from getting swollen. 

But plastic surgeons at the city hospital said the mask has none of its advertised effects.

They said no studies have so far mentioned a mask that can dissolve facial fat.

Young people receiving facial plastic surgeries will see their facial muscles automatically fitting into the new face shape as they are still highly elastic, and thus won't need the mask, they said.

In older people, meanwhile, the mask is of no help as the skin and muscle have lost their elasticity, and doctors need to fix it during the surgery, they added.

Doctors said the advertisements are lying to customers in claiming that the masks can keep their face structure in shape for a lifetime, as only surgeries, and complicated ones, can do this.

But given the high cost and complicated surgeries involved, as also the fact that many plastic surgery services available are unofficial, the mask has been selling like hot cakes.

A vendor named Thanh in the city started selling them six months ago and the demand has kept increasing.

She keeps a list of customers who not only come from around the city but also from nearby provinces like Dong Nai, Binh Duong and Long An, some Hanoi. She even has Viet Kieu customers from North America and Australia.

All the customers are women, from 15 to more than 50 years old.

"Everyone is rushing to get their face in shape for Tet," Thanh said.

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