Dubai is seen by many as the plastic surgery hub of the world, or at least the Middle East, but the industry is no longer the stereotyped preserve of the older woman.
Dubai plastic surgeons are seeing ever younger patients come through the doors for preventative treatment, as well as growing numbers of men.
One of the final taboos in plastic surgery has been surmounted says Dr Matteo Vigo, Chief Medical Officer at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, the largest aesthetic medicine practice in the UAE.
Vigo says Dubai now has 56 surgeons per one million residents – twice the number of “the house of plastic surgery” Brazil, where there are 23 surgeons for the same number.
“The number of men coming for plastic surgery/aesthetic medicine is increasing in a very impressive way. We have a lot of people coming for fillers, botox, young people, not only old men. It’s increasing, every month - we can see the trend.”
The hospital’s statistics show that while 18 per cent of its clients were male in 2013, in the first half of this year that rose to 26 per cent. That’s far ahead of the global average which, according to figures from the ISAAPS, reached 14 per cent last year.
Dubai resident Giorgio Conti had liposuction last October on his hips and stomach and is pleased he took the plunge. According to International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS) figures, liposuction was the second most popular procedure globally last year, just behind eyelid surgery, with 1.4 million operations.
“I was not confident with my body; I was not so fat and not too fit. I always did a lot of workouts at the gym but there was always a small layer of fat.”
No matter how many hours he put in at the gym or changes he made to his diet, nothing seemed to shift this stubborn layer, he says. So after years of consideration, the Italian native decided to go ahead with the Dh25,000 ($6,806) procedure.
“There was not another option for my case,” he said.
Conti says he doesn’t believe there is a difference in how socially acceptable plastic surgery is between the genders any longer, but there is a difference in what support men can access – meaning they are often more reluctant to go through with treatment.
“I think the approach of the ladies is much faster. The guys going for plastic surgery, I think they think much more…the girls have many more examples around them, it’s easier for them to talk with their friends.”
Conti says he didn’t have “the pleasure” of any other men in the same boat to talk to, which is why he took so long deciding to get the liposuction.
The ever-expanding menu of procedures men have to choose from include popular hair transplants, which can be done for Dh15,000 ($4,000); gynaecomastia surgery to reduce fat deposits from the chest area, which can be completed starting from Dh12,000 ($3,266); pectoral and bicep augmentation and implants for about Dh30,000 ($8,000); and apparently increasingly popular penile enlargements that start from about Dh25,000.
While the thought of the last procedure may make many men feel squeamish, Vigo says he is witnessing growing demand.
“The penis enlargement is something that’s being requested more day-by-day. We have started now a cooperation with two urologists who do this thing, so we can have more of a turnover for this [procedure].”
Like any other surgery it comes with risks “but we believe that choosing the right surgeon, the right environment, you may have minor complications that can be solved quick time”.
Other trends are in the realm of preventive medicine.
“Anti-aging and regenerative medicine is taking the bulk everywhere in the world. You’ll approach the patient not only to have a treatment for a problem but you have to prevent future problems. You will screen them like you’re doing for cancer, you’ll screen them for the wrinkles, for hair loss. There are a lot of different techniques.”
At this rate, Vigo accepts there will be an increasing physical divide between those who have used cosmetic medicine and the have-nots. He is treating growing numbers of women in their twenties with botox.
“By blocking some part of the muscles they will not have wrinkles within the next 10 years, so when they reach 40 they will be perfect.”
Like every other branch of medicine, stem cell treatment is also revolutionizing plastic surgery. One such method that is being developed is a type of grow-your-own boob job, where stem cells will be injected directly into a women’s breasts.
“Instead of putting stem cells in the lab culture to expand them, they want to put them into the breasts to give some signal to expand to reach the volume the patient wants. So with just a minimum amount of fat you can harvest you place the stem cells in the breast and then they will grow by themselves but this is something fantastical now.”
Vigo says this kind of technology is probably 20 years away.
The dangers of a plastic generation
With all the quick fix-its becoming available, like bariatric surgery and liposuction, Vigo acknowledges there is a legitimate concern people will turn to the surgeon’s knife in favor of good old-fashioned healthy living.
“The problem is that the next generation will be lazy, they are all sitting playing video games with mobiles. This is unfortunate for the future. The active people will be less and less and that can lead to beautiful but unhealthy people, because they think with plastic surgery they can do whatever they want – and it’s not true.”
Vigo says plastic surgeons are not magicians but exist to give people a “second chance”, for example helping people get rid of excess fat that is obstructive to their fitness regime.
“If you come to me for liposuction but I understand you will not change your lifestyle, just ‘I do liposuction so I can eat more then the doctor will remove it for me’, this is a patient who will not bring the generation a further step.”
There is a responsibility on surgeons to properly screen patients to understand their motivations and intentions. Unfortunately, not all surgeons are so obliging.
“Some colleagues are not ethical and they just go for the money. When I say no to a patient, ‘Don’t go for it, it’s dangerous for you’ and he says ‘I will go to another doctor, he will do for me’, I say ‘Choose your doctor carefully’. Check the credentials of the doctor, what society he is in, which publications he’s written in, try to understand really whether you can trust that doctor or not.”
Conti agrees patients need to be sure they can trust the advice of their surgeon to avoid an excessively plastic generation.
“If it becomes much more accessible then many people will become too much into plastic surgery. So it will be up to the doctor to suggest to them – if the doctor is crazy as well, then probably they’re going to make crazy work.”
When things go wrong
Vigo says he is increasingly having to fix mistakes made by unlicensed or inept surgeons. Removal of dangerous fillers is something common in the GCC where filler operations are prolific.
“We struggle every time to remove them.”
One patient Vigo saw had developed tough “elephant skin” from silicon filler she had injected in a bid to get a Kim Kardashian-style backside.
“The skin was like an elephant, all rough, all round the buttocks. She said ‘What can I do?’ I said ‘…I cannot do anything’.”SHOW MORE