Medical tourism: Vbeam treatment, skin cancer screening in Chiang Mai

In my last adventure of medical tourism as a retired budget traveler, I wrote about my successful biannual post-breast cancer check in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This post is about my great, affordable experience with a dermatologist for a preventative skin cancer screening, and also two Vbeam laser treatments on my face. Let’s start with the important issue, and then I’ll get to the cosmetic one.

Skin cancer screening

The Chiang Mai Ram Skin Center, at the hospital’s new health center in northern Thailand.

This is a routine screening for me, since this type of cancer also runs in my family (lucky me!). Since I had such a good experience with my post-breast cancer checkup at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, I made an appointment with a dermatologist fluent in English at their Skin Center. The skin clinic is actually down the road from the hospital, in a brand new, spotless office building complex called the Chiang Mai Ram Health Center.

Dr. Siriwit Wongsakul checked me over with an ultraviolet light, and spent extra time on the areas of my sun-damaged skin. There was a nurse in the room during his examination.

Everything was fine, I don’t even have any suspicious areas to watch. The exam cost $30. Same for Tedly’s exam, and he got some face cream so his bill was about double, around $58.

It was during my exam that the doctor offered an easy way to get rid of broken capillaries on my face. These also run in my family, and are further likely to appear after years of sun exposure, drinking and smoking. When Dr. Wongsakul explained the simple procedure and named a price, I was sold.

Vbeam

Now, I’m not a vain kinda girl. I mean, I had double mastectomy with no reconstruction. (My reasons for staying “flat” are here.) I stopped lightening my hair years ago (and it’s getting darker with age), and I cannot remember the last time I bought — or wore — makeup. But this Vbeam thing was so much less expensive compared to the U.S., I couldn’t resist. Also, I had one cluster that formed a rather large red spot on my cheek and the occasional pimple made my cheek hurt (yes, even at nearly 48 years old I still get those).

Not all broken capillaries can be erased with one treatment, but the doctor assured me he could zap away the most obvious ones, which looked like small red lines on my cheeks, including that cluster, which was near the surface.

He was correct – the before and after views of my face are amazing. It made a world of difference in on my cheeks and nose.

How much did it cost? One treatment was $96. (Edited to add: several treatments are often necessary.)

How long was recovery? Nine days for the bruising to heal the first time. Once the bruises were gone, I could see the capillaries were gone, too. No direct sun for at least a week, and you might feel silly walking around the world with purple spots on your face, like suction marks. But there was nothing else to the recovery after the first treatment.

The second treatment went deeper, because the capillaries were deeper. Therefore, instead of several surface purple spots, I had only a few spots – but my face was swollen for a few days where the Vbeam zapped me.

Before each treatment, the doctor told me what to expect during the healing process.

What did it feel like? I read an article (linked below, with before and after shots) where a doctor described it as rubber band being snapped against your skin. That’s exactly what it felt like to me. Also, my eyes were covered with gauze and special goggles, but I still saw flashes of light.

How long did it last? The treatments lasted maybe ten minutes after I thoroughly washed my face and had my blood pressure checked. I counted 40 zaps on my right side, 42 on my left (including the sides of my nose) and 10 on my chin during the second round. (I didn’t think to count them on the first round.)

How long do the results last? Doc said maybe a few years – if I’m lucky – without sun exposure, heavy drinking or smoking. More realistically, because of my travel lifestyle and a lot of time spent outside on beaches, a year or two before I notice regrowth. But, he also said it will take several years for a cluster of broken capillaries I previously had to develop again. I accept that, and seriously, I cannot expect a couple of treatments for less than $200 to last forever.

Is my face perfect? Nope. It’s perfectly imperfect, with wrinkles, acne scars, and yes, I still have a few broken capillaries. But I’m not interested in more treatments. In fact, it was really just the first treatment that made the most visible difference. And I’m glad those pesky pimples I still sometimes get will not hurt that area where the cluster was.

I wish I had taken detailed before photos, but I didn’t. You’ll have to take my word for the dramatic difference that I can see. I can offer a few shots from about one year ago where you see the reddish effect from the broken cluster on my right cheek (screen left in both shots, Greece and Albania, 2018.) But keep in mind, it’s a five-year-old iPhone, and the lighting sucks. The cluster looks more like a shadow in the first picture.

That red spot, and several others, are now gone.

I’m going to be one of the women in this world who ages as nature intends. Au natural. No neck lifts or eye lifts. No tummy tucks or botox fills. This will be the extent of my cosmetic enhancement. And … maybe one day I’ll put on make up again other than the rare, random eyeliner swipe. But it was fun to try this procedure, which women rave about for evening out their skin tone.

By the way, Vbeam treatments cost much more back in America. Every state and doctor’s office is different, but single treatments can start at $500.

For more information on VBeam, I found a contributor’s article in Forbes that’s interesting. She also has good before and after shots, and detailed information about the machinery. That article is here.

For more information on Chiang Mai Ram Hospital’s skin clinic, go here.

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