Our cultural obsession with youth has a new ally: minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. They're soaring in popularity, and they are faster, more effective and less expensive than ever thanks to novel techniques and advances in technology. But their most defining feature is that they produce natural-looking results while at the same time taking years off your face and inches off your body. And it all takes place during your lunch hour.
Less is More
It used to be that Orange County got lumped into a cliché of plastic surgery: the tight, pulled-back face; the over-plump lips that take the term “bee-stung” to a whole new level; the eyebrows arched into a look of permanent surprise. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), that’s not a coincidence; it’s a statistically supported fact. In 2011, Region 5 of the United States, which includes Orange County, made up 31% of the total cosmetic surgical procedures in the nation. That’s a full 12 percentage points more than the next highest region, which includes New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
And it’s not just a physical stereotype that has put OC on the national plastic surgery watch; the media has also made a significant contribution. Dr. Terry Dubrow, a Newport Beach plastic surgeon, appeared on the extreme makeover show “The Swan” and is the doctor behind E!’s “Bridalplasty,” a reality show in which brides compete to earn plastic surgery; and “The Real Housewives of Orange County” introduced us to the social phenomenon of Botox parties, simultaneously causing viewers to roll their eyes… and then plan one of their own. But as it turns out, the famously vapid Housewives were onto something – something big – when they aired their Botox social in 2008. And while it’s not every day that we find ourselves congratulating the infamous OC wives, we have to give them credit for their astute insight into a cultural phenomenon that is now the most significant trend in cosmetic surgery to date: minimally invasive cosmetic procedures.
Based on data from the ASPS, minimally invasive cosmetic procedures have increased 123% from 2000 to 2011. And if you think that’s a lot, consider that the use of Botox has soared 621% in the same time period, up to 5,670,788 anatomical site injections nationally in 2011. Defined by the small amount of damage they inflict on body tissue, minimally invasive procedures include everything from Botox injections to laser hair removal and mini-facelifts. They’re notable for their quick turnaround and minimal down time, but it’s also their ability to get natural-looking results without the dangers and risks of invasive surgery that has made them surge in popularity over the past decade.
Out to Lunch
“My phone rang off the hook for three weeks,” says Dr. Thomas Barnes, a Newport Beach plastic surgeon. It was 1998, and he had just finished a segment on the talk show “Leeza,” hosted by Leeza Gibbons, about his work in cosmetic surgery using minimally invasive techniques, and the response had been incredible. “I thought, ‘That’s it, lunchtime makeovers.’”
It’s been 15 years since that TV appearance, and during that time, plastic surgery has undergone a number of trends, from facelifts to implants to Botox, and finally, to some of the latest, including mommy makeovers for post-pregnancy bodies and Vampire Facelifts, which use the patient’s own blood plasma to allegedly increase collagen production. But Barnes’s practice has remained steady, doing what he has coined Lunchtime Makeovers – procedures that involve minimal surgery, if any, with no general anesthesia and very short downtimes. “People come in, they do a little tuck and they’re out to dinner in a day or two,” says Barnes, who, at various points in his career, has played a doctor on and been a professional scene writer for “The Young and the Restless;” acted as a plastic surgeon in scenes with Christian Bale in Knight of Cups, a movie set to be released later this year; and is currently in talks with major networks about his own reality show, “Lunchtime Makeovers with the dOC.” “It’s what people want today, with the economy and the reality that we don’t have to change everything [right now]. I’ve geared my practice to the less invasive procedure with big results.”
The practice of minimally invasive procedures has unquestionably taken off in the last decade due, according to Barnes, to their lower price tag and the rapid turnaround time for the vast majority of his procedures, most of which can be completed in one hour or less and have downtimes that range from zero to five or six days for facial resurfacing. And with the move away from drastic overhauls to subtle facial and body improvements, lunchtime procedures are all many people need or want. Barnes’s lunchtime procedures can address everything from unwanted fat deposits with his SmartLipo™ laser (he uses the laser in conjunction with his signature Tickle Lipo and Lazy Lipo techniques to simultaneously remove fat and tighten the skin) to neck shrink lifts using liposculpture, and skin resurfacing for wrinkles, sun damage and loose skin with his fractional CO2 laser. Additional procedures include – yes – the vampire facelift, upper and lower eyelid rejuvenation and removal of broken capillaries on the face, among many others. And it’s not just women who are seeking Barnes’s procedures – an increasing number of men come in for procedures to reduce a heavy neck or to reduce prominent love handles. “I realized when I did the ‘Leeza’ show that everyone wants something that works with their budget, and they don’t want to take time off work,” says Barnes. “My procedures are designed to do on a Friday and be working the next Monday.”
That’s the way it went for Susan Ippolito, a patient of Barnes’s who recently underwent lunchtime procedures for her face, as well as upper and lower eyelids and neck tightening. “I went home later that afternoon and by the third day, I was running errands,” she says. Before she had the procedures done, however, Ippolito, 58, had done her research and interviewed six Newport Beach doctors, all of whom told her she would need general anesthesia, and that the surgeries would cost her more than she had budgeted. Minimally invasive techniques avoided those two drawbacks and got her the results she was looking for. “The outcome is outstanding,” she says. “People may think that [minimally invasive procedures] aren’t the real deal, but they are – and Dr. Barnes has really perfected his technique.”
Ippolito is also an ideal Lunchtime Makeover candidate. Petite and slender, she didn’t need major work done to meet her needs, but she did want to address the beginnings of jowls and some loose skin around her neck, as well as puffiness under the eyes. Minimally invasive procedures could address those needs without the risks associated with anesthesia, and she could get more work done for less cost – and feel better about her appearance. “I feel like I won the lotto,” she says. “People think you have to spend more money, and if you’re not incapacitated and you don’t have a nurse, then you didn’t do something correctly. But this is 2013, and things are different now.”
The Vain Game
“No matter how fit you are or how good your bone structure or how attractive you are, at some point, your skin loses elasticity,” says Ippolito. “Fillers weren’t doing it anymore for me and, living where we do, I already obsess. I’m not proud to admit that, but it’s true.”
That’s not an uncommon sentiment around these parts, where an everyday outing to the yoga studio or the supermarket can make even attractive people feel like the ugliest ducklings in town. It can also lead to a case of “keeping up with the Jones’,” where one can feel as if they’re the only person in town who hasn’t jumped on the Juvederm wagon or harvested their own blood plasma for facial rejuvenation.
So are all these procedures just adding fodder to the fire that is rampant vanity? John Jolliffe, a marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, doesn’t think so. “The antiquated view is that anxious, insecure females are motivated to apply cosmetics more than females who are emotionally secure, socially confident and perceive themselves as physically attractive,” says Jolliffe, who previously had a 12-year career as a radio therapist while serving as the host for his popular syndicated call-in program, “Issues of Life.” “This is akin to the belief that people drink water because they are thirsty. I contend that people drink water because it’s healthy to stay hydrated, which prevents people from becoming thirsty in the first place.”
In other words, Jolliffe believes that it’s not that people need cosmetic enhancements to feel confident, but that they are already operating from a baseline of confidence when they elect to undergo cosmetic procedures. And in his experience, that’s not the same thing as getting cosmetic surgery to fill a void of self-esteem or to feed one’s vanity. “I discovered that people didn’t pursue cosmetic surgery to feel better about themselves or to appear more confident,” he says. “The majority of people motivated to get cosmetic surgery did so because, already feeling good about themselves, they chose to enhance the confidence and self-esteem they were already enjoying.”
But isn’t it true that Orange County is a particularly hard place to feel good about oneself? With all the beautiful people running around, isn’t it easy to feel as if you’ll never measure up? Jolliffe points out that this phenomenon isn’t particular to Orange County; it’s a global reality. Aesthetics and hierarchies based on attractiveness exist all over the world, and while the standards of beauty may be different in other parts of the world, they still exist. “This idea that we have to look a certain way is a misunderstanding,” says Jolliffe. “In the South Pacific, women are attractive if they’re big. In Tonga, they think there is something wrong with a skinny girl. Our ideas of what is attractive are distinct, but it is not unique to our culture.”
“It’s from the good place that we do things, not from the bad.”
Stats - Stat!
12,200,000 - Millions of minimally invasive procedures performed in the United States in 2011, the latest year for which the American Society for Plastic Surgeons has statistics. This number represents an increase of 6% from the number of minimally invasive procedures performed in 2010.
3,579 - Percentage increase in the number of lower body lifts performed during the period of 2000 to 2011. In 2000, there were 207 of these surgeries performed; that number rose to 7,615 in 2011. The procedure tightens loose, sagging skin in the buttocks, inner and outer thighs, and hips.
91 - Percentage of cosmetic procedures that were performed on women in 2011. While males accounted for only 9% of cosmetic procedures, it is becoming increasingly popular for them. From 2010 to 2011, men accounted for an increase of 6% in cosmetic surgical procedures and 8% of minimally invasive procedures.
10,400,000 - Billions of dollars spent on cosmetic procedures
in the United States in 2011.
36 - Percentage of breast augmentations that occurred in Region 5 of the United States (which includes Orange County) out of the total that took place in the country in 2011. That amounts to 110,246 surgeries.
1 - Ranking of breast augmentation as the most popular cosmetic surgery for women. In 2011, 307,000 breast augmentations were performed in the United States. The number one cosmetic surgery for males was nose reshaping, with 62,000 undergoing the procedure in 2011.
6,400,000 - Total procedures performed on people age 40-54 in 2011. This age group makes up the majority of procedures, at 48% of the total performed that year.
Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons