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Smoothing the way for a younger look

While uncertain economic times slowed Americans' rush to plastic surgery, some cheaper and less invasive procedures are seeing steep increases in rates of adoption -- particularly among men.

While the number of women seeing a doctor for cosmetic procedures dropped 14 percent last year from 2001, the number of men doing so stayed flat, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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And some procedures saw increases in men's adoption rates. From Botox injections to laser skin resurfacing and microdermabrasion, men are eager to make themselves look younger and healthier, experts said. Part of what's pushing men into this women-oriented field is the work environment.

"Older men are trying to maintain an appealing appearance in the job market," said Dr. James H. Wells, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and a California plastic surgeon.

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"Appearance is important in terms of looking youthful. If the skills between a younger and an older employee are the same, the younger employee who looks better is always going to get the nod. We're hearing that from [male] patients," Wells said.

About 129,600 men, an 11 percent rise from the year earlier, underwent microdermabrasion treatments in which the skin is bombarded with tiny crystals to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Women's use of the procedure declined 16 percent.

Laser skin resurfacing, in which carbon dioxide is used to remove skin to reduce wrinkles and blemishes, saw a 38 percent increase, to 26,452 men in 2002, while women's use of the treatment rose just 7 percent. Still, while more than 960,000 men underwent cosmetic procedures last year, that number lags far behind the 5.6 million women who did so.

The competitive work environment also means workers don't want to spend much time off, recovering from their procedure.

The fact that men are not as likely as women to wear make-up also dictates their cosmetic-procedure choices. "Men are much more concerned about getting the unwanted marks of cosmetic surgery, such as the bruising and the swelling, than women, who are used to using makeup," said Dr. William Silver, a Georgia board-certified facial plastic surgeon.

"To men, it's extremely important that they can get back to looking more natural, quicker."


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