Explainer: 7 strange plastic surgery procedures

  • Image: Red carpet heels
    Jason Merritt  /  Getty Images

    Breast augmentation, nose jobs, liposuction, eye lifts and tummy tucks were the top five procedures performed in 2008, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. But super-superficial “fixes” – offbeat procedures designed to fine-tune those near-perfect features – are also starting to attract consumer interest. And raise a few eyebrows (not to mention questions about misplaced priorities). What do you get for the body that has everything? Here’s what some folks are spending their money on.*

    *Patients should always seek out a board certified plastic surgeon or board certified dermatologist for any cosmetic procedure, particularly those that are unusual or uncommon.

    — By Diane Mapes, msnbc.com contributor

  • Cankle lipo

    Image: cankle lipo
    Dr. Thomas Roberts

    After countless cracks about Hillary Clinton’s calves and Gold’s Gym recent Cankle Awareness Campaign, it’s no surprise women are turning to cosmetic surgeons for help with a perceived new problem: chubby cankles. But is surgery to the delicate ankle area a good idea? Some plastic surgeons say liposuctioning the lower leg is definitely doable (a French cosmetic surgeon recently discussed his success with the technique at the annual meeting of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons).

    But others point to severe pain, excessive post-surgery swelling and a lengthy recovery time as arguments against cankle lipo. “The ankle is a tough area,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a board certified dermatologist from Omaha, Neb. “There’s not a lot of fat there but there are a lot of nerves and blood vessels and the lymphatics that allow fluid to drain are somewhat less available in that area. Trauma to them can lead to swelling which leads to a prolonged recovery.” As Schlessinger puts it, “There are so many other areas where tumescent liposuction performs brilliantly. But this isn’t one of them.”

  • Earlobe lift

    Image: earlobe lift
    Dr. Hema Sundaram

    Believe it or not, the ears are one of those body parts that can instantly give away your age. But thanks to enterprising cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists, they’re now being plumped and padded just like the face. “Earlobes lose volume, just as your face loses volume as you get older,” says Dr. Hema Sundaram, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist and author of “Face Value: The Truth About Beauty and a Guilt-Free Guide to Finding It.” “You don’t want a situation where the face looks lifted and the earlobes still look like sad sacks.”

    Sundaram says she regularly repairs earlobes damaged by heavy earrings or trauma (elongated holes, torn lobes, etc.), then adds volume and strength by injecting dermal fillers such as Restylane or Perlane. Lasers are also used to tighten sagging skin and elongated earlobes can also be nipped and tucked with a surgical procedure that removes a wedge of tissue. Cost for a nonsurgical lobe lift (using dermal fillers) is between $450 to $650 for both ears and the procedure lasts for 4 to 12 months — or longer. “I’ve had some patients going strong for two to three years,” says Sundaram.

  • Fillers in your feet

    Image: Fillers in your feet
    Jordan Strauss  /  Getty Images

    High heels may look glamorous, but wearing them for hours on end can be grueling — especially the sky-high styles currently gracing the catwalk. Rather than kicking cruel shoes to the curb, though, some women are turning to dermal fillers to give their feet a little extra cushion. “Dermal fillers in the feet are common in New York City and other places where high heels are part of the culture,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery.

    Typically, fillers like Restylane or Perlane or Juvederm are injected into the pad of the toe, the ball of the foot or the heel, but the procedure is considered “highly off-label.” And, perhaps, ill-advised. “We heard from one woman — a dancer — who had her foot pad injected with Juvederm to give her more cushion and she ended up on crutches,” says Tom Seery, president and founder of RealSelf.com, a consumer review site for the cosmetic industry.

    “Many of the doctors or clinics that would do this are trying something that’s highly experimental. There is no real science or clinical evidence that it should be used in that manner.” Cost for a pair of “filler heels” runs from $500 to $2,000, according to Schlessinger, with a touch-up required every six months. Gel insoles run a bit cheaper at $20 to $40 a pair.

  • Golf ball chin

    Image: Golf ball chin
    Dr. Hema Sundaram

    Unwanted lumps, bumps and dimples don’t just happen on your hips and thighs. Some people get dimpling — or cobblestoning — on their chin. So many, in fact, the condition has a name (well, several names): golf ball chin, pebbled chin, apple dumpling chin and the rather elegant “peau d’orange chin.”

    Not surprisingly, there’s also a way to get rid of it. “Golf ball chin happens when people have been wrinkling their chin as a habit for years,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, who’s treated about 250 men and women for the condition over the years. “It gets dimpled like a golf ball. But we can decrease or eliminate it with a couple of well-placed injections of Botox or Dysport.” When performed correctly (it’s a tricky procedure, and if performed wrong, you could end up with a droopy lip), the injections smooth out the dimpling for about three months, says Schlessinger. Cost for the procedure is around $150 and patients may only need a one-time injection. “The beauty of the treatment is that it doesn’t allow patients to wrinkle their chin for thee months,” he says. “It’s like splinting a broken arm. By the end of that time, they may have broken their habit.”

  • Radish calf

    Incredibly, there’s a name for an overly muscular lower leg, especially on a woman: radish calf. And along with a name, there’s a proposed treatment, albeit a highly controversial (and many would say, ill-advised) one. According to a 2004 study in the journal Dermatologic Surgery, Botox can be used to contour oversized, muscular calves, which according to the authors, “can cause psychological stress in women.”

    The 2004 study only looked at six “radish-legged” women, but the test subjects were all said to show a slight reduction in the muscle after the injections without suffering any “functional disabilities.” A query about using Botox to reduce big calf muscles on the consumer review site RealSelf.com, however, produced a dozen or more warnings from doctors about the practice, who termed it “dangerous,” “outlandish” and “a very bad idea.” “You’d have to inject large amounts [of the toxin] to reduce the size of the muscle and if you do that, you’d be running the risk of not being able to walk properly,” says Dr. Hema Sundaram, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist. “And there’s no way the manufacturers of Botox and Dysport would recommend this. I don’t consider this medically advisable.”

  • Knee lipo

    Image: knee lipo
    Dr. John A Grossman

    According to some experts, the most commonly hated part of the female body is not the belly or the butt, but the knee. “Almost every woman who comes in for lipo hates her knees,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Perhaps because they can easily see them in the mirror, whereas they can’t always see the hips and thighs.”

    Schlessinger says knee liposuction is usually done along with other areas, but that not all women are candidates for the procedure. “Not all women have fat there,” he says. “Many times it’s muscle.” If it is fat and the patient wants it removed, a doctor (make sure it’s a board certified cosmetic surgeon) will do so through tumescent liposuction, an outpatient procedure that involves a local anesthetic such as lidocaine. The procedure takes a few hours (the patient can be in and out in a morning); recovery time is one to two days.

    Cost for knee lipo alone is difficult to break down since most people have other areas done at the same time. One liposuction procedure, however, usually runs between $2,000 and $4,000.

  • Necklace lines

    Image: Necklace lines
    Dr. Hema Sundaram

    Along with ropey hands and wrinkly earlobes, necklace lines — those horizontal lines across your neck — can be a telltale sign of aging. As a result, many women — and men — have them smoothed out with a few well-placed injections of Botox or Dysport. And well-placed is the operative term.

    “It’s a very advanced technique, and should only be done by someone who’s very experienced,” says Dr. Hema Sundaram. “If the technique or the dosage is not done right, you can weaken the neck muscles or have dry mouth or difficulty swallowing.” When done correctly, however, the results can be “very nice.” Sundaram, who prefers Dysport over Botox for this procedure (“you can do fewer injections and you get a nice smooth look”), says she’ll often pair the treatment with a “Nefertiti lift,” a neck lift procedure named for the former queen of Egypt. “If you inject Dysport or Botox into the muscle around the jawline, you get this lovely lifting effect,” she says. “It’s nonsurgical but it makes your neck look long and graceful.”

    Cost for a series of injections to take care of necklace lines can run between $300 and $700 and will last from three to five months.


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