As a cosmetic dermatologist, my patient population reflects the diversity of the Washington, DC area where I am based. My patients range from ambassadors and government officials to full-time mothers, teachers and research scientists. They are also ethnically diverse; on a typical day, I consult with men and women who hail from all corners of the world. And they vary in age from teenagers to senior citizens.
One of the most common questions my patients have is whether there is a "right age" to have a particular procedure done. I'm often asked the same thing by the media - most recently, when I was interviewed for an article that appeared this month in The New York Times.
I don't believe there is a "right age" to have cosmetic procedures, because we all age at different rates, and what concerns one person at 30 may bother another at 40 or 50. But there is a right time--when you're ready to fix something that bothers you. There is also a right reason: when how you look does not reflect how you feel. Your face sends messages that impact you profoundly, both personally and professionally. Permanent frown lines make you look angry when you're not, under-eye bags convey tiredness and a downturned mouth looks sad. Spider veins and sun spots make your face look old and weather-beaten. These "error messages" are easily corrected by an expert using today's nonsurgical technology. But you and your cosmetic surgeon must make sure that you are a suitable candidate before you take the plunge.
If you're considering cosmetic surgery, I believe that it's vital for you to have good self-esteem. There's no point in improving what's outside until you feel good about yourself inside. It's also important for your expectations to be realistic. Even the most skilled cosmetic surgeon and the most advanced technology cannot make a 40-year-old look 20 again. What cosmetic surgery can do, when it's performed for the right reasons in the right person, is to balance what you project externally with your inner persona, and empower you to feel and look your best at any age.
The New York Times article for which I was interviewed focused on a particularly challenging dilemma: laser hair removal in teens. We strive to raise our children to have healthy self-esteem and not to be overly concerned with "excess hair", even if others criticize it. And we don't want adolescent girls to be pre-occupied with removing hair from their legs, underarms and other body areas in a premature attempt to morph themselves into sexualized adult women. But the other side of the coin is that we know very well how cruel middle school and high school children - especially girls - can be to those classmates who are "different" in any way. My own 13-year-old daughter, Vidya Srinivasan, courageously stepped forward to be interviewed for the New York Times article. She spoke of how she was teased from second grade onwards for her dark facial hair and how it impacted her self-esteem. As I related in the article, when she came home crying about this, I felt like crying with her. It reminded me all too clearly of how I had been teased in my largely white English prep school for the color of my skin and hair. After several unsuccessful attempts to remove Vidya's hair through temporary methods including bleach and depilatory creams, I started treating her shortly after her 13th birthday with laser hair removal. While I certainly don't consider this timing optimal, I feel there's a world of difference between removing coarse, dark facial hair - which cannot be hidden - and removing hair from areas which have sexual connotations, such as the eyebrows, legs and bikini area. I am prepared to remove facial hair from teens when it is lowering their self-esteem, just as I'm prepared to offer them laser removal of birthmarks and non-invasive acne treatments such as Dermasweep MD (a physician-strength aluminum-free microdermabrasion).
However, it's important for teens - and their parents - to realize that fixing everything that your peers criticize is not the key to happiness. It's also important that teens don't seek cosmetic surgery with the aim of growing up too much too soon - or that their parents don't push them into procedures for this reason. My decision to allow Vidya to have laser hair removal at an early age was made with the knowledge that she basically has good self-esteem - and the confidence, as both her mother and her doctor, that her and my motivations for doing this were appropriate. My decision was also made with the full awareness that the challenges of parenting a teenage girl are immeasurably magnified by a society which increasingly, and disturbingly, bombards us with media images of hairless, improbably proportioned women who are airbrushed within an inch of their lives.
What are your thoughts regarding laser hair removal or other cosmetic procedures in young people?
Published On: June 18, 2008