Well, it’s official. As we age, it’s our hands, not our faces, that most concern us — bulging purple veins, thinning, crepey skin, and brown speckles.
Research by beauty firm No7 showed one in eight of us is more worried about our hands betraying our age than our faces.
I wish I could say this marketing gumpf wasn’t true, but I’m afraid it is. While we have long since learned to use moisturiser and sunscreen on our faces and decolletage, most of us don’t bother with our hands.
But — and here’s the thing — I have always looked after my hands. I have never cooked (too many ugly scars from burns and nicks), washed up (I own a dishwasher), gardened or sunbathed. Even in my 20s I was protecting my hands with face cream.
I’ve massaged cuticle oil around each half moon every night and have never used polish on my nails, believing it will desiccate them and turn them yellow.
I’ve slept in Bliss softening socks and Bliss softening gloves, which make it very hard to turn the pages of a novel or keep a husband — but who needs culture or a game of footsie when you can have baby soft paws?
Over the past decade, I have had my brown age spots zapped with a laser at the private Lister Hospital opposite Battersea Park in South London. A giant machine targets the speckles, resulting in a worrying smell of burning, followed by crusting, leaving a creamy dot instead. But, like damp in a basement, the brown smudges soon return.
And now, in my 50s, I’ve started to notice my face and my hands just don’t match. This, of course, is entirely my own doing.
I had a facelift and blepharoplasty (removal of eye-bags) in March 2011, followed by filler injected every eight months to keep it all tip top.
And so now, while my face is fairly plump and cheerful-looking (Botox ensures my mouth no longer droops like Dame Edna Everage’s sidekick, Madge), my hands belong to quite another person.
I worry, too, that I’ve inherited my mum’s arthritis, a disease that ravaged her joints and turned her hands into avian claws, the pain etched in her face.
Just the other day, I was washing my hands and I looked up to remove a hair from my face. I jumped, thinking I was being mugged by a little old lady.
A recent photo of me holding a puppy also made me dismayed: my hands were so bony it was as though I was not just dead, but had been dug up from a bog.
My hands resemble a song thrush: brown upper parts, a cream under-part and obvious dark spots. Something, I realise, has to be done if I am to avoid following Madonna, who goes out in public these days in bright purple fingerless gloves.
And so I go to meet Dr Dennis Wolf, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the British College of Aesthetic Medicine, at his consulting room at The Private Clinic in Harley Street.
A dapper South African, Dr Wolf is one of the few British-based surgeons to be trained in Vaser high-definition fat extraction (a high-tech, non- invasive form of liposuction).
He has used fat transfer to augment breasts, buttocks and faces, the British woman’s favourite places for plumping, which are fast being caught up by our wish to rejuvenate our hands.
I place mine on his desk, as though he is a soothsayer about to read my palm. ‘Hmm,’ he says, turning them gently. ‘The veins are pronounced, the skin is crepey and, yes, you do appear to have lost a lot of volume.’ But the good news is that he can save me.
He tells me he will harvest fat from elsewhere in my body, which will then be spun at high speed to purify it, so it can be injected into my hands via tiny incisions at the top of the wrists.
Why my own fat and not filler? I have had no problems with that injected in the tramlines from my nose to mouth.
‘Fat is the new filler. While this procedure is more invasive and costlier, it’s safer, as the body is less likely to reject it,’ he tells me.
‘And it lasts longer, not just the eight months you get with filler. The fat will remain plump as long as it would do in your thighs, so maybe even years.’
He says my hands will look puffy at first and might bruise and be a little painful. About 70 per cent of the fat injected will survive and settle to look natural and smooth (filler can go lumpy if not injected by an expert).
Dr Wolf then gets me to strip off and assesses the best place to harvest fat. I’m hoping he’ll say my knees or tummy, but he deems them not nearly chubby enough. Instead, he earmarks the fat at the top of each inner thigh.
But if I’m buoyed by the thought of slimmer legs, the feeling is fleeting. Only about 40ml will be taken from each leg, he says, most of which is fluid. After being spun, there will be about 4ml of fat for each hand — not quite enough to fill a teaspoon.
I’m told to wear support tights post-op and not to straddle anything (I think he means I shouldn’t ride my horse, but I blush, reminded of the first time I had collagen in my lips and was told not to kiss for a week. ‘Believe me,’ I said. ‘It’s really not that likely.’).
The procedure will be done under local anaesthetic and takes about three hours. I’m to turn up in baggy clothes and not to wear white — there might be ‘leakage from the harvest site’.
I feel a little queasy. After the procedure, I’m to take antibiotics and painkillers, and must be taken home by a responsible adult.
I realise there is no one I can call upon, bar my cleaner. I realise that as I get older, my problem will be one of isolation and loneliness, not the fact my hands betray my vintage.
I’m to abstain from alcohol while taking the antibiotics prescribed to avoid infection (actually, alcohol is bad full stop, as any damage to the liver will result in more tell-tale brown spots).
I must also leave off washing up, long baths and anything strenuous done with the hands (it’s a good job I’m not the Queen and don’t have to wave them all day) and I should keep them slightly elevated for a couple of days. I’m to place a pillow under each when on a sofa or in bed.
I panic. Will I be able to type? ‘Yes, you can type. But try to take it easy for two days.’
I’m beginning to feel worried, especially when he tells me the cost of the op is nearly £2,000. I’m deaf (there are some signs of ageing you can’t fix in an afternoon). At first I think he says £200, but when he corrects me I gasp with shock.
But I’m brave, I’m desperate and so I agree to turn up on a Friday evening at The Private Clinic’s Knightsbridge branch. Dr Wolf, now in surgical scrubs, draws with black marker pen on the backs of my hands as a guide of where to pipe the fat, like a very non-festive cupcake decorator.
In gown and paper knickers, I’m prone on the operating table. Painkiller is injected first into my thighs, then my wrists.
Harvesting the fat is the worst part: a big tube is inserted via an incision; it feels as though a vacuum hose has been shoved beneath my skin.
I open my eyes to see a syringe fill with a yellow liquid, streaked with red. I start to feel very hot, and wonder not for the first time why I cannot just grow old gracefully.
The worst part over, the fat is spun, then injected into my hands and squished by the doctor into all the crevices. One hand done, the photographer takes a picture of how different my old hand looks. The effects are startling and instant.
After about an hour, I am allowed to sit up slowly. My hands look like those of a twentysomething’s: pale and smooth. Finally, I leave the clinic and head out into the bustling London night.
I hail a taxi home — all the time I’m aware of the lumps of bulky gauze on my thighs and wrists.
We pass bars and restaurants full of people laughing and drinking, and not for the first time I feel jealous of anyone who is not me: alone, having had more painful surgery to try to make myself better, as if anyone cared or noticed.
Two days later, I’m very happy with my new chubby hands and keep putting a finger to my face to check it matches.
They feel like a new purchase, a new Mulberry bag, which in a way they are, though without the crocodile effect.
After one restless night, they are no longer swollen or bruised, though my legs are so painful — the entry wounds seep blood and gunk — that I can barely walk.
I can’t help but wonder what on earth women will be asked to worry about next. I’ve been peering at my feet, which my husband told me were my best feature and one of the reasons he married me, and which suddenly seem to have purple veins around the ankles.
The nails seem a little thicker than they once were, requiring more coats of Tom Ford shocking pink polish. I consider calling Dr Wolf to ask about foot rejuvenation, but change my mind.
I might just consider a big comfy pair of cashmere socks first . . .