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Dr. Steven Harris has had it. The owner of the Harris Clinic in London, who employs a “less is more” approach in his use of Botox and fillers, has taken to social media to sound the alarm bells. On Instagram, the aesthetic doctor — whose Hollywood clients regularly fly across the pond to see for his revered correction work — posted a picture of a stick of dynamite with a ticking clock next to it, writing, “Our industry is fast becoming a breeding ground for mental health illness. … What sort of twisted standard of beauty are we creating for the younger generations and how does it affect those with mental health disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder?”
Speaking with THR, he says, “Things have gone really wrong in the field of aesthetics.” As Harris sees it, there’s a normalization of extreme procedures that’s threatening to take over the industry, from the controversial Russian Lip technique (“using an overabundance of filler to crudely project lips vertically, creating a tented look with severe, crisp borders,” according to Harris) to protruding cheek bones to an abnormally high-winged eyebrows. The latter three looks are part of a trend that goes beyond Instagram Face — a highly “Facetuned” wrinkle- and pore-free mug — and has morphed into what some doctors are calling a grossly altered, “alienized look.” Think something not too far from Angelina Jolie’s paranormally contoured facial transformation for the role of Maleficent, faces whose features have been distorted with dermal fillers and botulinum toxin to the point where they look like extra-terrestrials. Think the model and social-media phenom with the new abnormally arched eyebrows (which observers say is achieved via laparoscopic brow lifts); a horde of reality stars; and the rapper whose face is reaching increasing levels of angularity.
Echoes Beverly Hills facial plastic surgeon Dr. Ben Talei (who is known for his natural-looking AuraLyft deep-plane release face-lift), “The practitioners who are performing this outrageously excessive work have very vivid imaginations. What they’re doing is trying to create new anatomy that doesn’t exist, and patients wind up looking like another species.” Adds plastic surgeon Dr. Julius Few of The Few Institute in Chicago, “Our anatomy is designed to sit in a certain way, and the goal is to subtly restore and enhance. Conversely, what this extreme look is doing is manipulating the face well past the natural boundaries of a given area, and it’s an absolute mistake.” Continues Few, “Unfortunately, there is a belief that hyper-inflating or overpulling areas of the face will somehow counteract aging, and that is false.”
Given that many high-profile personalities who’ve alienized their faces have accumulated enormous wealth because of their looks, drastically transforming one’s appearance seems to equate with striking it rich, which can be very seductive.
Harris and other respected medical professionals are intent on raising awareness for rejuvenation that keeps to natural forms. For Harris and his colleagues, education is also paramount. “Patients have been incorrectly trained to return for injection maintenance, but that’s under the assumption that the product is gone in six months to a year, when in reality some injectables, including filler, can last much longer,” adds Talei. Like Harris, Talei and L.A.-based facial plastic surgeon Dr. Kay Durairaj often post warnings on their social media accounts to help further educate patients about what to avoid and call attention to alarming practices on their podcasts, Beauty Bytes With Dr. Kay: Secrets of a Plastic Surgeon and Talei’s The Reality Pill.
Harris stresses the importance of working with nature holistically. “The key lies in respecting and understanding anatomy and continually developing our artistic acumen,” he says. Durairaj asserts that multi-modality treatments also need to be considered and used. “Once we reach a certain age, bio-stimulatory collagen regenerators such as Sculptra [a poly-L-lactid acid filler that helps stimulate collagen production] are necessary along with peels, micro-needling and radio frequency, especially for patients who have bone density loss,” she says. “You cannot look normal with just gel filler in your face, especially as you get into your 50s, so you need to build the facial framework and foundation with bio-stimulators to avoid looking weird.” Durairaj believes these alienized faces will soon result in a renewed desire for going under the knife. “Injections have been the big thing over the past five to 10 years, but if it’s done judiciously and at the appropriate time, surgery can look much more natural, and we will be seeing more of it.”
For Lisa Goodman, physician’s assistant and owner of GoodSkin in L.A. and New York, European approaches are the gold standard. “Even though it may not look that way, women and men in Europe are having treatments done — they’re just doing it differently, they’re doing it right,” she says. After practicing in Los Angeles for many years, Goodman knew something was missing and became intent on expanding her artistry, which involved European training, and now everyone on her team receives instruction there as well. “It’s not about micro-treatments, which is what’s often pushed here. That’s just a marketing ploy,” she adds. “Our clients are often asked why they don’t age; our art is about helping people look like the best versions of themselves — a healthier, rested version.” And that involves meticulous diagnostics, taken in GoodSkin’s on-site studio with a Vectra M3 3-D imaging system to help show what the results of the procedure will be. GoodSkin also takes pre-procedure photos using a Canon 5D camera that’s outfitted with a “true life” lens that simulates natural light. “These systems provide the patient with the most realistic vision of what they will look like, helping inform their decision,” says Goodman.
Ultrasound guidance and other new advanced technologies are also being used. “This allows us to view the internal structures of the face such as blood vessels and tissues during the actual injectable treatment, which makes our practice both safer for the patient and more effective,” says Harris. Translation: If the person who is about to inject one’s face hasn’t first gathered thorough diagnostics, run for the hills.
Of course, social media amplifies the problems. “We live in a culture where many individuals are in search of something, whether it’s fame, money, immediate gratification, a self-esteem boost or something else, and they’re misguided in the belief that altering their appearance will be the answer,” says Dr. Don Goodman, UCLA licensed clinical psychologist. Cosmetic dentist Dr. Michael Apa of Apa Aesthetic, who caters to industry titans at his offices in Los Angeles, Dubai and New York, also points to the onslaught of imagery available today. “Consumers can look at before and after photos and videos all day long,” he says. “They are inundated with these images, and it drives insatiable interest.”
Of particular concern is how a twisted image of beauty is influencing the younger generation. “Getting an abundance of filler at an early age while the skeleton is still developing could adversely affect the facial anatomy,” says Few. “We don’t yet know the consequences.” Nurse practitioner Jennifer Hollander of AuraSpa Healing Center in Beverly Hills also finds it troubling. “The combination of social media filters and injectables is toxic,” she says. “It’s a completely warped reality, a mirage, and I’m scared to think of what these young people who are subjecting themselves to this will end up looking like 15 years from now.” Hollander prefers that younger people focus on prevention. “Practice a healthy lifestyle, wear daily sunscreen, use high-quality skin care, eat well — this will be beneficial to how they age over the next decade.”
Durairaj says “perception drift” is also to blame, as our brains are malleable and quickly adapt to new imagery. “After facial injections, the brain forgets the previous appearance and our judgment significantly shifts in how we define attractiveness,” she says. “The more exposure we have to overly manipulated facial features, the easier it becomes to regard them as what is now attractive,” she says. Durairaj references Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece: “The Mona Lisa is perceived as beautiful, but show people an augmented version where her lips are 20 percent volumized, and more often than not they’ll like the second version better.” Goodman adds that patients can fall into a comfort zone where they “get very attached to the way they look and all the money they’ve spent on their faces.”
Casting director Risa Bramon Garcia (Masters of Sex) stresses that actors need to be especially careful. “We’re at a point where producers and directors ask me to check on the face work in advance of a meeting.” She advises actors to honor their own uniqueness. “Take ownership of what you look like rather than conform to some deformed image society is dictating,” she says. “You’ll have a much better chance at being seen, being wanted, and a greater prospect of longevity as an actor.”
Harris says he’s going to continue speaking out. “Those of us in aesthetics are in the midst of a war against alienizing patients,” he says. “We as practitioners need to take responsibility — our duty is to first do no harm, and that is not being fulfilled now.”
While it may sound dire, he indicates there are many encouraging aspects of the industry, and things will eventually move to a more positive place. “Fortunately, the cosmetics companies and practitioners are starting to wake up to the reality of what’s going on here, while at the same time we are also deepening our knowledge of anatomy and using these safer injection techniques,” he says.
Dr. Few even believes disfigured faces are helpful to the industry. “This alienization,” he says, “is a clear public service announcement of what not to do.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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