Botox, this is your big week

Beauty is only skin deep, but dematologists can erase little flaws in time for a red-carpet stroll.

By Gina Piccalo
Times Staff Writer

Here in Beverly Hills, amid the gurgling fountains of wealth and luxury, the world’s most famous women come in disguise, during off hours, by private elevator, using false names, to fight the good fight against, the one thing that money can’t buy: time.

In the weeks before the Oscars, the entertainment industry’s biggest night of the year, it’s the dermatologists and plastic surgeons they seek – anxious to look younger, slimmer, more beautiful than usual. That red-carpet walk is much more than a fashion show. It can mean better roles, more money or a career kick-start.

“You get a lot of people who are conscious about how they will appear in photographs,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Randal Haworth. “They say, I don’t want any bruising.’ They’re even giving me a hard time coming into the room 20 minutes late.”

“They don’t just roll off the truck famous and beautiful,” says Beverly Hills cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, whose clients include Oscar nominee Diane Lane, Cher, Nia Vardalos and Goldie Hawn. “It’s a process. I’m sort of specialist in fine-tuning the process.”

Lancer occupies the penthouse floor of a nondescript building on Wilshire Boulevard a few block from Rodeo Drive. Inside his office, hallways are crowded with filing cabinets and wall-sized painting of 1920s party scenes. Art deco mirrors hang in nearly every examination room. Lancer won’t relocate to a larger space, he says, because the high-profile clients like the building’s vacant lobby. “They have the whole top floor,” Lancer says. “It’s sort of isolated.”

On Friday morning about a week ago, he hustled from room to room, injecting and sloughing and burning away all evidence of age on the faces of women in their 30s and 40s. On this day there were no A listers hiding out in exam rooms, and few patients planned to attend the awards. But they all came for the same treatments that Lancer has performed on Oscar nominees and actresses every week and for months.

“When a show is approaching or an interview or a film release or a pilot season, they will speed up the schedule,” Lancer says. “With the Oscars, chances are they’re in ‘chronic mode.'”

For Santa Monica plastic surgeon Dr. R. Patrick Abergel, that means an enormous demand for Botox, the $350 shot of botulinum toxin that paralyzes facial muscles, thus eliminating frown lines. “March for me is the busiest month of the year,” he says. “we’re probably going to do more Botox [in one week] than we’ll do in a month.”

But Lancer warns actors not to overdo it. “It looks ridiculous if you’re nominated an you receive an award and you have no facial expression,” he says.

Even worse, for some, is wearing one’s age to the awards ceremony. Women have been bringing their evening gowns to Abergel, pointing to the areas exposed and having him laser away sun damage on their cleavage and removing back and upper arm fat. “With a very small needle, we just reabsorb all the fat from the arms,” he says. “It heals within a week to 10 days.” This “mini-sculpt” costs $5,000. The same procedure can remove jowls, says Abergel.

Others are paying $500 to $1,000 per shot for injections of collagen or its derivatives – Cosmoderm, Restylane, Perlane – to plump cheeks or fill laugh lines. “Like air in a tire,” Lancer says. While those procedures last a few months, Abergel uses a permanent lip-plumping substance, polytetrafluoroethylene, the same plastic used to make Gore-Tex. Granted, this one is more costly: $4,500 for both lips.

For more stubborn wrinkles, like those Haworth calls “marionette lines,” there’s the bone substitute called Radiance. It builds up the skeleton around the mouth, plumping sagging skin. Then there’s the lower eyelid “pinch,” which removes winkles below the eye “with one little stitch,” says Haworth, and heals in three days.

For Skin with a youthful glow, starlets favor microdernabrasion, a $600 process that sloughs off dead skin and with it fine lines from the face, neck, shoulders and cleavage, followed by a $500 infrard laser toning that burns off sun damage and encourages collagen production. Another option is a series of $1,000 “photo facials,” blasts of a broad spectrum of light that dissolve spider veins and age spots.

“For many, many years the look in Hollywood was pulled,” says Abergel, referring to full face lifts, as opposed to today’s less invasive procedures. “The new trend now is to look…very natural.”

Back in Beverly Hills, Lancer leaned over Annie Avery, a 40 year old yoga instructor from the San Fernando Valley. She isn’t attending the Oscars but scheduled he appointment early to beat the rush. Tiny scarlet jewels of blood appeared on her top lip as he injected $500 worth of Cosmoderm, a human derived collagen. “I have a pretty high tolerance,” said Avery, wiping a few tears from her eyes.

Down the hall, the lithe 35 year old Jennifer Campbell, a former Miss Hawaiian Tropic and “Baywatch” co-star, perched on the examination table. She came to talk about facial blemishes and ended up consulting with Lancer’s technician – who tattoos the equivalent of lipstick, eyeliner and eyebrow pencil. It’d be nice not to worry about your eyebrows falling off in the water,” Campbell says. “For women, it’s very tough in L.A. You’re competing with girls in their 20s.”

Lancer moved on to Paris Henman, a Malibu mom with blemishes left over from pregnancy. He explained the importance of sun block. “If you forget for one week in the Caribbean, it will be undone,” he told her.

Next, Lancer passed a wand over the face of young blond woman in a $200 microdermabrasion treatment. With each pass, the skin was buffed with tiny crystals, leaving her skin as smooth as an infant’s.

“This particle polishing is what we do for entertainment people,” Lancer says. “I tell patients it’s like detailing your car.”

And when image is everything, even car metaphors seem fitting.