The Surprising Reasons Politicians are Getting Plastic Surgery

Collages by Maria Jia Ling Pitt

Rumors surrounding House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s looks started to circulate in the news in 2009: Did she or didn’t she have plastic surgery? For politicians in the public eye, this kind of attention is not uncommon. Plastic-surgery rumors have also dogged Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin

Appearances are important, and the 24/7 news cycle has exacerbated our obsession with looks. It’s no surprise then that the political crowd, including members of Congress, TV commentators and lobbyists, undergo procedures in a quest to look younger and fresher. To understand the latest trends, I asked D.C. dermatologists and RealSelf contributors Terrence Keaney and Noelle Sherber to tell me about the most popular non-invasive procedures in the nation’s capitol.

Subtlety reigns. They want to look younger, but not like they had work done.

Because of the scrutiny that comes with being in the public eye, patients in D.C. want very subtle improvements and often deniable results, says Sherber, who’s been practicing in D.C. for three years with her husband, a plastic surgeon. “Since politicians’ success hinges on effective communication, they want to avoid unintentional messaging,” she says.

D.C. is more reserved when it comes to cosmetic treatments than other cities. “In Miami, everyone wants an apple bottom. New York has a different aesthetic than LA. D.C. is a little bit more conservative.” People are trying to look their best, rather than looking like someone else. “They just want to look like they did when they were younger,” Keaney says. “Patients have more realistic expectations, but they want to look good.”

Both Keaney and Sherber said they see a lot of men. While the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that men comprise a mere nine percent of nonsurgical cosmetic procedures nationally, “in my practice I see double that percentage,” Sherber says.

Patients require a certain amount of privacy.

In his five years practicing in D.C., Keaney’s patients have included politicians (“more senators than congressmen,” he says), lobbyists, lawyers and commercial realtors. “In Washington, there are a lot of new commentators who appear on camera or around the political scene. There’s a lot of media activity. My patients are in the public eye,” Sherber says.

To meet her clientele’s needs, Sherber’s office is a one-stop-shop specifically designed for privacy. “We have a secret entrance with security,” she says. There are private cabanas, an in-house makeup artist that helps patients get back to work and ready for appearances and a retail store with beauty products. “We stagger appointments so patients don’t see each other. In this era of social media, there are more privacy concerns.”

They’re worried about appearing tired or stressed.

The three major concerns among male politicians are hair loss, dark circles around the eyes and double chins, Keaney says. “Dark circles make them appear tired and stressed and politicians want to avoid that in order to project a sense of confidence and alertness,” he says. For hair treatments, the goal is a solution that can stop or reverse hair loss with no downtime. Keaney says that women with media visibility are interested in lip augmentation and body contouring.

Prevention is key. “My patients in media are interested in what they can do now to prevent needing things down the road,” Sherber says. Sherber’s patients also want to avoid looking inadvertently tired or angry on-camera. “Facial architecture changes with time and can cause shadowing under the eyes and visible dark circles, which reads as fatigue on high-definition film,” she says. “Such unintended features can be mitigated and harsh ones softened with skillful use of injectable dermal fillers.” Injectable dermal fillers plump the skin, filling in wrinkles and contours.

Popular treatments and procedures

Sherber’s patients ask for laser treatments, like Permea, which address and prevent early signs of aging. Permea improves skin tone, texture and pore size. “I see a lot of people coming in for these sorts of treatments,” she says. “For both women and men, no-downtime, non-ablative, fractionated laser treatments improve skin texture and tone, helping them to look more rested and refreshed, and to require less makeup on camera and in person.”

Many politicians make frequent TV appearances and can’t avoid seeing their double chins, which can be caused by aging, genetics or weight gain. “Kybella injections are very popular in those men and women with submental fullness given the quick downtime and simplicity of the treatment,” Keaney says. Sherber adds, “There are studies that show people in positions of power are more likely to have a strong jawline.”

Then there’s the ever-popular Botox, an injectable that improves the appearance of wrinkles. Sherber uses hyaluronic acid fillers, which address lost volume or elasticity due to normal aging. Hyaluronic acid helps the skin retain moisture. Both the softer Volbella and the more firm Voluma, which Sherber uses, are Juvederm hyaluronic acid fillers. “High-definition film can visually flatten the contours of the face, so men often see me for strengthening of the jawline with Voluma, and for women, I frequently add lift and soft volume through the upper cheeks with Juvederm Ultra Plus XC,” she says.

Keaney and Sherber’s most-requested procedures mirror what people are interested in around the country. Since Trump took office, minimally invasive treatment searches with the highest interest on RealSelf are non-surgical fat reduction, fillers, facial lasers, toxins (such as Botox) and hair restoration.

Timing is everything.

Dermatology and plastic surgery offices in D.C. are busy year-round. But visits increase when Congress recesses. Sherber’s patients often ask to schedule injectable or laser procedures just before they fly back to their home districts to minimize reactions before they’re back on the Senate or House floors. “For laser treatments, appointments early in the week are popular so that any redness will resolve before the Sunday morning talk shows” she adds.

Despite D.C.’s more conservative aesthetics, Keaney says the cosmetics market in the city is expanding, becoming popular even beyond the political crowd — suggesting a normalization of non-invasive procedures. In 2013, a report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons showed that Americans over the age of 55 opted for 3.4 million minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. Why should we expect politicians to be any different?

Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist who has been published in Columbia Journalism Review, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and The Development Set. Follow her @JulissaTrevino.

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