Reviewed by Timothy R. Miller, MD
Sculptra was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 as a treatment for facial "wasting" in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. While facial plastic surgeons have been using it off-label to treat deep smile lines (nasolabial folds) and sunken areas of the face for years, the FDA formally approved Sculptra for such aesthetic uses in 2009.
What is Sculptra Aesthetic?
Sculptra is an injectable form poly-L-lactic acid, which is derived from organic resources. This material is not harmful and is able be broken down by the body. Sculptra packs a one-two punch against wrinkles and facial folds. It thickens skin and stimulates the body to replace lost collagen (the main protein that gives our skin structure). Collagen production declines with advancing age.
Sculptra Aesthetic can be injected deeper than other fillers, which provides a more robust filling effect. Your surgeon will inject a local anesthetic with the Sculptra to help alleviate any pain or discomfort. Treatment typically comprises three to four injection sessions given at four- to six-week intervals. Each Sculptra treatment session takes about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of areas treated and your aesthetic goals.
Unlike other fillers on the market, Sculptra works gradually. Your wrinkles, facial folds and sunken areas will fill out over a period of weeks. While Sculptra's effects take time to appear, the results last up to two years, but continued improvement is commonly seen beyond this time period.
Is Sculptra right for you? With so many fillers and injectables on the market, how can you choose? Fat injections are considered the only true alternative to Sculptra, but fat injections often yield unpredictable results and involve a primary procedure to harvest fat from areas of your body where it is more plentiful. A candid discussion with a knowledgeable facial plastic surgeon about your cosmetic goals is the best way to determine which dermal filler is right for you. Some plastic surgeons may have 3D imaging available that can help show you exactly what Sculptra can do for your smile lines and facial folds. This can take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Unlike Botox and some other fillers which last under a year, Sculptra lasts two years, so you want to be sure you will be happy with the results.
The risks of Sculptra injections are similar to those seen with other injectables. They include reactions such as bleeding, pain/discomfort, redness, bruising and/or swelling at the injection site. Other risks with Sculptra may include small bumps and lumps under the skin, and infection.
There is virtually no downtime with Sculptra. You can put on makeup and head back to the office immediately after your treatment session. That said, the sheer volume of the fluid injected into your face will make your wrinkles look like they have vanished. This is only temporary. The injected volume will disappear as the fluid is absorbed. During the following months, your body produces the collagen and the smooth result returns.
Your facial plastic surgeon may tell you to massage the treated areas for five minutes, five times daily for the week after each treatment. This will allow for more even distribution.
Sculptra costs about $1,000 per vial, so its longevity comes at a price. By contrast, other fillers such as Juvederm and Restylane cost around $500 a syringe. The cost of Sculptra Aesthetic is not covered by insurers.
To view a comparison chart explaining the pros and cons of all available injectables, please click here.
About the Reviewer of this Article
Timothy R. Miller, MD, is double board-certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. His practice, Facial Aesthetic Concepts, is devoted exclusively to aesthetic surgery of the face and neck. Dr. Miller has offices throughout Orange County, Calif., and has operating privileges at many area hospitals, including the Mission Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., Saddleback Memorial Hospital San Clemente Campus in San Clemente, Calif., and the Pacific Coast Ambulatory Surgicenter in San Clemente, Calif.
Dr. Miller received his medical degree from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, and completed a five-year surgical residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine, followed by a facial plastic and reconstructive surgery fellowship accredited by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Miller is a Fellow of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the California Society of Facial Plastic Surgery.