Harvey H. Jay, M.D.
45 East 62nd. St., New York, NY 10065
Tel: 212-755-2237 * Fax: 212-755-3359
Vogue: September, 1997
by Rachel Urquhart
I didn’t always gape at the backs of other women’s legs as they climbed the subway stairs in front of me or strolled down Broadway, bareskinned in the summer heat. But since my son was born four-and-a-half years ago, my body has been spinning a fine, purplish lace of veins over my calves and thighs. If I were better adjusted, I suppose I would convince myself to look at the marks as a kind of body glyph, an experimental tattoo. But I’m not that secure. I miss owning a set of gams with the flat, even tone of a Barbie doll’s.
Of course, one always presumes personal obsessions are exclusive to the twisted corridors of ones’s own mind. Not true. “You know about leg veins, right ?” a vaguely familiar voice begs over the phone before even bothering to ID herself. I am only a week into researching this article--clearly, news in the mottled-leg community travels fast.
Since I started experimenting with injections, light therapy, laser treatments, fake-tanning creams, body makeup, and nutritional counseling, I’ve spent hours sitting quietly by as friends and colleagues hike their skirts and drop their pants to show me the source of their misery. No wonder leg-vein treatment is the second most popular cosmetic surgical procedure, after chemical peels, in the country. Known as telangiectasia, spider veins begin plaguing many women and a number of men --after the age of 20. Genetic predisposition is the most common cause--identical twins may be affected in the exact same areas, to the same degree--but there are other aggravating factors. Chief among them ? Living. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, birth control pills, or estrogen-replacement therapies, injury, weight gain or loss, tight clothing, sunburn, even just standing around a lot--all of these can affect circulation and blood vessels, making a hereditary situation even worse. My mission was to find out what could make it better.
“No anesthesia. No surgery. No injections. No bleeding. Minimal split-second discomfort. Immediate return to activity.” What’s not to like about the sound of PhotoDerm pulsed light therapy ? Still, I get a little nervous when, from the sidewalk, I can hear screams emanating from the Manhattan dermatology office of Harvey Jay, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Cornell University Medical College. Once inside, I see two orange Mary Janes the size of teacups kicking up a frenzy in a distant treatment room. The patient is a two year old girl who is having port-wine stains zapped from her forehead. She is not in pain--just understandably alarmed at the sight of Jay, dressed in an immaculate lab coat and Jackie O-style sunglasses, wielding a STAR WARS-like implement complete with a crystal that glows orange and pop like an old-fashioned flashbulb.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m in the same position--minus the Mary Janes--my pale, bruised-looking legs in full view. “We can do something with these,: says Jay reassuringly. On a scale of one to ten, the seriousness of my vein problem is about a three. I would have guessed it was closer to a seven, but then Jay flips through slides of men and women with much worse conditions. One woman, whose thighs had been covered in a thick weave of purple vessels, was particularly memorable. After two treatments, there were still broken veins on her legs, but they were less obvious. What had been a mat of dark color was now paler and gauzy, the difference between burlap and lace.
“This woman was thrilled,” Jay said, obviously pleased. “She hadn’t shown her legs in 20 years.” Still, he’s careful to temper my hopes. “Everyone’s skin type and vein structure are different. And so are their expectations. Some people want total clearance. Others are happy with a more partial result.”
We target two dark knots of veins on my right leg and a fine wash of violet vessels on my left. The PhotoDerm is a complicated machine. It has the widest assortment of settings of any laser or light-therapy machine, not only for the intensity of the light but also for the duration of wavelength. By manipulating the number of pulses as well as the power of the wavelength, Jay can treat a variety of skin colors and thicknesses for conditions ranging from tattoos to sun damage.
The light, delivered in pulsating flashes, feels like a rubber band snapping at my skin. It’s hardly painful, but after Jay has zapped the four areas 120 times--because I’m on deadline, he takes a more aggressive approach than normal--my legs develop rectangular bruises and small hivelike bumps.
“We think that when the vein is destroyed, it releases histamine,” he explains. “Just like when you have an allergic reaction. It’s a good sign.” That night, I put cold compresses on the bruises and dab them with an antibacterial ointment. They don’t hurt, but they are angry-looking and remain so for the next five days. My legs look worse than they ever have--a fact I was to confront anew every time I tried a different procedure. Apparently there are people whose skin does not react so violently to PhotoDerm treatment, but I’m not one of them. With legs more like an Appaloosa than a lollapalooza, I yearn briefly, for the delicately decayed look of a few wispy vessels.
But once the bruises are clear, which takes about ten days, the veined spots are lighter. Jay treats me two more times, going after successively more superficial vessels with terrific results, particularly where the two knots are concerned. One disappears almost entirely, while the other is a pale pink shadow of its former purple self. The larger washes of veins look better too. It’s taken five weeks in all, and Jay estimates it would cost $400 to $800 to fully treat both legs, but I’m impressed.
Abstract from Vogue, September 1997
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