July 26, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 50
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Demand for plastic surgery rises among ethnic patients

Shari Rudavsky

INDIANAPOLIS — Tyra Whittaker’s upcoming wedding in September made her decide to improve upon her one feature that she had never liked — her nose.

When she was a child, Whittaker, who is black, endured jibes from other kids about her nose, which she calls “long.” For years she researched and pondered having rhinoplasty, but the procedure always seemed too expensive and the time was just not right.

Then she got engaged. In November, she got a nose job.

“Because I’m getting married, and that’s always been one of my biggest things, I didn’t want to be standing up in front of people and have them look at my profile,” says Whittaker, 27. “This was just kind of something I’ve always wanted to do.”

She’s part of a trend that’s getting noticed by the industry. Last year the American Society of Plastic Surgeons issued an unprecedented announcement: Cosmetic plastic surgeries among ethnic patients had risen 65 percent from 2004 to 2005. In 2006, the numbers of procedures performed on minority patients continued to increase.

Plastic surgeons nationally and locally say that several factors are behind the trend: Buoyed by such TV shows as “Extreme Makeover” and “The Swan,” overall interest in plastic surgery has grown. Demographic shifts have rendered the population more diverse. Minorities have become more affluent, giving them the extra income to spend on such procedures.

Cosmetic surgery “is not so much a taboo in the ethnic consumer market anymore,” says Dr. David Watts, a Philadelphia-area plastic surgeon, who is developing a skin-care line customized for minority patients. “Now it has become so mainstream, it’s just considered a fact of life.”

In Whittaker’s case, the nose job wasn’t a big deal. She likes her reflection more, but others don’t notice a dramatic change. If she runs into someone she hasn’t seen for a while, they don’t comment on her nose but say just that she looks good.

“You can tell a difference, but it’s so subtle I still look totally like myself,” says Whittaker.

Nose reshaping is the most commonly requested procedure for Asian Americans and blacks, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Breast augmentation leads the pack for Hispanic patients.

“Rarely do we find that any of these minorities or ethnic groups want to look like a Caucasian,” says Whittaker’s surgeon, Dr. Stephen Perkins, a facial plastic surgeon at the Perkins VanNatta Center for Cosmetic Surgery and Medical Skincare in Indianapolis. “They want to look like a better form of themselves and retain their ethnicity.”

Many of Perkins’ black patients want nose work or lip reductions. Recently he’s been seeing more patients of Russian and Eastern European descent, who come for rejuvenation procedures like injectables to help them look younger. Many of his Middle Eastern patients seek his skills to help them address large noses or noses with bumps in them.

Asian patients ask him to build up their noses or strengthen their chins or perform surgery on their eyelids, he says. They also come to him for eyeliners, a procedure that entails tattooing a semi-permanent eyeliner on the lid to give the eyes more definition.

Hispanic patients tend to seek eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, and procedures to address facial puffiness and prominent ears, says Dr. Mark Hamilton of Hamilton Facial Plastic Surgery, located on the south side of Indianapolis. His minority patients may also turn to him for help with hyper-pigmentation, or skin darkening.

Pigments in the skin can also create problems for minorities when it comes to plastic surgery, says Watts of the Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery Institute, with five offices around Philadelphia.

“Whenever you create or inflict some trauma to the skin, you’re now damaging the pigment sites in the skin, and when they become traumatized, they can overproduce, underproduce or they can remain the same,” he says.

Keloid scarring, in which the body over-responds as it heals, is another potential problem, especially for people of color, he says. One way to head these off is to determine before the surgery if the patient has experienced such scarring in the past for procedures like ear piercings or prior surgeries. In that case, they might think twice about the surgery.

One advantage that people of color may have is they tend not to develop as many skin lines and creases as Caucasians do as they grow older, Hamilton says.
“You see less aging in terms of lines and sun damage,” he says.

In 2006, there were more than 2.5 million cosmetic surgery procedures performed on non-Caucasian patients, accounting for 23 percent of all plastic surgery patients.

As plastic surgery has gained acceptance among minorities, the ideas of attractiveness has changed, says Watts. Women such as J.Lo, Lucy Liu and Beyoncé are now all considered among the fairest in the land.

“It’s no longer just this Nicole Kidman look that spans everything for everyone,” Watts says. “People are really looking at what’s considered beautiful, and I think it’s starting to cross all of these ethnic borders.”

(Associated Press)

Tyra Whittaker holds a photograph of her before her plastic surgery Tuesday July 10, 2007, in Indianapolis. Whittaker’s upcoming wedding in September made her decide to improve upon her one feature she had never liked — her nose. She is one of many new ethnic cosmetic surgery patients. (AP photo/The Indianapolis Star, Kari Collins)

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