Has Science Cured Gray Hair?
Ever since 1890, when the use of anesthetics and antiseptics made it unlikely for people to die getting a nose job, cosmetic plastic surgery has been part of the global culture. By the 1920s, plastic surgery grew ever more common, and became associated with vanity. New techniques developed during World War II helped further increase demand for -- and types of -- the elective surgeries.
The era of minimally-invasive techniques has marked a new generation of plastic surgery options, with 14.6 million cosmetic procedures performed in the United States in 2012, up 5 percent since 2011. Here are the current most popular cosmetic surgeries, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Initially, cosmetic plastic surgery was not seen as a vanity procedure, said Emory University professor Sander Gilman, author of Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery.
"Jews in Germany had their noses reduced so they could get jobs," Gilman said. As such, it was equally common for men and women to undergo plastic surgery.
"By the end of the 19th century there's a common understanding in the West that you can transform yourself, you can move classes -- and you can get a new nose," Gilman said.
Ear pinbacks were also popular at the time, to correct "prominent ears."
By the 1920s, the world of cosmetic surgery had shifted. By then, the first textbook about facial cosmetic surgery was in circulation, called "The Correction of Featural Imperfections" by Charles Miller. Women sought face lifts for reasons associated with vanity, not employment.
"It becomes something we associate with the upper middle class," Gilman said.
Everything from ivory to rubber has been used to augment breasts since the beginning of the 20th century. Nothing worked well (one of the first experimental substances, paraffin, had particularly bad results, with breasts that grew hard and lumpy and high rates of infection) until the Dow Corning Corporation developed the first silicone breast implants in 1961. Even though breast augmentation dropped 7 percent from 2011, it's still the No. 1. plastic surgery in the U.S., with 286,000 procedures in the U.S. in 2012. (It's followed by nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, liposuction, and facelifts.)
"People who have had significant weight loss are coming to grips with dealing with [their bodies]," said surgeon David Reath, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Whether they've lost weight through weight reduction surgery or diet and exercise, if they were overweight for a long period, the
skin hangs around, and it’s very demoralizing. They're looking for a solution."
One solution appears to be a procedure called an upper arm lift, which involves either liposuction or brachioplasty, a surgery that removes loose skin is removed from the back of the arms.
Plus, "anytime we start talking about arms the image of the buff First Lady comes into mind," Reath said.
"This is up in every age group of men," Reath said. "I think it's because there’s a growing awareness that there is a solution to something that's extra troubling to men of all ages. It can have a tremendous psychological effect on young men going through puberty."
In fact, the number of men having cosmetic procedures in general has increased so dramatically that Gilman thinks it will once again even out to match the rate of women who undergo plastic surgery.
New minimally invasive and cheaper procedures such as Botox and other injectable fillers took off when the economy took a downturn, Reath said.
"You could take less time off from work [to recover]; year after year it has continued to grow," he said.
In fact, the popularity of such procedures is growing so fast that Gilman believes there will come a point in the next 10 years or so where people will wonder why you didn't have a cosmetic procedure if you have sagging skin under your jaw or lines around your eyes.
"It's becoming the standard," he said.
Gray hair -- one of the classic signs of aging that can lead to a midlife crisis for some -- may some day be a thing of the past, much to the chagrin of hair-dye manufacturers and Corvette salesmen.
A team of European researchers claims to have found not only the root cause of gray hair, but also a treatment for the condition. Additionally, their treatment may help people with vitiligo, a condition that causes the loss of pigment in patches of skin, they say.
It's been known for years that hair turns gray due to a natural buildup of hydrogen peroxide in hair follicles, which causes oxidative stress and graying. (Hydrogen peroxide solutions have been used for years as a cheap and easy way to "go blonde.") (8 Tips for Healthy Aging)
In younger people, an enzyme called catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. But lower levels of this enzyme, combined with lower levels of enzymes called MSR A and B that repair hydrogen peroxide damage, cause hair to turn gray as people age.
The researchers, whose findings are published in the experimental-biology publication FASEB Journal, analyzed 2,411 people with vitiligo.
By looking at people with two different kinds of vitiligo -- strictly segmental vitiligo (SSV) and non-segmental vitiligo (NSV) -- they discovered that both kinds resulted from oxidative stress.
And by applying a topical treatment, a substance called PC-KUS, the researchers successfully treated the discolored skin and eyelashes of people with vitiligo.
Though gray hair isn't always a welcome sign of aging, some evidence suggests it can be an indicator of good health.
Researchers in 2012 found that wild boars with significant graying hair "were actually those in prime condition and with the lowest levels of oxidative damage," researcher Ismael Galván of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Spain said in a statement.
"Far from being a sign of age-related decline, hair graying seems to indicate good condition in wild boars," Galván said.
Nonetheless, many people will go to extreme lengths to hide any hint of aging, including gray hair.
"For generations, numerous remedies have been concocted to hide gray hair," Dr. Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of FASEB Journal, said in a statement. "But now, for the first time, an actual treatment that gets to the root of the problem has been developed."
The treatment will be welcome news to people with severe or unsightly cases of vitiligo. "This condition, while technically cosmetic, can have serious socio-emotional effects," Weissmann said. "Developing an effective treatment … has the potential to radically improve many people's lives."
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