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Using a Surgeon's Tools to Erase the Years

By Sinovic, Dianna

It's called plastic surgery, but there's no plastic involved. In this case, "plastic" refers to the ability of the surgeon to reshape the skin, the face, or other body parts. With advances in technique and an aging population, plastic surgery is more popular than ever.

Plastic surgery is divided into cosmetic procedures, or those done strictly for "looks," and reconstructive procedures, or those done after an injury or illness affects structure or skin. The procedures listed below generally fall into the cosmetic realm, and as such, are usually not covered by health insurance. Be sure to check with your surgeon or insurance plan before scheduling a procedure.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the top five nonsurgical cosmetic procedures are Botox injections, chemical peel, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, and hyaluronic acid. They range in average price from about $260 for microdermabrasion to nearly $700 for a chemical peel. The top five surgical cosmetic procedures are breast implants, nose reshaping, liposuction, eyelid surgery, and tummy tuck. They range in average price from about $3,000 for liposuction to about $5,000 for a tummy tuck. Most of the procedures can be done as an outpatient, and most do not require a hospital stay.

Before signing up for any cosmetic—or other—procedure, it's important to be realistic about the outcome of the surgery. Like any surgery, plastic surgery carries certain risks, including infection. You also should be in good health to undergo a procedure. A cosmetic procedure won't guarantee you fame or happiness. It can help you feel better about yourself, however, and that can change your life.

Face

Wrinkles, lines, age spots—the face is where the signs of aging seem most obvious. Most of the cosmetic procedures focus on the face and range from minimally invasive injections that smooth wrinkles to facial implants, which dramatically change the shape of the face. Most of the procedures require extra protection from the sun—at least temporarily, during recovery.

Chemical peel

This procedure applies one of several chemicals to the skin, causing the top layers to peel away and leaving the smoother lower layers in place. Glycolic acid and trichloroacetic acid are two chemicals that can be used. Although this procedure removes wrinkles, it won't stop new wrinkles from forming, nor will it do anything for sagging skin. People who may not be good candidates for a chemical peel include those with allergies, a history of being burned, scars that don't heal well, or radiation exposure, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) says.

Peels may take several hours. You may feel tingling, swelling, or throbbing on your face afterward. The procedure may trigger skin allergies, fever blisters, or cold sores. You can resume your usual activities within two to four weeks, but your skin will take up to six months to heal fully.

Injections 

Soft tissue or fat injected beneath the skin adds plumpness and eases wrinkles. Thin, light-colored skin works best for this procedure, the ASPS says. Injections may be of collagen, fat, hyaluronic acid, hydroxylapatite acid, or botulinum toxin (Botox). Botox is injected in tiny amounts, and causes the muscles around the injection to relax.

The injections are given at the doctor's office. The results are only temporary and must be repeated after a few months to a year. The only side effects of the collagen or hyaluronic acid are a burning or throbbing feeling that goes away. Botox side effects may include droopy eyelids, flu symptoms, headache, and stomach upset.

Dermabrasion

This procedure is used for deeper wrinkles, as well as to smooth acne scars and wrinkles around the mouth. After numbing the skin, the surgeon uses a high-speed rotating brush to remove the top layers of skin. Like the chemical peel, dermabrasion will not prevent wrinkles or tighten sagging skin.

Dermabrasion usually takes less than an hour. It may trigger skin allergies, fever blisters, or cold sores, the ASPS says. Your skin will be red after the procedure, but that will diminish in about a month. You'll need to use sunscreen whenever you are outdoors for about a year. You may need to eat soft foods for the first few weeks and avoid activities that could stress the skin, the AAFPRS says.

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