I have what my tailor referred to delicately as a "large seat," a protruding belly from my love of drink, and soft, chubby cheeks that make me look five years younger than I should. In short, I'm a mess. Thankfully, the healing hand of science never stops fiddling around with the human form, so I could look like Jaden Smith for the right price.What was once a significantly invasive, life-altering choice is slowly becoming something more accessible and less threatening. And yet, there remains a social sin attached to cosmetic procedures. All you need to do is look back at the furor over Renee Zellweger's "new face" to see that drastic changes to a person's appearance are still frowned upon by a judgmental public that simultaneously requires youthful faces of their anointed celebrities and, increasingly, themselves.
A 2013 report from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery claimed that "33 percent of surgeons have seen an increase in requests for plastic surgery as a result of patients being more self-aware of their looks because of social media." It should come as no surprise that the proliferation of platforms designed to propagate one's image to hundreds, thousands, or millions of people at a time would create a rush to correct perceived flaws.This, despite the fact that photo sharing tools like Instagram are developing more tools to doctor and manipulate digital images. And social media continues to dominate more and more of the cultural discourse, which could lead to an even bigger demand for artificial enhancements to the human body. The future of beauty might not be as sci-fi freaky as Tyra Banks predicted in the summer of 2014, but it's certainly moving toward accessibility and ease of use.According to the American Society of Plastic Surgery Professionals, there were 15.1 million cosmetic procedures done in this country in 2013. Of those, 6.3 million were Botox injections. Only 1.6 million of those were surgical in nature. The gap between surgery and non-invasive procedures like Botox injections is two-fold. Surgery is expensive and not typically covered by health insurance. ASPS says that the average breast augmentation costs $3,678, and that doesn't include anesthesia, facility fees, or "other related expenses."
There's also the stigma and risk of invasive surgery. Plastic surgery takes weeks or months to recover from, which has led to the proliferation of recovery spas for the wealthy to unwind and deal with the emotional stress of having an augmented appearance. It could also go horribly wrong, and as anyone in Los Angeles can tell you that happens more often than you'd think. The report that an Ecuadorian beauty queen died from complications related to a botched liposuction only makes the fear of going under the knife more prevalent. This is leading doctors across the country to pursue more and more noninvasive methods of offering prospective patients beauty enhancement.
A medical tech start-up called NanoLipo is developing a method for zapping unwanted fat from the human body without all those pesky incisions. NanoLipo is yet another entry in the epic procession of potentially life-changing treatments that promise to help you lose weight without doing a damn thing like " Vanquish," which claims to burn fat cells through the use of radio frequency waves. The radio waves are supposed to heat up fat and melt it away while you sit on your keister flipping through magazines.NanoLipo similarly burns fat cells, but uses an injection of gold nanoparticles into fat cells to better target problem areas. A laser heats up the particles, melting the excess fat. Before medical professionals started using gold nanoparticles for making people thinner, they were employed in the effort to cure cancer. Those efforts seem to have stalled for the moment, but NanoLipo is moving full steam ahead toward marketing their procedure to the public, sending out press releases touting new hires and bragging about the potential of their product.
Another up-and-coming non-invasive technique is the "vampire facelift," so called because it involves the extraction of blood from the patient. That blood is then run through a centrifuge to extract platelet-rich plasma. That plasma is injected back into the face with a syringe. For an extra fee, the treatment also includes an injection of a facial filler like Juvederm, a gel made from hyaluronic acid that is used to fill wrinkles in conjunction with Botox injections or to enhance the fullness of lips. Like Botox, the vampire facelift is popular with those looking for a quick "freshening up" without the high cost or risk that come with the knife. But it also claims to have an advantage over Botox because it comes without the stigma of injecting botulism into your head and doesn't freeze your face into an unmoving rictus grin. Still, the vampire facelift is not without its drawbacks.In February of 2014, 45-year-old Sandra Perez Gonzalez was arrested in Long Beach in connection with the death of Hamilet Suarez. Gonzalez, a massage therapist, was performing bootleg vampire facelifts out of her studio in the back of a hair salon. Vampire facelifts require no special certification to perform and centrifuges can be purchased easily online. When I last spoke to the Long Beach coroner who handled Suarez's body, I was told all records of her cause of death were being withheld by the authorities. Dr. Marc Darrow , a local practitioner of the vampire facelift, swore that the procedure is not dangerous. He asked me, "Who wants something invasive when you can have something that's simple, where you can walk out the door and you're safe?" I was able to sit in on a demonstration, and besides the obvious gross-out factor of observing a large needle being poked into a person's face near the eyelid, it looked fairly unobtrusive. The patient, an employee of Dr. Darrow, raved about how "fresh" she felt. "It's kind of like having some gum in your cheek," she said.The controversy surrounding vampire facelifts mostly stems from who should profit from it. Dr. Charles Runels, a formerly board certified physician in Alabama, quickly pounced on the marketing cache of the term and trademarked it. Now, he offers "training courses" and licenses the trademark to doctors around the country for a $47 monthly fee.As with many elective cosmetic procedure, the brand is as important as the results. Kim Kardashian received a vampire facelift on her reality show, which led to numerous trend pieces about how "hot" the technique is with the rich and famous. Dueling studies performed in the last few years contradict each other on whether or not platelet-rich plasma treatments actually work in rejuvenating cells, but that hasn't stopped people from swearing by the injections.Dr. Runels even seems to think that plasma can improve the human sexual response, as he is also marketing the " O-Shot," which is a platelet infusion into the genitals to stimulate more intense orgasms. Slap a catchy, trademarked name and a celebrity endorsement onto a relatively easy product and off you go. The Botox trend started in a similar fashion, going from the elite down to the rank-and-file of Los Angeles and other major cities. Whether or not nanoliposuction, vampire facelifts, or other new-wave procedures takes off is less up to the doctors and more to the marketing professionals who peddle their wares.Follow Dave Schilling on Twitter.