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Racial morphing: A conundrum in cosmetic dermatology



– In the opinion of Nazanin A. Saedi, MD, social media-induced dissatisfaction with appearance is getting out of hand in the field of cosmetic dermatology, with the emergence of apps to filter and edit images to the patient’s liking.

This, coupled with the volume of celebrity images viewable on cable television and every social media platform, has led to racial morphing, a trend in which aesthetically modified faces have trended toward a similar look.

“Overexposure of celebrity images and altered faces on social media have led to a trend of overarching brows, sculpted noses, enlarged cheeks, and sharply defined jawlines,” Dr. Saedi, cochair of the laser and aesthetics surgery center at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., said at the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar provided by MedscapeLIVE! “These trends have made people of different ethnicities morph into a similar appearance.”

Dr. Nazanin A. Saedi, Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Doug Brunk/MDedge News

Dr. Nazanin A. Saedi

At the meeting, she showed early career images of celebrities from different ethnic backgrounds, “and they all have unique features that make them look great,” said Dr. Saedi, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia. She then showed images of the same celebrities after they had undergone cosmetic procedures, “and they look so much more similar,” with overarched brows, sculpted noses, enlarged cheeks, and sharply defined jawlines. “Whereas they were all beautiful before individually, now they look very similar,” she said. “This is what we see on social media.”

Referring to the Kardashians as an example of celebrities who have had a lot of aesthetic treatments, look different than they did years ago, and are seen “more and more,” she added, “it’s this repeated overexposure to people on social media, to celebrities, that’s created this different trend of attractiveness.”

This trend also affects patients seeking cosmetic treatments, she noted. Individuals can use an app to alter their appearance, “changing the way they look to create the best version of themselves, they might say, or a filtered version of themselves,” said Dr. Saedi, one of the authors of a commentary on patient perception of beauty on social media published several years ago.

“I tell people, ‘Don’t use filters in your photos. Embrace your beauty.’ I have patients coming in who want to look like the social media photos they’ve curated, maybe larger lips or more definition in their jawline. What they don’t understand is that it takes a long time for that to happen. It’s a process.” In other cases, their desired outcome is not possible due to limits of their individual facial anatomy.

In a study published almost 20 years ago in the journal Perception, Irish researchers manipulated the familiarity of typical and distinctive faces to measure the effect on attractiveness. They found that episodic familiarity affects attractiveness ratings independently of general or structural familiarity.

“So, the more you saw a face, the more familiar that face was to you,” said Dr. Saedi, who was not involved with the study. “Over time, you felt that to be more attractive. I think that’s a lot of what’s going on in the trends that we’re seeing – both in real life and on social media. I do think we need to be more mindful of maintaining features that make an individual unique, while also maintaining their ethnic beauty.”

In an interview at the meeting, Jacqueline D. Watchmaker, MD, a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist who practices in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that she identifies with the notion of racial morphing in her own clinical experience. “Patients come in and specifically ask for chiseled jawlines, high cheekbones, and bigger lips,” Dr. Watchmaker said. “It’s a tricky situation when they ask for [a treatment] you don’t think they need. I prefer a more staged approach to maintain their individuality while giving them a little bit of the aesthetic benefit that they’re looking for.”

Dr. Saedi disclosed ties with AbbVie, Aerolase, Allergan, Alma, Cartessa, Cynosure, Galderma Laboratories, LP, Grand Cosmetics, Revelle Aesthetics, and Revision Skincare. Dr. Watchmaker reported having no financial disclosures.

Medscape and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.

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