By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY
(This article appeared in the April 2, 2002 USA Today)
CHICAGO -- The well-dressed professionals in the Salon Cassis of the Le Meridien hotel, most in their 30s and 40s, hold flutes of sparkling nonalcoholic cider and nibble fruit or smoked salmon canapes. Chatter is about exercise regimes, shoes, mutual friends -- and who wants to be injected next.
The evening's host, plastic surgeon Douglas Van Putten, snaps on a pair of surgical gloves and picks up a freshly loaded syringe of Botox, the muscle paralyzer that's gaining popularity as a wrinkle reducer.
He carefully jabs a few spots on the forehead of a middle-aged woman in a red blazer, a first-time recipient. "All done," he says, as she holds a square of gauze to her face, retrieves a Nordstrom shopping bag from under the chair and tells an onlooker it wasn't really painful.
Botox vet Carol Gilmore, an emergency room physician with gym-toned body and furrowless brow who's in for a refresher, takes a seat and calmly tilts her head back for the full forehead Monty -- about 20 injections.
"I'm 38. Why should I look like I'm 80?" she explains. Actually, she could pass for someone in her late 20s.
It's the prospect of holding time at bay, even turning it back, that has brought her, a dozen other women and several men to what's becoming a ritual here and elsewhere: the Botox party
Botox is the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, up from just 65,000 in 1997.
Around the country -- at doctor's offices, hotel meeting rooms and even resorts -- everyday people are lining up to erase lines in a social atmosphere.
It's dubbed the 21st-century Tupperware party.
"When you're at the doctor's alone, you're in a room and there's nothing to distract you. This is the way to go to the doctor," says Erin O'Boyle, a 48-year-old Henderson, Nev., photographer who attended a recent party in the spa at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, intending only to support his wife as she got Botoxed. But after listening to an explanation of the procedure and downing a couple of chocolate-covered strawberries, he wound up getting some to smooth a bothersome line on the bridge of his nose. It helped.
Botox injections temporarily immobilize muscles for several months and inhibit frown lines and crow's feet. On older patients, creases become less visible.
Paul Nassif, the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who wielded the syringe at the Palms, thinks getting Botox in a group setting can be "more relaxing. They're holding hands, giving each other support."
Van Putten says his occasional Botox Buddy Parties are "a great way to meet prospective patients and get them comfortable with you and answer their questions, and have them send their friends to you. A lot of people feel surgeons are not approachable."
His bring-a-friend fetes, announced on his Web site, www.truthandbeauty.info, feature Botox shots for $240-$425, depending on the number of areas smoothed. That's about half what he charges in his office.
Van Putten also views the evening as a chance to educate, talk "about truth and beauty. So many people are selling snake oil (skin treatments) . . . . Most of it doesn't do anything for your skin."
Improving appearance medically is "a very evolving field," he tells 16 party-goers in a lecture before the Botox sessions. In addition to Botox, there's laser resurfacing and facial peels, which some also see as a more natural-looking alternative to a face lift. Botox is "subtle," agrees photographer O'Boyle. "It doesn't make you look as if you've been tucked and done."
Less-invasive procedures are "where I see cosmetic surgery going," says Debra Luftman, a dermatologist who hosts Botox parties at her Encino, Calif., office. Her clientele includes women in their late 20s who want to ward off wrinkles before they start.
And "in Hollywood, if they look good (in their late 30s), they've probably had it," adds Gretchen Bonaduce, the 36-year-old wife and manager of TV personality Danny Bonaduce. She's a Botox devotee who attended a Palms party and also gets touch-ups in L.A.
"Patients are coming in earlier and doing things so that at 55 they won't need emergency face-lifts," explains Nassif. The theory is: "If you do it now, the line isn't going to get deeper and deeper."
That's the motivation of Joy Degani, a 37-year-old Chicago anesthesiologist in chic Dolce & Gabbana leopard-print heels greeting pals at Van Putten's party. "Doug's been Botox-ing me since I was 30," she says. "My face hasn't had a chance to form wrinkles."
After tonight's touch-up, her forehead is covered by what looks like rows of tiny, swollen insect bites. "No big deal," Degani says. They start fading almost immediately, though Botox's full effect won't be seen for several days.
A few novices voice apprehension about the party's star -- the anti-aging genie in tiny bottles marked Botulinum Toxin Type A, nestled in a cooler on the granite bar. Daniel Levinthal -- a doctor friend here to help Van Putten -- dilutes the white powder with saline solution and loads syringes.
The powder is a purified toxin derived from the bacteria that cause the deadly food-poisoning disease called botulism. And that scares some people.
Botox "does not cause botulism. That's a misconception," says Christine Cassiano, a spokeswoman for Allergan, which makes the drug that has been in use for more than a decade.
Many doctors use it themselves.
Botox is "very safe when used by properly trained physicians," agrees Franklin Park, N.J., plastic surgeon Arthur Perry, a member of the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners. He is not, however, a fan of Botox parties. "Medical treatments," he says, "should not be public affairs."
Too much Botox can produce a mask-like look or cause brow or lids to droop temporarily. Improper injection has caused facial paralysis. Some experience lumps and reddening. Alcohol is not recommended right after a treatment, though some doctors see no problem with it, and cocktails are served at some Botox events.
The half-dozen medical professionals lining up for shots at Van Putten's party say they have confidence in Botox. "It's absolutely safe," says Gilmore. "I don't believe in hurting myself."
At her side during her treatment is her beau, Russ Suchala, a 27-year-old personal trainer. He's personally not keen on getting Botox and calls wrinkles "distinguished," but adds, "Whatever makes her feel good about herself.",
Other women are not enchanted with the idea of Botox parties.
"Women used to be pressured to be a good little housewife. Now you have to look like you're 23," says Holly McSpadden, 47, of Joplin, Mo. "We're going to inject ourselves out of existence, out of personality, out of who we are."
Suzanne Grady disagrees. Your face is "something you're showing 12 hours a day," says the 41-year-old personal trainer, who paid Van Putten $400 to zap areas where lines had formed. "It's worth tightening up the budget. It means more than a nice outfit."
Bonaduce says she has made up her own word: " 'Fanity.' I'm a fan of looking good."
"Obviously, nothing replaces the way you feel on the inside," says Gilmore. "But you want the outside to show it."
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