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Collagen smooths wrinkles and plumps your kisser

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Barbara Hershey. Melanie Griffith. Goldie Hawn.

What do these ladies have in common? Lips the size of Michelin tires -- whoops, just kidding.

Make that lips that look like -- well, maybe Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Vince Staten said it best when describing Angelina Jolie's kisser: "Two water beds collapsed across her face."

Actually, Jolie's lips are the real thing -- just look at photos of her at age 12 at a movie premiere with her father, movie star Jon Voight. And in Goldie's case, her big lips were a running gag in "The First Wives' Club," where she played an aging, self-absorbed actress who shows up one day with lips the size of Gerber meat sticks.

These other ladies, however, appear to have enlisted help from medical science to plump up their pouts with injections of bovine collagen, a substance that was developed in the 1970s by Stanford University researchers seeking skin replacement materials for burn patients.

Maybe Pittsburgh women are more sensible, or maybe supersized lips just aren't the big thing they once were, but plastic surgeon Dr. Leo McCafferty says that no women leave his office looking like that these days.

But they do leave looking younger, and happier, after a procedure that is relatively painless and requires no recuperation time.

"Occasionally I'll have patients who say they want very large lips, but when we really analyze the situation, they'll realize it's not necessary," he says.

Most of his patients, in fact, simply want to treat those pesky vertical lines across the top of their lips, caused by smoking or heredity, that make them look like the lady in the "American Gothic" painting -- pursed, grim, OLD.

Or, as McCafferty explains, "As we get older, lipstick tends to run up into those vertical lines, which can be a problem."

So, in a quick office procedure lasting between 15 and 30 minutes, McCafferty carefully injects collagen while the patient literally watches the procedure.

"We have our patients hold a mirror, do little bits at a time and get their feedback. We take it very slow. We can also run along the pink and red borders of the lips to make them look a little fuller, as long as it's not overdone."

Two kinds of collagen are used in McCafferty's work: Zyderm, a thinner type, which is injected into fine lines around the mouth (it's also used around the eyes, as well). Then there's Zyplast, a thicker material which is used for deeper smile lines and lip enlargement. The collagen goes right into the skin where collagen normally resides, and the treatment lasts for about six months.

While the collagen is purified, about 1 percent of the population is still allergic to it, McCafferty says. A skin test must be done 30 days before the procedure.

The cost ranges from $200 to $500, depending on the type and amount of collagen used. Zyderm treatments for fine lines generally cost between $200 and $250; Zyplast between $400 and $500.

A topical anesthetic is applied, and a local anesthetic is also mixed into the collagen to ease discomfort, but generally speaking, the patient can leave the office and resume normal activities immediately. Occasionally there's a bit of bruising that can be easily covered with makeup.

"This has one of the highest satisfaction rates," he said, "mainly because it's a procedure that can be controlled easily by the patient."

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