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Saving Face Takes on New Meaning

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This column explores the changes in financial, employment and leisure issues facing baby boomers, a generation that's become an economic powerhouse.

NEW YORK -- M.J. Wyatt looked at herself in the mirror one day three years ago and didn't like what she saw. She looked tired and old. There were lines around her eyes.

The New York public relations executive started doing something about it, going to a dermatologist who injected the lines on her face with Botox, a drug that paralyzes muscles to temporarily prevent the skin from wrinkling. Wyatt, 50, repeats the procedure every 10 weeks, paying about $1,000 each time.

Many baby boomers, those 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, like Wyatt, are spending a lot of money on their skin.

Their rationale: They don't feel older, so why should their skin betray their age? "Your skin at 50 does not look like it did at 20, but there are a lot of things you can do," Wyatt said.

Boomers' treatments of choice are nonsurgical procedures that involve lasers and various injections. These procedures, a $2.2 billion-a-year industry, are vastly more popular than plastic surgery.

In 2002, nearly 5 million people underwent nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, while 1.6 million had surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And of those 5 million, nearly half, or 2.3 million, were ages 35 to 50.

The most popular cosmetic skin treatment is Botox, with more than 600,000 boomers getting injections last year, according to the plastic surgeons' group.

Another nonsurgical treatment is laser resurfacing, in which some lasers stimulate collagen beneath the skin to reduce wrinkles and others work to eliminate brown or red spots that come with age.

There are also chemical peels, in which chemicals are applied to the face to make it appear younger, and microdermabrasion, a technique in which crystals are gently "sandblasted" against the face.

In addition to her Botox regimen, Wyatt, the public relations executive, said she also recently paid $1,000 for laser treatments.

Dermatologists attribute boomers' interest in the procedures to a large portion of disposable income and a huge desire to look as young as they feel. And, they say the reason that the non-surgical treatments are so popular is they are less expensive than a facelift and require less, if any, recuperation.

Boomers "want their skin to be refreshed. They don't necessarily say, 'I want a facelift,'" said Brad Katchen, a New York dermatologist. "They want their skin to look good for their age. They want to look healthy and vibrant, which translates to productive in their work and vital."

Katchen said the prices of cosmetic procedures are attractive when compared with plastic surgery, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Some boomers are looking for the nonsurgical treatments to stave off the need for surgery.

"I hope not to ever have to go under the knife," said Gary Keske, 44, of New York. "I am in the hair business. I am a hair colorist and I have seen a lot of (clients with) plastic surgery and I don't particularly care for the look of it."

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