MIAMI (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – The success of perioral rejuvenation depends in large part on setting realistic expectations. But there are also tips and tricks to individualizing the technique for each patient that can lead to better outcomes and greater satisfaction – whether patients receive injections into the fine lines above the lip, full-field erbium laser resurfacing, neuromodulator treatment, or a combination approach, according to Joel L. Cohen, MD.

When a patient presents with major lines in the perioral area, an “orange peel” texture, and/or elastotic changes, laser resurfacing can be an appropriate option. “Full field erbium laser resurfacing can give patients a nice improvement of upper lip lines and even a nice contraction of oral commissure,” Dr. Cohen said at the Orlando Dermatology Aesthetic and Clinical Conference.

There are other treatment options, but full-field erbium resurfacing “makes sense” for the patients with severe etched-in lines in the perioral area, because “they will have better results with fewer treatments,” he noted.

Although each treatment is individualized to the patient, “I tend to do full field erbium resurfacing around the mouth and eyes, and fractional ablative resurfacing around the rest of the face,” said Dr. Cohen , an aesthetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in private practice in metropolitan Denver.

More downtime is associated with laser resurfacing compared with fillers or neuromodulator injections, but long-term patient satisfaction, even with improvement in quality of life for some patients (who become less anxious about these lines and more self-confident), can make this approach worthwhile. During his presentation, Dr. Cohen showed photos of many of his treated patients, including one woman whose grandchildren he said had been commenting about the “orange peel texture of her upper lip,” until she completed the resurfacing treatment.

Keep expectations realistic

Dr. Cohen recommended counseling patients about the potential benefits – and the caveats – associated with full-field erbium heavier resurfacing. “Make sure people understand they will look terrible for several days after heavy resurfacing, usually taking about 10-12 days to re-epithelialize,” he said. “We need to tell patients that the perioral area typically manifests more lines than other areas, so we need treat this area differently than just ablative fractional resurfacing in many cases.”

He explained that with heavier resurfacing procedures, it helps to show patients what is expected over the days to weeks in the healing process. They need to understand and see photos that show that the full-field erbium areas will have a yellow fibrinous healing response for the first week or so, which looks very different from the fractional ablative-treated areas (which are more typically red, weepy, and swollen).

He encourages these patients to come back a few days after the procedure to check their healing and review wound-care instructions, especially for patients who have deeper full-field perioral erbium resurfacing (those who are treated with 450-700 microns). Another tip he provided is to have these postresurfacing patients enter/exit through a separate entrance and also sit in a separate cosmetic waiting room at off-hours.

Re-epithelialization generally takes about 10-12 days for most people, with a maximal improvement at approximately 3 months, Dr. Cohen said. “Some patients can see not only significant improvement of upper lip lines, but often a nice contraction of the oral commissure even before fillers are performed to buttress the marionette area and oral commissure,” he said.

With full-field ablative resurfacing in specific areas, rather than simply fractional ablative resurfacing, it is also important to educate patients that some postinflammatory erythema is expected, which, in some cases, may persist for a few months. “In my experience, topical vasoconstrictors don’t seem to help minimize prolonged redness in the full-field erbium areas, but potent topical steroids can be beneficial,” Dr. Cohen said.

More tips for success

Injected local anesthesia is warranted prior to heavier laser resurfacing to keep patients as comfortable as possible. An infraorbital block with an added submucosal/sulcus block with plain lidocaine can be a good approach, he noted. Different perioral and facial areas have different degrees of lines, requiring different laser settings. He prefers to use plain lidocaine perioral blocks, “so that I can theoretically best see the endpoint pinpoint bleeding,” he said, adding that “significant pinpoint bleeding is a good place to stop.”

Typically, he uses a neuromodulator a week or two before full-field perioral erbium resurfacing. “I choose not to give a neuromodulator on the same day as I am concerned about swelling or manipulation of the skin causing unwanted spread to adjacent musculature,” Dr. Cohen said.

Another tip is to take photos with more than one device. “Standardized photos may lose detail of etched lines; we take both iPad and standardized camera system photos,” he said, adding that it is important that clinic staff are proficient at taking proper before-and-after photos, making sure, for example, that the patient does not have confounding makeup or lipstick on for photos, and patient positioning is consistent.

He said it is imperative to emphasize the importance of diligent sun protection for several months after the laser procedure. “Every patient reassures us they use sunscreen, but we often don’t know what sunscreen they are using or how frequently they are using it,” Dr. Cohen said. “If they don’t follow our specific instructions to use a physical block sunscreen, they will significantly increase their risk of developing postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. This caveat applies all year round, and isn’t just for those that go to the beach or play golf, but is also especially important for those patients that ski or hike at higher altitudes.”

Depending on the degree of etched-in lines in the perioral area, one perioral full-field laser resurfacing treatment is generally sufficient for most patients to see significant improvement. For those with more severe etched lines and/or bigger goals for improvement, additional treatments can be performed – but he generally waits about 3 months to see the overall effect of the initial treatment session.

If patients have just a few discrete etched-lines on each side of the upper lip, fillers can be helpful. But, the number and caliber of fine lines on the cutaneous lip limit how much a dermatologist can realistically treat. “So for people with many, many etched-in lines on the cutaneous lip, I explain that fillers are not the right tool for the job – and that they need heavier laser resurfacing.” And those patients really concerned about downtime need to understand that the bruising that can occur with fillers for several days can lead to some degree of social downtime as well.

Options to treat perioral lines not ‘etched in’

Sometimes younger patients, those in their late 20s to early 40s, present with concerns about their perioral appearance. Although they do not have lines at rest yet, they can be unhappy with the muscle columns that appear above their lips with animation that begin to cause lines at rest imprinted in the skin. And many of these women complain that their lipstick bleeds into this area,” Dr. Cohen said. “These patients without etched lines can be treated with a neuromodulator alone to soften the mechanical action of the orbicularis oris muscle,” he pointed out.

Dr. Cohen disclosed having participated in clinical trials and/or having served as a consultant for Merz, Allergan, Galderma, Suneva, Sciton, and Lutronic.