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Dr. Vicki Belo leads PH delegation to int’l congress, gives sneak peek on 2023 plans

By Johanna Añes-de la Cruz, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 24, 2023 9:00 am Updated Jan 24, 2023 10:44 am

“From the very beginning, almost 33 years ago, one of my visions was to make the Philippines a beauty destination,” Dr. Vicki Belo shares in an exclusive interview with The Philippine STAR.

It was early evening on a Thursday at her new home in Makati. She had been busy preparing for this year’s International Master Course on Aging Science (IMCAS) World Congress 2023 in Paris, where she is to deliver two talks this coming Thursday, Jan. 26. Despite her hectic schedule and with her daughter Scarlet Snow in the adjacent room having art classes, the iconic doctor graciously welcomed us and prompted us to start with the interview right on the dot at 6 p.m.

“I studied in Thailand and saw how being a beauty destination is such a big deal. Part of the things that we do then is to always give talks abroad because I want us to be recognized as the experts on Asian skin,” she says.

Belo says that it’s important for doctors like herself to attend conferences because it’s one way for them to keep up with the trends. She adds that if there are any speakers who impressed her, she tries to invite them to the Philippines. Belo Medical Group shoulders all expenses just so these experts can share their know-hows to her team.

“I don’t want the knowledge to fall far from the tree,” she says.

The mother of three also loves bringing her doctors with her to international conventions not only to give them opportunities to learn, but because she knows that it makes them feel “so good.” “They know that they’re at par, if not more advanced than, other clinics. When they come home, they feel so proud,” she says.

IMCAS congresses are a huge deal in medical aesthetics. They’re platforms where practitioners the world over meet and learn from the best in the fields of dermatology, plastic surgery, and aging science. This year, it will be held from Jan. 26 to 28.

“I really want to put the Philippines on the map worldwide. So, when our papers get accepted at a congress, I get so excited because we can show something new.” And Belo is more than ready to put the spotlight on Philippine doctors once again, as she has done so for decades.

On cutting-edge treatments, technologies

The skin expert debunks the common misconception that other countries are more advanced than the Philippines when it comes to cosmetic surgery when, in fact, we are so much more ahead of most of them, even those in Europe.

“Especially now that the Koreans and the Japanese are at the forefront of all of these treatments,” she adds.

She says that both of her talks in the congress will be “so new” to her audience and that this year, the hot topic is all about “threads.”

“The talk I’m giving is on threads for the nose,” she explains, “I’m one of the authors on a book about threads. We can do fillers, but threads are better because they’re more solid, they stay in place, and there’s hardly any side effect.”

Threads for eyebags are a new thing, says Belo, so new, in fact, that the Belo Medical Group is the only one doing it here in the Philippines.

The second talk she will be delivering is on a Belo-developed treatment for the eyes. “It’s for people with monolids or sagging lids. It’s a Fractional C02 which tightens skin and lifts it. We put threads to support it to open the eyes more. It’s a brand-new thing and we’re the ones who developed it.”

Belo says she often gets emails from people asking her if they can come to the Philippines to visit and learn from her. On this, she says that it’s her own way of putting the country on the map for cosmetic surgery.

“I feel like I’m the ambassador,” Belo says with a smile, “Because when I studied in Thailand, I was like why isn’t the Philippines like this? After all, we have very good doctors, we have skilled hands, and we are a caring society.”

Belo as a one-stop shop for beauty

The celebrity doctor says that a big reason why the Belo Medical Group is far more advanced than other clinics anywhere else in the world is that they’re a “one-stop shop for beauty.”

“I think my talent is looking for loopholes. Early on in my career, since I have the advantage of being trained in the States and then Europe, Brazil, and Japan, I could already see that there’s a very big disconnect between countries or regions in terms of cosmetic surgery.”

This disconnect leads to one of the biggest perks of Belo’s job, but also the most daunting—she goes around the world as regularly as she can to identify the best technologies that need to be brought to Philippine shores.

These efforts make Belo clinics no different from one-stop shops as the tireless doctor sees to it that they only use the best from all corners of the world. “That’s why people fly here from other countries because they can only find the one-stop shop here,” she enthuses.

On top of this, Belo and her team of experts combine procedures and products into one treatment when possible. “Parang wala pa silang narinig na ganun,” Belo adds, “It takes a lot of experience and doing a lot of cases to know which procedures will work together.”

She says that they are much more embracing of technology from around the world, specifically those from the US, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and France. This is why she likens the Belo Medical Group to fusion cuisine, “That’s what we are, we’re a fusion clinic! It’s good to combine and I think that’s where Belo excels. We combine four, five, six procedures.”

It’s no surprise then that patients from countries like the US, Canada, and Australia fly to the country just to have procedures done by Belo. “They’re not balikbayans. They’re actual people from there. For them to come here to see a doctor, that’s part of my dream.”

The doctor as an artist

Belo recognizes the difficulty of keeping up with the fast-paced world of medical aesthetics, especially since the costs are always in the millions. The Belo Medical Group, for one, has no machine that’s under Php8M, with their most expensive technology, PicoSure, costing a whopping Php14M each.

She shares that some smaller clinics would have their owners pool their resources together and buy only one or two lasers because they’re too expensive and try to use what they have for everything. She explains that this is not how it should work because the beauty of lasers lies in their specific functions.

“For example, PicoSure, it’s only for pigment. I’m not supposed to use it for scars or keloid,” Dr. Belo shares, “We really go out of our way—we buy machines that are Rolls-Royces or Bentleys of their generation because our patients deserve them.”

At the end of the day, she believes that it’s the doctors who operate the machines that matter more. “I always say we’re like artists. I’m a painter. It’s not about the paint, it’s about the artist behind it,” she says.

“Belo, unfortunately, has become the clinic of last resort,” she adds with a sigh. “They try everyone else first, kapag palpak na, kapag may mali na kay Belo na lang para sigurado. By that time, there’s already a problem. It would’ve been so much easier for us to treat ‘virgin skin’ because there are no complications yet.”

What’s in store for 2023

Belo is happy that they’re booked until mid-2024. “We have plans to expand into something more holistic. I’ll not mention it first because gagayahin ako even before I begin,” she jokes, “But yes, we’re expanding from beauty to beyond. What the ‘beyond’ is I won’t say yet.”

“But what we’re doing now is renovating all our clinics, making them bigger and more beautiful,” she says.

Belo is also looking into opening a branch abroad, specifically in Dubai, where the income is very high and there are a lot of Filipinos. Plus, they get a lot of patients from the Middle East.

“There’s just so many things to do, but Philippines first for me.”

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Editor’s Note: BrandedUp is designed to provide you with insightful, inspiring and educational content created by PhilSTAR L!fe in collaboration with brands like Belo Medical Group.