Spring is hovering on the horizon. And as the collective nation’s hemlines slowly begin to rise, tights are cast aside and the Ugg boots returned to hibernation, I will, for the first time in memory, be able to join in.
For as long as I’ve been aware, I’ve hidden my legs underneath trousers, tights and on one badly-advised occasion, thigh high boots.
And all because of the roadmap of thread veins that began subtly tracing its way across my lower limbs, starting in my early 20s.
Because of this, my legs have become the part of my body I am most self conscious about. In my mind I have the pins of an 80-year-old woman and I physically ache with jealousy when I see some sylph with legs the colour of caramel strutting past in hotpants.
It feels like one of those terribly unfair things, like being 33 and still getting spots (why, why, why?!) Hence I hide my pins from the world and from myself. And accept that the next time I hit the beach I’m probably going to wear a burkhini.
So, when I am given the opportunity to have these unsightly veins removed, I am ecstatic. So ecstatic, I don’t care that the procedure involves needles. Needles. Those sharp pointy things that have caused me to faint in doctor’s surgeries, dentist chairs and even once at a tattoo parlour.
But as the adage goes, “no pain, no gain” and this is definitely a big gain for me. So without further ado, I take myself down to Dr Brian Newman’s thread vein removal clinic in Harley Street.
Established in 1998 and now with four clinics across the UK, Dr Newman is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in thread vein removal.
In March 2012, the network reported a 40 per cent increase in the number of patients booking appointments for leg vein removal procedures compared to the same time last year. So I am by no means alone in my prison of thread veins. Interestingly, of the patients who seek treatment for facial veins, 50 per cent are male.
What’s more, 20 per cent of all new patients find themselves at the clinic seeking treatment for previously failed laser treatments.
The high instance of failed treatments is, Dr Newman says, simply down to unskilled and unqualified practitioners and a general lack of awareness amongst patients about the safer treatments available.
He adds: “It is shocking, but not surprising that the number of failed laser treatments is so high. Laser treatment is incredibly powerful and can have a huge physical and psychological impact on patients if administered incorrectly.”
Me and my veiny legs arrive and are greeted by Dr Fiona Payne, who trained with Dr Newman and spends a good half hour asking me about my health, what my particular concerns are and what I would like out of the treatment.
She then puts on a rather space-age looking headset which casts a polarised light on my skin, allowing her to scrutinise my face and legs at high magnification.
All this is projected onto a TV screen in front of me, with the result that the magnification makes me look like a burns victim. I am horrified.
As well as my legs, (which, she assures me are “not that bad”), she points out I have a number of thread veins around my nose and on my cheeks and diagnoses me with stage one rosacea, a skin condition characterised by blocked pores and chronic inflammation.
Rosacea can be treated and cured at the clinic, with 90 per cent clearance of the veins and a minimum of 50 per cent of the redness. Many patients are completely cured, but treatment can take up to 18 months.
To treat the congestion, she gives me a tube of Skinorem Azalic Acide, which I am to dab on for four weeks before we begin my treatment.
I’m slightly relieved I’ve bought myself another month before the needles come out, but I’m resolute – particularly after seeing the state of my skin on screen. I’m doing this.
Dr Payne explains: “We won’t do it if it’s not the right treatment, which is why we have a consultation first. We don’t treat people on their first day to the clinic. We let them go away and think about it.
“The reason the clinic works is we are all doctors, not just technicians.
“Sometimes we see conditions that are not treatable and we refer patients to their GPs. However, around 95 per cent of the people we see can be treated.”
Come the big day, it’s quite cold, and I arrive in tights, boots and a long skirt. It feels somewhat ceremonius as I sadly remove my tights and lift my skirt to show just what has been tormenting me all these years.
As I lie on my front, Dr Payne puts on her headset and prepares a needle with saline solution. It’s a tiny needle – really tiny. So small, in fact, they are used as diabetic needles for children. If that’s not enough to make you swallow your pride and fear, I don’t know what is.
The screen in front of me shows my legs and their veins magnified and in high definition. I’m almost too horrified and ashamed to look. Almost.
Known as injection compression sclerotherapy, the procedure sees thread veins injected with a saline solution that causes the vein wall to swell and eventually be destroyed, making it much less noticeable and in most cases, invisible.
Dr Payne uses a needle on my legs for the larger veins – anything longer than 3mm.
While I can feel the needle going in, I’ve scraped together all courage to watch the screen and I am so transfixed, I forget about the pain. I am watching my veins disappearing before my very eyes.
It does hurt. But you have to remember I am a wuss who faints everywhere. So it’s probably not that painful for a normal person. And I didn’t faint.
Dr Payne is sympathetic however. She explains: “I’ve done it on my own legs. When I was training, my colleague and I treated each other so I know what it feels like and it can be uncomfortable.”
After each vein is injected, Dr Payne tightly tapes a small roll of cotton over the skin (do say if you are allergic to the glue in medical tape). By the time we are done, my calves and thighs are speckled with wads of cotton and I’m instructed to put my tights back on, and keep them on for three days. Yep, that’s three lumpy days in 60 denier nylon.
Then it’s time for my face. As Dr Payne looms over me with a needle the width of a hair she reminds me I’m going to have some redness and asks if I have any social plans that day.
I don’t, thank goodness, but I’m instantly panicking about the prospect of everyone staring at me on the way home.
It turns out to be in vain (vein?! Haha!) however, as the redness turns out to be very, very faint – virtually unnoticeable in fact. And the pain is akin to eyebrow plucking. Just lots of it.
The thread veins in my face are zapped with thermocoagulation – a technique developed by Dr Newman himself, where microwaves destroy the veins without scarring, hyper or hypo pigmentation.
Dr Payne clocks up 191 zaps on my face and tears squeeze through my eyes, not so much through pain, but through the sheer effort of not whipping my head away. (And because, like I’ve already mentioned, I’m a wuss).
Once we’re done I’m stinging and wincing, but I’m not about to pass out. I bundle up again in my winter gear and slink off home, promising to keep these tights on and walk two miles a day. (The motion gets the muscles pumping in the legs and improves circulation to disperse any blood that accumulates around the treatment areas.)
The tights thing is annoying. All I will say is thank god I did it during winter. And if I had to do it again, I’d wear crotchless tights. So would you. Just trust me.
Within hours my face looks transformed. There is no redness at all. I keep looking in the mirror, expecting something terrible to happen but the skin on my cheeks and around my nose looks noticeably fresh and clear.
Three days later I’m ecstatic to take off my tights. Down they come, and I’m tearing off the cotton balls with great gusto.
Some of the needle holes remain, (gradually disappearing over the next week) but the difference to my legs is astonishing. Veins I have lived with for years are just no longer there any more. One in particular, which would constantly torment me from the top of my right thigh is gone. It’s just not there any more.
I can hardly believe it. I keep checking, going to sleep and imaginging it’s going to burst back into my life, bulging, blue and blighting my self-confidence. But it doesn’t.
I may be skipping down the street with euphoria, but Dr Payne does offer some words of caution.
She says: “Patients may not have the miracle cure they were after and some people might need a bit more treatment than others, but in general people are delighted.”
People like me! I probably won’t be squeezing into those hotpants tomorrow, but these legs just may see the light of day yet...
Sara Nelson was treated at Dr Newman’s Clinic, on Harley Street, London. An initial consultation costs £200 (£250 with Dr Newman) with further treatments at £395 (£450 with Dr Newman). For more information, visit www.drnewmansclinic.co.uk