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Nip, Tuck, and Scrub in the Name of Beauty

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Mar 03, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Feeling like an ugly duckling that needs a bit of help to blossom? Discover your inner and outer swan at the American Aesthetics Institute, a one-stop beauty shop that may be a bellwether for America's increasingly pampered population. Service range from treats such as soothing massages, a helping hand from a so-called aesthetics concierge and decadent limousine rides.

At its flagship West Palm Beach, Fla. facility, clients can get made over from teeth to toes and beyond -- everything from a manicure to a facelift to makeup advice.

Such a comprehensive, one-stop approach isn't surprising. For more and more people, pampering themselves doesn't just mean a new outfit and hairdo, but also regular visits to the spa and even an occasional nip and tuck by a plastic surgeon. These days, there are even spas for kids.

About 6.9 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2002, more than double the number performed in 1997, according to the latest available statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Since 1997, the number of cosmetic surgical procedures such as breast augmentation and tummy tucks performed in the United Stes. has increased 67 percent, according to the ASAPS. And spa revenues went from 5 billion dollars in 1999 to 10.7 billion in 2001 dollars to 14.5 billion dollars in 2002, according to a survey by the International Spa Association

And with free time a precious commodity, single-stop beauty shops may be the wave of the future.

"We are the first enterprise structured to have a single eye to evaluate the client," said AAI founder and chairman Rich Rakowski.

A disappointing experience with cosmetic surgery ultimately led Rakowski to found the institute. Rakowski said he and his business partners built AAI around what he saw as unmet needs in the marketplace.

"In focus groups, people kept asking, 'Will somebody please create a model where five-star hospitality meets medical excellence?'"

So, every client gets their own aesthetics concierge who helps them with the details of their makeover. During the consultation, the client uses an "aesthetic flow chart" to indicate what they might like to change about themselves, rather than the concierge advising the client on what procedures they should get. And, before something major like breast implants or liposuction, the institute dispatches a team to ready the client, and even the client's house, for the big day and aftermath of healing and follow-up care. Staff members help clients fill out their forms, rearrange their kitchens so everything is at arm's reach, and administer a pre-surgery massage the night before. Patients travel to and from surgery in a limousine, accompanied by their concierge. And if necessary, the concierge can stay overnight, or a nurse can stay with the recovering client for a few days.

"Our mission is to help people get comfortable on the inside," Rakowski said.

The public's expectations seem to be rising as demand grows. This year, Mobil Travel Guide launched its America's Best Resort and Hotel Spa Guide. Shane O'Flaherty, vice president of Mobil Travel Guide, said that the number of spas has increased from a few hundred a few years ago to over 1,000, the Palm Beach Daily News reported Feb. 15.

Rakowski also noted that cosmetic medical practitioners didn't seem to be able to track or duplicate results very effectively. As the former president of a large health care company, "I'm used to organizing around outcomes," he said.

******To help the institute measure emotional differences, clients fill out a questionnaire which shows how they perceive themselves before and after their makeovers. ****High-tech tools help clients visualize the end result of their procedures, as well as help practitioners perform the procedures. Some of the tools include photo-imaging software that shows clients how their faces compare to the 'golden ratio,' and precisely notes and records the location of Botox injections. Clients can also have their skin analyzed for sun, bacteria deposits and other conditions and see the results highlighted with specialized photography.***** Smile-imaging software lets people see what they would look like with porcelain dental veneers.

Rakowski said he's researching how to get more men to feel comfortable about getting makeovers, and is also interested in women's care after cancer and chemotherapy. "Women who are in remission tend to have a very increased interest in makeup and hair care," he said, and noted the connection between "how they look and how they feel."

"Jenny" was one such client. After multiple procedures to remove benign tumors, "Putting on a swimsuit was not a pleasant thing," she said. "I had one breast and maybe part of another." She decided to get breast implants, but she didn't stop there. She also chose to have liposuction to remove stubborn fat deposits, dental veneers to repair damage from teeth-clenching, microdermabrasion for her skin, and a new hair style to boot.

"My confidence has definitely improved," she said.

But although demand for cosmetic procedures is thriving, the industry is also rife with problems, like Botox parties gone wrong and patients dying after improperly performed liposuction. So in November doctors at Johns Hopkins University agreed to be a consultant for AAI, even though it does not provide physicians to the institute.

Johns Hopkins' role is to help make sure the institute's medical care isn't compromised by the fact that the facility provides spa, salon and cosmetic surgery services.

"This is obviously an area that is growing, and as happens in a lot of boom industries is a lot of people come to the marketplace and are not necessarily reliable or credible or clinically recognized and so forth. So Hopkins has seen this as an opportunity to bring in clinical quality," Steve Libowitz, spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine said.

One anticipated benefit of the relationship will be the opportunity to study a large demographic of clients, since the company plans to establish several centers nationwide, Libowitz said.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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