Simply Cosmetic

Look your best without surgery
If the lines on our faces are truly the road map of our lives, then where are we going? For many of us, the answer is straight to the plastic surgeon. Face it — we baby boomers would rather retain our image as founders of the Woodstock Nation than look like Whistler’s mother.

As we glance through the pages of fashion and celebrity magazines — where models sport nary a wrinkle or blemish — we can only hope that someone will invent a way to transform the effects of Photoshop software into some magical real-life serum.

But until that happens, we must weigh our options. Plastic surgery? Some boomers look absolutely fabulous afterward, but then again there are Michael Jackson’s and Joan Rivers’ mask-like visages. Those images alone are scary enough to make us want to shelve the whole notion of going under the knife.

But not entirely. According to a recent report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), almost 12 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed in 2007 — a 7 percent increase from the year before, and a 59 percent increase from 2000.

Hmm … No wonder our friends and co-workers look so good. But it’s possible they didn’t choose that route. Perhaps, instead, they opted for nonsurgical solutions. Those are also on the rise, according to the ASPS. Last year alone, nearly 10 million such procedures were performed.

You’ve probably seen ads for these minimally invasive cosmetic fixes, performed by injection. Botox injections alone accounted for 4.6 million procedures last year, up 13 percent from 2006. On average, results last for four months up to a year before the course of treatment has to be repeated. Although Botox is the brand name of a toxin that can cause botulism, scientists have discovered a way to inject small, diluted amounts into specific muscles, usually those in the forehead. Botox blocks nerve impulses, thereby reducing contraction of the forehead muscles and relaxing wrinkles.

Other key players in the nonsurgical arena include the wrinkle filler Juvederm, which smoothes smile lines; and Restylane, a gel-like substance designed to enhance volume and restore contour to the face.

According to Dr. Elma D. Baron, a dermatologist and assistant professor in Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s department of dermatology, “a small dose of Botox creates dynamic results with wrinkles on the forehead. For the lower half of the face, from the nose to the lowest part of the mouth, Restylane and Juvederm are often used.

“Almost immediately, patients see improvement with not much downtime.”

Baron is quick to point out that injections are not the only option when it comes to cosmetic enhancement.

To remove broken blood vessels, age spots, unwanted hair and acne scars, the dermatologist often employs the use of a laser.

Lasers emit an intense beam of light or energy (visible or invisible) with a specific wavelength targeted to the tissue in the body being treated. Upon reaching the problem area, the beam of energy is converted into heat. When performed correctly, the heat destroys cells in the target area without having a significant effect on the cells surrounding it.

“There is an increasing number of people interested in these procedures,” Baron acknowledges. “We have so many more laser treatments available than we did a decade ago.”

What’s the best way to decide which treatment option is right for you? Baron advises consultation with your doctor.

“Talk with your physician first,” she says. “Make certain that these services are offered by a certified health professional. Lay out your goals. Discuss the pros and cons. Have a clear understanding of the plan, treatments and side effects,” she adds. “Most importantly, be prepared for the fact that results may vary according to skin types, age and other factors.”

For some patients, a more traditional course of treatment is preferred, one that dates back centuries: facial acupuncture.

Dr. Ivan A. Nassif, a chiropractor and acupuncturist at Chagrin Valley Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center in Chagrin Falls, explains that although facial acupuncture dates back 2,000 years and is part of Chinese traditional medicine, it is not for everyone.

“If someone has issues with their looks, acupuncture isn’t going to work,” Nassif says. “It’s not like plastic surgery. It provides very gradual, subtle changes.”

Unlike other nonsurgical options targeting specific areas, facial acupuncture treatments do not begin on the face. Because, explains Nassif, “acupuncture focuses on balance and ensuring that everything is flowing right. We stimulate and tone muscles to help qi (energy) and blood flow through all parts of the body.

“The patient may have more energy and maybe more even facial tone, look less baggy and have a vibrant glow after the initial treatment, but the treatment itself doesn’t involve that part of the body. Instead, needles are used initially in the legs, feet, back and arms.”

However, acupuncture needles placed in targeted areas of the face create what Nassif calls “micro trauma,” forcing the body to heal itself, thereby increasing the production of collagen that fills in wrinkles, helping to stimulate and tone muscles.

The results vary, with some patients noticing a difference immediately and others after three or four visits. Nassif suggests beginning with 45-minute to one-hour visits once or twice a week. The cumulative nature of the procedure means treatments may continue indefinitely.

Our face may still reflect a road map, but we now have many ways to smooth bumps along the way.

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