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Here comes the one-hour face-lift

Thermage unveils a rapid, nonsurgical procedure

By Michael V. Copeland
Business 2.0

Thermage unveils a rapid, nonsurgical procedure

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(Business 2.0) -- In the fight against wrinkles and aging, Americans spent $7.7 billion on cosmetic medical procedures last year.

Next year they'll undergo 12 million nips, tucks, peels, and plumps of one sort or another. Botox treatments have attracted headlines, but now Thermage, based in Hayward, California, hopes to steal the spotlight with its nonsurgical, one-hour face-lift procedure.

What's the secret? Imagine a slice of bacon cooking in a pan. As the protein heats up, the bacon shrinks.

Thermage's $40,000 ThermaCool tissue-contraction device works much the same way, using a ray-gun-like radio frequency emitter to heat the collagen beneath a patient's skin, causing it to shrink. As the tissue heals during subsequent weeks, the face conforms to the tighter, smaller structure -- with no downtime spent wrapped like the English Patient.

Thermage's procedure won FDA clearance late last year, and it's also been accepted in Canada, the European Union, and much of Asia.

"People are always looking for nonpainful and noninvasive ways to look younger," says Dr. Mitchel Goldman, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology, who cautions that Thermage's technology may not work for every patient.

Still, hopeful customers seem willing to try their luck, with an estimated 5,000 thus far having paid plastic surgeons from $1,500 to $4,000 to undergo the ThermaCool procedure.

As a result, Thermage's cash flow is expanding faster than the wrinkles on a lifeguard's face: After posting $2 million in revenue for all of 2002, the company has already sold $10 million of its devices and consumable supplies this year.

With a 28-person sales force knocking on surgeons' doors in the United States, Thermage expects to be profitable by the end of 2003. Give the company another year or so before it goes public, but that's when it should really bring home the bacon.

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