What the Hell is a Consultationist?

I, and many other who enjoy the English language, have been wondering which new words would be added to the lexicon of America.  These new words, or neologisms, are usually chosen by a group of exudate linguists to be included according to the extent of pervasiveness of their usage.  This begs an answer to today’s question: what the hell is a consultationist?

Upon checking Webster’s and Harper Collins dictionaries, no reference is made for the noun consultationist.  The closest reference is for consultation which we all know means an appointment or meeting to seek professional advice especially from doctors or lawyers.  It is through this prism that the term consultationist has come into my practice universe and the lexicon of plastic surgery.  Apparently in certain plastic surgery mass-marketing schemes, the number of patients seeking information is much greater than the doctors available to provide information thus leading to a new paradigm for plastic surgery practice by placing the here-to-fore unknown consultationist into the complex surgical information loop.  Naturally, not every plastic surgeon answers every contact for surgical information, but we all provide detailed information to our office staff who field those questions from the public.  The flow of accurate information through surgical surrogates called consultationists to the patient seems fraught with uncertainty proportional to the number of individual surgeons responsible for the information provided by surrogates.  The information provided, by necessity, must be wholly generic in nature as no one but the plastic surgeon can provide the necessary depth of knowledge and experience to provide anything approaching a real consultation.  These new plastic surgery mass-marketing schemes, in addition to spending millions of dollars on TV, radio, print, and internet, have actually added a layer of advertising bureaucracy as the information requests are funneled through a new layer of marketing specialists called consultationists.  These new patient calls have become “sales leads” rather than actual consultations.

This new marketing centered paradigm created a number of questions all of which surround the activities of the newly minted consultationist.  For instance, who are these people, how are they reimbursed, what is their background and training, and who decides what they say and who do they report to: the physicians, marketing director, or corporate management, or all of the above?  Is the protection and dissimulation of the brand primary or does accurate surgical information take precedence?  Regardless of the answers to these questions, the marketing consultationist has added an entirely new level of bureaucracy that can only be financially justified if information requests turn into actual doctor consultations.

Clearly it serves no purpose for any prospective patient to be denied a real consultation so the information flow through consultationists carries no more weight than any well-crafted patient directed web site.  The web site will certainly answer the single most important question at any consultation: who is your doctor?

It seems this one single question which would seemingly be the easiest to answer during any real consultation is usually the hardest question for a consultationist to answer generally depending on how many doctors are the recipients of this marketing service or sales lead.

I’m not sure I have been able to actually answer my initial question: What the hell is a consultationist?  My best research tells me a consultationist is but a cog in the marketing paradigm for certain large companies that endeavor to sell some kind of trademarked surgical procedure in some generic fashion.   The challenge is to maximize the marketing of the procedure, even if the procedure is not proprietary or in any way original.

The focus of the expert marketing must maximize the procedure and minimize the surgeon because each surgeon is an individual, but the procedure is universal and much more available as a marketing center piece.  This type of marketing plan when well executed can be enormously effective unless the “generic” surgeon pool is depleted or becomes technically antiquated and changes do not keep apace the market for facial rejuvenation.  Many of the predictable corporate problems are a result of the realities of size and success.  Time will be the arbiter regarding consultationists.  In the meantime, most of us plastic surgeons with integrity will try to muddle on without them.

Read more about top face lift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard and his minimal incision, quick recovery facelift.

Who is a Candidate for the One Week Facelift? by Paul S. Howard, MD

It is axiomatic that all facelifts are different and certainly one cannot recover from all facelifts in a single week.  What I wish to describe is the optimal situation from both the patient’s point-of-view and the surgical perspective.  Choosing the right patient with application of the correct facelift procedure under optimal anesthetic conditions will usually yield the quickest facelift recovery: one week from my perspective.

Who is the best candidate for the facelift procedure?  Ideally, the best candidates for facelift are women between 40 and 60, healthy, non-smokers, with the proper motivation and support.  More specifically our ideal patient is active and actually benefits from a return to normal activity in a week.  As with any surgical procedure, the difficulty and extent of deformity provided by the patient is important.  In the perfect world described here, our female patient has moderate aging of the cheeks with early marionette lines, somewhat deepened nasolabial folds and the presence of the “bubble” of cheek fat tissue obscuring the jawline.  Once these conditions exist, there is no amount of injecting or fillers that can camouflage or “lift” tissues to redefine the jawline.  Some skin elasticity remains as opposed to our older patients with “leather” skin, and a multitude of deep wrinkles indicated a total loss of elasticity.  Weathered skin is usually due to extensive sun exposure without sun-block, as well as environment toxins and smoking.  These older patients with skin elasticity problems are still candidates for facial rejuvenation, but the operations are more extensive and cannot be recovered in one week.  Minor aging of the neck can also be treated simultaneously and does not prolong our one week recovery.

We try to address as many skin quality problems as possible pre-operatively.  We prescribe the nightly use of a Retin-A, hydroquinone, steroid solution as well as a cleansing facial treatment pre-operatively if possible.  We frequently recommend lower blepharoplasty with our midface lift and thus recommend an eye exam prior to blepharoplasty in most cases.  Previous surgery for cataracts or glaucoma is noted as the post-operative incidence of swelling in the form of a chemosis is more likely in these patients and may take more than a week to resolve with prescription eye drops.

Optimal anesthetic conditions include the use of local anesthesia with sedation rather than general anesthesia.  The control of blood pressure within a narrow range of the pre-operative value is necessary to minimize swelling and bruising that is expected when emergence from general anesthesia is necessary.  Aspirin and NSAIDS are stopped 2 weeks pre-operatively, and Bromelein and Arnica are recommended peri-operatively.  The liberal use of ice on and around the eyes with constant head elevation, regional blocks for peri-orbital anesthesia, and minimal injections directly in the ultra-thin eyelid skin reduce the chances for injection bruising in the lids.

The most important discussion to lessen edema, bruising, and to expedite recovery within one week is the choice of the mid-facelift and the details of its performance.  Lapsing into technical jargon, our lift is a short-incision mini-lift with a multi-vector, progressive tension SMAS plication.  The combination of techniques results in an aggressive lift with a minimal of undermined skin resulting in minimal “dead space” to accumulate blood or fluid.  For this small area of undermined skin, we have further developed a system of “micro-drains” utilizing vacutainer tubes as the collection/suction mechanism.  These 21 gauge drains are effective for removing any possible fluid collections and are removed at 24 hours post-operatively.  These small drains are incorporated into 24 hour post-op compression dressing, and in most cases the patients don’t know they exist.  The light compression dressing is augmented with “rest-on foam” on the neck and adjacent to the peri-auricular incisions.  This foam is also removed at 24 hours and is replaced by an ace bandage to compress the dependent portion of the neck and to protect the ears, especially at night.  The neck compression is important to achieve our goal of one week to “street-ability.”

Incision care is of the utmost importance to achieve our goals.  Gentle cleansing using peroxide once a day with careful application of Aquafor, especially around and behind the ear where it is difficult to see and for the dissolvable lower eye-lid stitches.  If the lower led sutures are allowed to dry, they will become brittle and will not dissolve on schedule at about 5 days.  The nylon sutures about the ear and in the submental neck are removed at 5 days except for a few “key” sutures in areas of tension.  These key sutures are removed on day 7.

Lastly, a word or two on the general aspects of healing.  It should go without saying that a calm, smoke-free, supportive environment is important to have the mindset to heal uneventfully.  We request careful attention to the instructions provided to prepare for facelift surgery and the comfort to call at any time if any uncertainty arises.  All of the medications are provided for a reason and should be taken exactly as prescribed.  We will go over all of your medications in detail with you so there are no mis-understandings regarding when to resume them.  Controlled activity beginning post-operatively day one is important.  There will be three office visits during the first week and of course these are very important.  It is probably equally important for your mental recovery to parallel your physical recovery.  Although we aim for your physical facelift recovery to be well along at one week so that you can be in public, your recovery will continue for many weeks and months to total normality.  We use serial photography to allow you to follow your recovery visually, which in most cases, helps your physical recovery and state-of-mind as well.  You will receive copies of all photos as well as the constant reminder of your pre-op condition with a set of your before photos as well.

We believe that we are all “goal oriented” people and that goals for life as well as for recovery from surgery are important.  Our goal for you is a one week recovery and we will provide you all of the tools necessary to achieve this goal.

Read more about Alabama facelift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard plastic surgeon and view facelift before and after photos.

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Anesthesia for Facial Plastic Surgery

Facelift Alabama

Schedule your facelift consultation with Dr. Howard by calling 205-871-3361

There is a movement afoot to try to legislate safety in plastic surgery by controlling what we do rather than taking the more difficult route of controlling the credentials and training of practitioners.  State governments must find it less offensive to certain constituencies to legislate what we do and how we do it rather than more directly addressing the office surgical setting by requiring each and every practitioner to have a minimal amount of core training in the procedures legislators deem unsafe.  When non-professionals try to address concerns on medical safety it always appears that some group of doctors may be affected and their arguments always seem to be based on possible financial restraints or financial hardships that fully trained and credentialed doctors may not suffer.  The implications are that all doctors, regardless of training, are essentially equal.  No such assumptions are proffered for neurosurgeons or cardiac surgeons.  There is no legislation attempting to equalize specialty surgeons by defining what we do to make the entire group safer.  No one has proposed the idea that cardiologists, with little or no surgeon training, should be allowed to do open heart surgery as long as they operate in a safe manner and do the operations in approved facilities.  It would seem safer to address the training and credentials of those performing open heart surgery rather than restricting cardiologists to “simple” open heart cases.  This is much like restricting non-plastic surgeons to “simple” or low volume liposuction searching for a safety standard by “dumbing down” the operation and its possible complications.

In another way, many surgeons and non-surgeon administrators have convinced people that surgery is always safer when performed under general anesthesia with an anesthesiologist in attendance.  The fact is that almost all facial plastic surgical procedures done on adults for cosmetic reasons are safer when performed without general anesthesia, and its riskier counterparts, mask anesthesia and monitored anesthetic care.  The latter two are basically general anesthesia without the benefit of a secure airway and in facial cases, a difficulty in administering oxygen as needed.  It’s easy to declare that all patients need the most sophisticated and complex care in all circumstances with the assumption being that this is the safest way to proceed.  One aspect of plastic surgical complications that seems to be consistently overlooked is the general anesthetic contribution to all complications.  The fact that general anesthesia is related to complications is found in the surgical maxim that complication rates increase rather drastically after 2 hours under general anesthesia.  I don’t believe that operations longer than 2 hours are inherently more dangerous.  Many surgeons think that their meticulous technique, while sometimes slow, gives better results even though they may require hours longer under general anesthesia.  As a general rule, those surgeons who expedite the operation to decrease operative time are the safest.  The only way to further increase safety is to take the general anesthetic out of the picture.  Interestingly, using local anesthetics and regional blocks requires an entirely new skill set and, most importantly, it requires patience.  Adding sedation in the form of oral medication helps to make the experience more comfortable, but adds very little to the complication profile as these are the very same medications we use in our post-operative outpatient patients.  We have found that the intravenous use of medications such as versed and morphine creates large increases of medications with a short half-life and is more likely to cause nausea and vomiting.  Nausea is a much less common problem with oral medication especially if Phenergan or Zofran are used with the pre-operative oral medications.

In the past, the major complaint with local anesthesia with or without oral sedation is that it can burn when injected.  There are a number of techniques that surgeons can utilize to make the injections much less painful.  Almost all of these techniques require only a bit of patience from the plastic surgeon.  The most commonly used anesthetics are Xylocaine and Marcaine.  Due to the acidic pH of Xylocaine, most surgeons have for years added bicarbonate to decrease the “burn” when injected.  The problem with adding bicarbonate is that it decreases the ability of the Xylocaine to work as well and may require a larger volume of injection.  Knowing the details of Xylocaine led to a search for better anesthetics.  Our search led us to Paris, France where we discovered Septocaine.  We found that Septocaine has about the same complications and dosage profile as Xylocaine.  The difference with Septocaine is that it is less painful to inject, it tends to work faster, and provides what patients describe as a more “intense” numbness.  We have used Septocaine as a primary local anesthetic for over 10 years and I am sure it is more comfortable for the patients. The downside is that it is more expensive to use.  This is a small price to pay for patient comfort.  It is important to understand that the reason for all of this discussion is to make sure our facial plastic surgery  patients are comfortable, pain-free, and safe while having facelift surgery and eyelid surgery.

From a medical/surgical point of view there is a very specific and important reason to use local anesthetics and oral sedation rather than general anesthetics.  We are convinced that the vast majority of post-operative facial swelling after facelift surgery is caused by transient but significant changes in blood pressure during and immediately after surgery.  In fact, I believe most hematomas and swelling occur in the period of time after the procedure is finished during the period of time when the patient emerges from general anesthesia.  We believe that controlling the blood pressure at pre-operative levels throughout the operation and especially at the end has decreased swelling post-operatively dramatically.  Blood pressure control and the judicious use of epinephrine in our local anesthesia with complete patient monitoring has completely changed the first 24 hours after surgery – much less bruising, swelling, hematomas.

One might ask why everyone who does facelifts wouldn’t do it with these techniques.  The primary reason is probably the patience it requires and the fact each facelift should be done by itself each day.  This fact resulted in our “One Facelift a Day” promise.

Read more about top facelift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard and his no general anesthesia facelift.

The Stem Cell Revolution

The law of unintended consequences applies to President George W. Bush when he banned embryonic stem cell research.  The unintended consequence was the search for adult stem cells and the knowledge that there is an almost limitless amount of adult stem cells located in fat or adipose tissue.  This fact places plastic surgeons at the epicenter of the stem cell revolution.  Who better than a board certified plastic surgeon is in a position to obtain the necessary fat (liposuction) which is then processed to obtain adipose tissue derived stem cells?

These adipose derived stem cells can be utilized for a myriad of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures.  For our purposes, these all-purpose stem cells are the basis of all of our facial and skin rejuvenation procedures.  It is a well-documented fact that stem cells, when reintroduced into the face, causes any fat which is re-injected, to “take” better and as a secondary benefit the stem cells release a number of “growth factors” that improve  skin by reducing the visible signs of aging.

It is important to realize that you cannot share your stem cells with anyone else nor can you use stem cells from another person. The fat must be processed immediately and re-injected with the stem cells during the same operation as it is difficult to store adipose tissue for further use.  We have developed a “stem cell lab” within the confines of our sterile operating room.  The lab equipment costs little and only requires basic laboratory experience (such as the experience obtained with a B.S. in Chemistry).

Every medical breakthrough goes through stages.  First, there is disbelief followed by hyperbole.  The hyperbole stage is manifest by over hyping the benefits and the beginning of named procedures such as the “Stem Cell Lift” which basically does not exist.  Realistically, stem cells do not tighten skin or “lift” anything.  They are a great addition to volume enhancement by increasing the take of fat grafts and clearly stem cells cause your skin to rejuvenate by erasing age spots, increase skin thickness, and improve fine lines and wrinkles.  Most patients who have had our stem cell rejuvenation describe their skin as smoother and typically glowing.  Stem cell augmented fat transfer has become a staple in our rejuvenation procedures and at a minimal charge to the patient.

Read more about top facelift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard and view facelift before/after photos.

Looking Younger is Not a Sin

Having spent the majority of my life in big cities such as Atlanta, Miami and Paris, I was taken aback by the responses of women in smaller southern cities such as Birmingham, Montgomery or Mobile to the notion of facelift procedures.  I have on occasion related an anecdote about women in the South; if one asks a woman on the street in Miami or Paris “who is your doctor?,” the usual reply will get you the name of her plastic surgeon. The same question posed to a woman in Birmingham will get you the name of her gynecologist.  I have no particular problem with gynecologists but it does reflect a palpable difference regarding priorities in medical care. Likewise, there always exists a group of women who proudly notify their friends and family of their impending surgery and show their friends the results the moment the dressings are off.  A more common scenario in the South is that most women are very private in their personal affairs and only confide in their families and closest friends.  We are not talking about people of wealth as no one knows how or why celebrities and the wealthy choose their healthcare providers.  Judging from what we see on cable TV, the Michael Jacksons’ of the world as well as many aging models and TV stars should reconsider their choices of doctors, especially those who are fighting the aging process in an attempt to remain on the ‘’A’’ list.

The best example is the Hollywood penchant to completely overdo lip augmentation. The reason this is an issue is because “normal” people who inquire about lip enhancement look at celebrities, think they probably get the best plastic surgery, and assume that the comical, overdone lips are necessary for lip enhancement. Two bad assumptions are at work here: the first is that celebrities get the best plastic surgeons and the second is that enhanced lips should be huge and comical in appearance.  Good plastic surgeons can usually enhance lips in any of a number of ways achieving fullness, a very youthful pout and accentuation of youthful lip anatomy without the “bee-stung” comical lips that we see all too often. The choice to overdo any plastic surgical procedure is entirely up to the patient and not a part of plastic surgery itself.  There is an unknown in this process, which is the individual talent and taste of the plastic surgeon involved.  This is why it helps to see examples of the surgeons work in order to get some idea of how aggressive or exaggerated the work is. Surgeons will usually show pictures of work they consider exemplary so when viewing catalogs of photos it is good to evaluate each result carefully taking in to consideration your specific taste, even if the photos are of procedures you are not considering.

One of the most challenging operations for a plastic surgeon is rhinoplasty. This is why there are so many “challenged” noses out there in Hollywood.  It is a bit of a cliché to use the Jackson family as an example of rhinoplasty gone wrong but I’ll do it anyway.  I believe that at least one of the early iterations of Michael’s nose was an attractive change from his original ethnic nose into a slightly improved version.  I would surmise that it was an operation or two later that his final scar laden, next to nothing nose emerged was left of his original proboscis. Without the wonders of his handy, at home, hyperbaric oxygen chamber Michael may certainly have lost his nose in its entirety.  I suspect that the last twenty or so operations were not procedures chosen by his surgeon yet performed nonetheles.  The legacy of the Jackson family nasal nightmare should probably not be left with the surgeon but with the patients who are too famous, have too much money and succumbed to too much bad advice or a lack of good judgment.

Breasts have long been the subject of Hollywood photographers and celebrity magazines.  Ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous Super bowl wardrobe malfunction there seems a preoccupation with breasts, especially large ones. Many women seem to have attached their femininity to their cup size. The trend to larger breasts is exemplified by today’s Victoria Secret models that are not as anorectic as the models of the 80’s and 90’s.  In the real world outside of Hollywood women who consult for breast augmentation also want larger, fuller breasts but they also want “plausible deniability.”  That requires breasts large enough to be sexy but not quite so large that they could not conceivably be nature’s gift.

Plastic surgery and the “beauty business” as it is now called did not arise from the devil as a temptation to vanity but rather as a consequence of the very normal desire of human beings to appear physically attractive to each other. The process of aging tends to extinguish some of the physical attractiveness of youth.  Aging gracefully is the excuse given not to intervene with plastic surgery but our “grace” does not preclude spending billions of dollars on products for our hair, skin and nails.   Recently, plastic surgeons have become facile and more creative with the surgical interventions we recommend to treat the aging face.  Our operations tend to be less one-size-fits-all and are uniformly less invasive.  Surgeons now are utilizing more of our scientific educational background to apply the latest in biology to scientifically improve our results and to stay abreast the latest research and findings.

Those of us in facial and body enhancement business are as different as our patients. The best we can do individually is to provide up to date, non-biased information including our training and certifications to the table and provide honest, accurate photographs of our work so that patients may get an idea of our preferences and our aesthetic sensibilities.  The more factual information out there, the better chance the patient can find the right surgeon for the right problem.

Stem Cells, Fat Grafting, & Facelifts

The facelift operation as practiced by Board Certified Plastic Surgeons continues to relentlessly evolve as surgical science and cell biology uncover new applications which can be utilized to improve our already outstanding results.  Responding to the wishes of our patients, operations have tended to become less invasive and shorter in duration with less swelling, bruising, and a much shorter down-time.  The short scar facelift has seen a resurgence with new and original methods of dealing with the SMAS, such as our progressive, multiple vector SMAS plication.  The blending of the improved mid-facelift with the lower eyelids and less invasive neck surgery when possible had been our idea of a modern facelift.  Due to the teachings of Sydney Coleman in New York City, we added structured fat grafting to our lips much improving the perioral area and enhancing the cheeks and what has been architecturally described as the facial “ogee.”  I believe fat grafting as now practiced was a huge step forward in facial rejuvenation completely replacing foreign body fillers such a Juvederm® and Restylane®.  In some circles, the efficacy of fat grafting is still questioned even as the evidence of graft takes in the 80-95% range are routinely described.  Over the last couple of years, the basic science of cell biology has given us new information on adipose biology and the nature of adult adipose derived stem cells.  The term “stem cell” occupies front page position in almost every modern women magazines.  Until recently, it has been unclear how this new information could be applied to Plastic Surgical science.

The evolution of stem cell biology including the fact that we could isolate stem cells from our own body fat seemed almost too good to be true.  Rather than throwing away the fat we obtain with liposuction, we can now take this fat, process it in the office, obtain stem cells, and then utilize the stem cells for improving fat graft take even further as well as adding growth factors to the fat grafts that have a beneficial effect on aging skin.  Body contouring with liposuction complimenting facial rejuvenation is truly a “scots” efficiency as Dr. Ralph Millard would say.  The beneficial effect of growth factors on healing and facial skin aging has been known for several years, but exactly how to utilize this knowledge never progressed after the discovery of its use as “fibrin glue.”  More recently, we have added platelet rich plasma (PRP) obtained by drawing blood at the onset of the surgical procedure, processing the blood to get PRP which adds large quantities of growth factors when added to fat and fat stem cells used for facial contouring and rejuvenation.  All of these biologic enhancements to fat grafting are obtained from the patient and therefore are autologous with no problem with rejection such as that which occurs with foreign body fillers.

To summarize our current facelift techniques, incisions are of the “short scar” variety, the SMAS is handled with progressive tension suturing in multiple vectors, micro-drains are used for 24 hours to reduce bruising, the glabella, cheeks, lips, chin, and perioral areas are enhanced by fat grafting augmented with stem cells and PRP.  Cost controls include doing the procedure in the office with local anesthetics and mild sedation.  The sum of these procedures we like to call the “Howard Lift” for lack of a more descriptive term.

Read more about top facelift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard in Birmingham, Alabama.

How Smart is the Smart Lift?

The Smartlift™ facial surgery procedure is the latest trademarked surgery marketed directly to the patient as an answer to facial aging problems.  The Smartlift™ procedure differs significantly from the copyrighted or trademarked procedures in that the so-called Lifestyle Lift® is based on the aggressive marketing of a procedure (the Lifestyle Lift®) which only distinguishes itself by its simplicity leading to certain claims of reduced recovery and reduced operative times leading in some way to superior results.  The Smartlift™ is different in that the sales pitch has to do with technology rather than the marketing of a procedure.  The Smartlift™ is the facial rejuvenation procedure performed with the Cynosure® laser used for the laser assisted Smartlipo® procedure.  While the use of the Cynosure MPX® laser is accepted for liposuction, it is less accepted in the face and may be contra indicated when used to liquefy facial fat.

The Smartlift™ is the use of a laser underneath the surface of the skin (internally) as opposed to other laser platforms used on the surface of the skin (externally) resurfacing for fine lines and wrinkles.  The premise behind using a laser as an adjunct for facial rejuvenation is that due to the heat generated by the laser, facial skin contracts causing some small amount of skin tightening.  At the same time, the skin is heated and the laser emulsifies the facial fatty tissue violating the premise that you shouldn’t remove fat from the aging cheek.  The Smartlift™ is the procedure using the laser as described above to effect facial skin tightening with no actual surgical lifting performed.  Even with the addition of CO₂ fractionated laser to the external surface of the skin, the actual skin tightening is minimal.   With the aggressive attempt to tighten the facial skin by internal heating one runs the very real risk of removing facial fat excessively leading to a fairly dramatic skin laxity and worsening of the facial aging signs as well as severe skin contour deformities.

Dr. Paul Howard - Facelift Plastic Surgeon Birmingham, Alabama

The patient above is a 65-year-old woman 11 months after having the so-called Smartlift™ facial procedure on her sagging neck and aged jaw-line.  Additionally, she had upper and lower blepharoplasty.  She related her request for improvement in her aging face, neck, and eyelids after the Smartlift™ laser procedure.

The first challenge was to re-drape the skin of the neck which was no small feat due to effects of the laser on the submental fat and skin.  The jaw-line, cheeks, marionette lines, and nasolabial folds were addressed with a midface lift.  The cheeks were blended with the lower lids and the upper lids re-done.  Fat was liposuctioned from her abdomen, processed and enhanced with her stem cells to be injected in her nasolabial folds, lips, chin, and marionette lines.  Her neck continues to be a problem and has required several steroid injections to help soften the scarring caused by the Smartlift™ lift.  It has come to my attention that the Cynosure Corporation through its marketing people are now touting several other procedures based on the Smartlipo® laser with the addition of incisions in the mini-lift pattern as well as the full facelift incision pattern.  Succumbing to the philosophy that all of these procedures deserve a trademarked name, i.e. the mini-lift plus laser is the “Ultra mini-lift™,” the full facelift plus laser is the “Laser Smartlift™.”  I was surprised that the “Ultra Mini Smartlift” was kept out of the marketing “lift” bonanza.

Read more about Dr. Paul Howard and his popular Howard Lift Facelift in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Stem Cell Facelift – Fact or Fabrication

The Stem Cell Facelift - Fact or Fabrication Gargoyle of St. Severin in Paris, France – Photo taken by Dr. Paul Howard

If one were to internet search “stem cell facelift” or “non-surgical facelift” you get hundreds of search results describing outrageous claims of facial rejuvenation that exceed the results of “surgical facelifting.”  There will always be people following the holy grail of “non-surgical” procedures of all types.  These same people probably believe in gremlins, gargoyles, and the tooth fairy, all myths that get some play over the internet.  All good myths (and lies) seem credible because they were based initially on facts.  For instance, let’s look at the so-called “liquid lift” touted as some version of the “non-surgical facelift.”  Plastic surgeons have known and is replete in our literature that one aspect of facial aging is due to a loss of soft tissue (mainly fat) volume, no one who studies the aging process believes that simply addressing facial volume issues will in effect result in “lifting” of facial structures, i.e. the “liquid facelift.”  The proposition will always find an audience with those individuals who, for varied reasons, are frightened of surgery.  The proposition of volume lifting gets momentum as its practitioners recommend using one of today’s off the shelf fillers at $200-300 per milliliter.  It could take 30cc of filler to achieve the fullness necessary to claim the face is lifted.  This is a perfect example of utilizing a true discovery to develop a non-surgical marketing slogan such as the “liquid lift.”  If such a procedure actually worked, we could all take our marbles and go home as the answer to facial rejuvenation would be upon us.  As much as this would benefit the non-surgeon, it happens to be untrue, but still worth a try if you cannot do a proper facelift or obtain autologous fat as a facial filler rather than having a basically painless and simple surgical facelift.

The Stem Cell Face Lift is another of these stylized marketing slogans based on actual scientific discovery (stem cell biology) adulterated as some sort of magic bullet that “lifts” faces.  I think that the gargoyles protecting Notre Dame in Paris makes more sense than a stem cell “lifting” anything.  This is not to say stem cells don’t exist or that their discovery isn’t useful when applied to the biology fat grafting and actual facial skin rejuvenation.  An understanding of stem cell biology and how to isolate them from adipose tissue will probably become routine for all Plastic Surgeon’s in the near future.  Hopefully, as more and more is published on the subject of stem cells there will be fewer practitioners with a financial incentive to propagate the fantasy which is the “stem cell facelift.”  The final straw may be the fact that many of the non-surgeons are parlaying some knowledge of stem cell biology into a $20,000 procedure!

In the final analysis common sense dictates that stem cells are real and are a really important adjunct to my facial rejuvenation procedures, but by themselves cannot “lift” anything, particularly an aged face.

What’s up with Stem Cells?

First of all, what is a stem cell and why are they now so popular?  One of the essential wonders of mankind is that all human beings are derived from two cells – one egg and one sperm cell.  These two cells and their DNA become a single cell which divides and subsequently differentiates into all of the individual cells which comprise the human organism.  As the early cells divide to reproduce themselves some of them begin to differentiate into the cell lines that form different parts of the body as well as the blood flowing in our veins.  These cells which are only partially differentiated and still have the potential to become more than one type of cell are called stem cells.  If these cells are liberated during the embryonic phase of development they are called embryonic stem cells.   If the embryo is allowed to grow and the cells differentiate further the cell lines become more specific to each body part.  As these cell lines develop into their structures (skin, muscle, fat, blood) they lose their ability to reverse course and again become “pluripotential” stem cells.  Once they differentiate down their pluripotent lines they become more and specific as to their ultimate destination (i.e. skin, blood, brain, muscle, fat).  These slightly more differentiated cells are called multipotential stem cells and include our now famous adipose (fat) derived stem cells.   Think of this process as a gently flowing river – if one puts in and is slowly taken downstream there will come a point where it is not possible to paddle back upstream to the starting point.  As we travel further downstream, our momentum increases so that it becomes less possible to reverse course.  At this point where reversal, or in the cellular world – re-programming, becomes impossible, you have multipotent stem cells.  A little further downstream you have more specific adipose derived stem cells which after transversing a white water rapid becomes the fat cells and fatty tissue.  The fat tissue itself is the end of the river as it flows into the sea.  Luckily each part of our body retains a few less differentiated multipotent stem cells so that the end tissue (fat in this case) can keep renewing itself as cells live and are programmed to die (apoptosis) and be regenerated by fat cell division and adipose stem cell differentiation.  As much as we wish our excessive fatty tissue would die off, it would be catastrophic to our health as fat cells have been shown to be highly active and responsive to many chemical, protein or hormonal stimuli.  So, some fat is good and too much is not so good!

The coolest discovery occurred when adipose derived stem cells (ADSC) where discovered as a precursor to fat and were available and relatively easy to isolate from our fat and have all the necessary growth factor proteins to stimulate these cells to grow into the fatty tissue we all love so.  These growth factors, primarily platelet derived growth factor (PDGF) and transforming growth factor – Beta (TGF-B) among other proteins and cytokines stimulate the growth and vascularization of adipose tissue especially if used as a “fat graft.”  An unintended consequence of augmenting fat grafts with ADSC is that many of the stimulated cellular products have a trophic and rejuvenating effect on the adjacent skin.  This effect is particularly noticeable on facial skin which is aged, sun damaged, and environmentally damaged.  It has been shown that the ADSC augmented fat graft induces neoangiogenesis (blood vessel growth) causing an improved blood supply and “take” of the fat grafts (protein and growth factor modulated), increased collagen and extracellular matrix synthesis (macrocryptin and pre-adipocyte modulated) as well as the simulation of the ADSCs to transform (multipotent) into fibroblasts which further augment the damaged
skin.  The rejuvenation and thickening of the skin is primarily due to the increased collagen synthesis.  The possible addition of activated platelet rich plasma (a-PRP) may help to enhance even further the tissue response to fat grafting.

If I lost you at the river metaphor, I can summarize that the addition of science to the art of facial rejuvenation will yield some miraculous rejuvenating effects simply by understanding the biology (science) behind the plastic surgical art.

Unveiling the “Lifestyle Lift*” by Paul S. Howard, MD

The Truth about the marketing madness

One of the most disturbing aspects of medical care as practiced today is the unpleasant
marriage of medicine and industry creating what is known as the medical-industrial complex.  The medical-industrial complex is manifest in many ways including the extinction of the private, solo medical practitioner and the rise of things like copyrighted medical procedures.  In the not too distant past, most doctors were solo practitioners and thus provided the kind of medical care that made physicians respected and pillars of the community.  Among surgeons the attempt to copyright a surgical procedure is distasteful as the important surgeons we have known in our training taught surgery without taking credit or financially benefiting from their ideas and procedures, even if revolutionary in nature.  If an operation shows particular promise and represents a true advancement in medical care, it is usually submitted to a peer reviewed journal where its merits are debated among professionals in the field and either accepted for publication or not, depending on the originality of the idea and its ability to advance medical knowledge, but never for financial gain.

The recent introduction of the copyrighted named surgical procedure uncovers one of the weaknesses in trademark and copyright law as the procedure on which the trademark is licensed does not have to be in any way original except the name itself has to be unique.  The only reason to give an operation that is not original a trademarked name is for the purpose of marketing for financial gain.  Many less informed patients may believe that a trademarked name for a surgical procedure implies that the procedure, whether unique or not, is the most important aspect of patient care usually proven with a slick marketing plan.  It is clear that the “named” procedure is of minuscule importance when compared to the ability of the surgeon and whether the procedure is the correct one to treat the problem addressed.

The “Lifestyle Lift” is the latest marketing madness purposing a questionable procedure by marketing the name rather than the credentials of the physicians who perform the trademarked “Lifestyle Lift.”  I suspect that on occasion the “Lifestyle Lift” may actually provide a satisfactory result, if by luck the right patient sees the advertisement and gets a surgeon provided by the company, who performs the procedure resulting in a happy patient.  I get to see the results of the “Lifestyle Lift” and are asked to explain why such a well marketed operation did not accomplish the facial rejuvenation promised.  Many times, the patient dissatisfaction results from the limited improvement on the cheeks only while the neck, eyes and mouth, of equal importance, are not addressed with the “Lifestyle Lift.”   Most plastic surgeons find that addressing all of the aging issues usually allows the procedures to be “blended” together for optimal results.

Life Style Face Lift Revision Surgery

Alabama facelift specialist Dr. Paul Howard is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in Birmingham, Alabama. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Howard, call 205-871-3361.

*The LifeStyle Lift is a registered trademark, registered by Lifestyle Lift Holding, Inc. Michigan.