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.
The idea to use lasers to turn brown eyes blue was born in an unlikely place: a dermatologist's office.
Driving home after having some pigment spots removed from his skin by laser, Gregg Homer wondered what would happen if you used a similar laser on the eyes.
An inventor who had a Ph.D in biology, Homer did a little research and quickly realized the potential of the idea: a study in the 1980’s had shown that underneath every brown eye is a blue eye. And that brown layer, Homer discovered, appeared to be superficial enough that it could, theoretically, be removed.
"I went back to my dermatologist and said, I've got a question for you," Homer told Discovery News. "What would happen if you used this on an iris?"
The dermatologist eventually joined his board of investigators, and now, almost 20 years later, the surgery is going through human testing in Costa Rica via Homer's company called Stroma.
The original idea, that the frequency of the green laser is such that it passes straight through the cornea and is only absorbed by dark color, makes it "incredibly safe and incredibly differentiating," Homer said.
The change isn't immediate; the laser is set at a low energy so that the blue eye is revealed over a couple of weeks.
While there have been no adverse effects in the 37 people who have had one eye treated in trials outside of the U.S., Homer said, it's too early to say for certain what long-term effects the procedure could have. Ophthalmologists say the primary health concern, at least theoretically, is glaucoma.
"Maybe you don't see it immediately, but 10 years down the road it could be a public health problem," Dr. Ivan Schwab, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis, told Discovery News.
"I wouldn't completely dismiss the procedure; I'm not going to tell you it won't work, but my biggest concern is long-term problems," he added.
"Other complications could include inflammation of the iris," said Dr. Schwab, who noted that any eye surgery involves risk to the eye or the patient.
"It's a curious idea, and it will be interesting to see if there's a market for it," Schwab said, "but I wouldn't be the one to sign up for it."
So far, none of the patients in the trials have experienced an increase in pressure which precedes glaucoma, Homer said; in fact, most have shown a decrease. Because the surgery removes pigment on the front of the iris, not the back, which is where fragments of pigment can become trapped and lead to a blockage that can cause glaucoma, and because the laser breaks the pigments into extremely fine particles, the risk for glaucoma is low, he said.
Picture the cells like clear empty bags with granules of pigment, Homer said.
"If you hit the pigment cell it heats up the pigment and eventually it bursts the cell, and the pigment granules are released into the fluid in the front chamber of the eye," he said.
Instead of exploding it on impact, the researchers looked for a "sweet spot" where the pigment could be agitated enough that the body would take over and do the rest of the work on its own.
Homer said he won't release the procedure to the public until he deems it safe enough for his 20-year-old, brown-eyed daughter.
"She's been obsessed with it," he said. "And as we treat more people, we're getting closer and closer."
Homer doesn't expect the procedure to be available in the U.S. anytime soon;
Getting the treatment in the U.S. is a ways down the line, and is expected to cost about $5,000. But Homer said he expects the procedure to be available in other countries much more quickly.
For the record, Homer himself has blue eyes, as does country singer Crystal Gayle, who recorded the song "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" in 1977.