Turning Back the Clock

By Lindsey Townsend

For millions of Americans, “growing old gracefully” now requires a few expert nips and tucks from a good cosmetic surgeon. In a society that worships youth and fitness, cosmetic surgery is fast becoming another tool-like diet, exercise, and a good haircut-that Boomers use to prolong their youth and vitality.

“The perception of plastic surgery has evolved over the past 20 years from risky, painful, expensive procedures to safe, pleasant and affordable procedures for anyone who desires to improve their appearance,” says Dr. Ronald Friedman, P.A., a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon practicing at Trinity Medical Center.

The numbers are impressive. Over four million people had cosmetic surgery procedures performed last year, according to a report by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and almost a million of them were men. Reduced costs, new procedures with improved recovery times, and an increasing acceptance by society are all contributing to the boom. The most frequently requested cosmetic procedures for women are breast augmentation, liposuction and eyelid surgery, while liposuction and hair transplantation top the list with men.

Dr. Friedman performs more than 100 breast enlargements a year, often using a new technique called the limited-incision enlargement with lift. Unlike traditional breast lifts, which used to require extensive incisions, the limited-incision enlargement is performed through a single circular incision around the areola of the breast. “The reduced scarring improves the cosmetic outcome and patient satisfaction,” said Dr. Friedman. Cost of the procedure is around $7300, and recovery time is one to two weeks.

As the number one cosmetic surgery performed in the state, liposuction--which removes fat deposits from specific body areas that don’t respond to diet and exercise--is hotter than a black sedan on an August day in Texas. “Many of my male patients who have liposuction are very active and pretty fit. Some lift weights regularly and have very good physiques but want fine tuning of pesky areas that won't go away,” said Dr. Gregory Stagnone, F.A.C.S., owner and director of The Plastic Surgery Center.

The cost for liposuction ranges from $4,000-$8,000, depending upon the location and number of areas performed. While recovery time is typically just a few days, compression garments are usually worn for three to four weeks following surgery. Under-the-chin liposuction ($1000) is an increasingly popular, minimally invasive procedure that about 45 minutes. Patients can drive themselves home and resume normal activities the same day. “Discomfort is generally minimal, and the improvement is frequently immediate and dramatic,” said Dr. Friedman.

Another relatively new procedure is an endoscopic brow lift, which uses a surgical camera through a limited incision to eliminate lines in the brow area, according to Dr. Paul Pin, a cosmetic and plastic surgeon who practices at Doctors Hospital in Dallas. Allen resident Nancy Kaminski, * a flight attendant, recently turned 39 and received her birthday present: a combination brow and breast lift. “I wanted to get it over with all at once so I could get back to normal sooner,” Kaminski said. “Many of my friends at work will disappear for a while and come back looking great. It can be hard to tell whether they’ve been on vacation--like they say--or have had something done!”

Surgeons say this trend towards combination procedures is increasing. The No. 1 procedure performed in Dr. Stagnone’s office is currently a combination of breast augmentation or reshaping combined with liposuction. “I also perform a large number of abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) procedures and usually perform simultaneous liposuction to smooth out and refine the results and bring the hips and thighs into balance with the new abdomen,” he said. Full tummy tucks generally range from $5000-$7000 depending upon the amount of tissue involved, with recovery times of up to two weeks.

Another new procedure, the central body lift--which lifts the buttocks and tightens the hips and abdomen when there is extreme sagging of the skin--is frequently combined with liposuction. “It’s essentially a ‘facelift’ for the body that can be performed with or without liposuction,” said Dr. Diane Gibby, founder of the Women’s Center for Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery. The strategically-placed incision can easily be hidden underneath a bathing suit. Cost is approximately $6000, and recovery time is two to four weeks.

Because the eyes are often the first area to show age, eyelid surgery, or blephroplasty, is also a top choice for Boomers of both sexes. The use of surgical lasers in recent years has dramatically reduced recovery times and minimized bruising and swelling. “Usually the professionals that have it performed believe it gives them a competitive edge and makes them look younger and fresher,” said Dr. Mark Jaffe, an oculoplastic surgeon with the Eyelid Rejuvenation Center at Key-Whitman Laser Center. Dr. Jaffe specializes in reconstructive and aesthetic surgery of the eye using the CO2 laser. Costs average $2000-$8000 depending on the procedure, with recovery time from two to seven days.

As more people become interested in minimally invasive procedures with little or no downtime, surgeons are responding by offering many non-surgical, lower cost skin treatments in addition to surgical procedures. Facial rejuvenation is hot, whether through laser resurfacing ($2500 and up), chemical peels ($750-$3500), or Botox ($400-$550 per session), according to Dr. Bruce Byrne, who practices with Regional Plastic Surgery Associates at Lake Pointe Medical Center. The newer, lighter peels, often referred to as “lunchtime peels,” have virtually no downtime, while Botox injections quickly diminish wrinkles in the brow area.

Many patients are now having cosmetic procedures done earlier, before age and sun have done permanent damage.“ People are having procedures done at a younger age and having more minor procedures with quicker recoveries such as mini-facelifts and eyelid rejuvenation or neck liposuction alone to sharpen the jawline instead of waiting until a full facelift is their only solution,” Dr. Stagnone said.

Beyond the obvious physical benefits, cosmetic surgery can offer intangibles such as more attention from a spouse after surgery, doctors say. Many women, thrilled with their new appearance following breast lifts or body contouring, feel an urgent need to do a little shopping. “I warn their husbands that the primary cost of surgery is not the surgical fee but rather the cost of the post-operative wardrobe and lingerie,” Dr. Friedman said.

* Name has been changed.