A Change Of Face

Posted: September 24, 1997

Philadelphia cosmetic surgeon Aaron L. Shapiro uses computer-imaging to demonstrate to prospective patients how techniques such as face lifts, collagen injections, insertions of Gortex material, laser surgery and chemical peels might change their looks.

Dr. Shapiro agreed to go through the process for Daily News Roadtesters Lena Cannon and Marialaina Souders, who were curious about how it works.

They met at his office at 1518 Spruce St., where he also has a three-directional mirror that, he says cheerfully, ``shows every wrinkle.''

Each woman posed in front of a camera as Shapiro took both side and front facial views of each. Each photo shows up on the computer screen in duplicate, the one on the left becoming ``before'' and the one on the right, ``after.''

As Shapiro described each possible procedure, he altered the right-hand photo to illustrate the change it could bring about.

``It's an approximation,'' he explained. ``I can do anything I want on the computer - but not on a person. So I don't want to make the computer image too good because it would be misleading.''

As he talked, the surgeon discussed ``the downside,'' that is, possible complications that can arise from surgery. ``It's amazing how many people never ask about that,'' he said. There can be bleeding. There can be injury to a facial nerve. Healing skin may stay an angry red color for six weeks or more.

Both Cannon and Souders had seen a report on ABC-TV's ``20/20'' about laser surgery that went horribly awry. ``That scared a lot of people,'' said Shapiro, who teaches laser use for a company that makes the equipment. ``I advise being very conservative in its use. It's better to go back later if a wrinkle is still a problem than to risk injury by going too deep.''

His advice for forestalling wrinkles: Don't smoke.

``Cigarette smoking causes a breakdown of collagen, the fibrous protein that keeps skin smooth and flexible. Collagen breaks down naturally as we age, but smoking hastens the process,'' he explains. ``Also, face lifts heal faster on non-smokers.''

Here's our Roadtesters' reactions to the imaging:

Lena Cannon, 55

Bryn Mawr


Roadtest report: When Shapiro asks Cannon what she might like done, she laughs and says: ``How about a rubber band that pulls everything up?''

Moving and clicking his computer mouse across Cannon's image on the screen, Shapiro first illustrates a neck lift that would remove loose skin there.

``If I did that, would that only accent the looseness along my jaw line?'' Cannon asks.

``It would not change your jaw line, but you might find it bothers you more,'' Shapiro replies.

Smoothing the jaw line would require a face lift - pulling the skin covering the area from cheek to chin back toward the ears. Click. Click. Click. It's done.

``I wish real surgery were that easy,'' says Cannon.

Face lifts are expensive - from $8,000 to $10,000, according to Shapiro. Cannon asks how long such a lift lasts.

``It lasts forever,'' Shapiro says, ``but that doesn't mean you won't get new wrinkles. The aging process continues. It's a matter of setting the clock back. It's a matter of staying ahead of the aging process for awhile.''

Marialaina Souders, 56

South Philadelphia

High school teacher

Roadtest report: Asked what she might like done, Souders jokes: ``Let me get my list.'' She has no list, but she does have a few facial improvements in mind.

Souders would prefer to have fewer ``age spots,'' less under-eye puffiness, tighter skin under the chin.

Putting her hand under her chin, she asks if there are exercises to tighten up this area.

``No,'' Shapiro says. ``It's a genetic problem. Exercise won't change it. A diet doesn't help much either, unless you lose more than 30 pounds.''

The loose skin disappears on the computer screen. So does the puffiness under the eyes.

Souders wants to know if all these procedures are done at once or ``a little at a time.'' Shapiro says it can be done either way.

If I were to do only one thing, she asks, what should that one thing be?

``If there's one area in which cosmetic surgery seems to improve everybody, it's the eyes,'' says Shapiro. Removing shadows, bags, puffiness - call it what you will - from under the eyes makes people look more aware, younger, better rested, he says.

Looking better is what we're talking about, he says. Enhancing your looks, not making you look like someone else.

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