The advertising slogan is a sly double entendre: Washington's Cultura Medical Spa bills itself as "a place where it is appropriate to treat people based on the colour of their skin".
Founded six years ago by two African-American physicians — cosmetic dermatologist Eliot F. Battle Jr, an expert in laser treatments, and Monte O. Harris, a certified otolaryngologist who specialises in rhinoplasty — Cultura is one of the first centres in the United States to focus on the field called "ethnic plastic surgery".
Two-thirds of the centre's patients are non-white, many of them black women who in increasing numbers are seeking such procedures as nose jobs and laser hair removal, which until recently, were largely the province of well-heeled white women. Many of these patients, doctors say, are also seeking treatments that seek to enhance their racial or ethnic characteristics.
Although white women continue to dominate the ranks of cosmetic medicine, the number of black, Hispanic and Asian patients has increased in the past five years.
Rise of minorities
Although white women continue to dominate the ranks of cosmetic medicine, the number of black, Hispanic and Asian patients has escalated dramatically in the past five years, according to officials at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), Arlington Heights, Illinois, and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Los Alamitos, California.
Experts say the growth reflects increased acceptance of such procedures among such groups, economic clout and larger numbers of minority specialists whom many ethnic patients regard as more attuned to their needs.
In 2002, according to statistics by the ASPS, minorities accounted for 16 per cent of plastic surgery patients. Four years later, they accounted for 23 per cent of patients.
Surgeons say that minority women request similar procedures as whites but there are differences. Surgery to create a crease in the eyelid to give the eye a more open look is popular among Asian-Americans, while breast reduction is popular among African Americans.
Some patients say minority physicians are more sensitive to their aesthetic concerns and skills for treating darker skin.
"I was looking for a doctor with a laser background" who was experienced with African-American skin, said Miriam Rudder, 50, a Cultura patient since 2001, when she underwent laser hair removal on her underarms. "I didn't want to get burned."
Ten years ago, non-white women were warned that they risked permanent scarring if they underwent laser hair removal as Rudder did, dermatologists say.
In those days, Battle said, there were few cosmetic options available to women of colour.
Battle, 50, a graduate of Howard University and its medical school in Washington, he was a laser dermatology fellow at Harvard Medical School and displays an evangelical fervour about ethnic skin care.
First-generation lasers, he recalls, were designed for light skin and dark hair. But the newer lasers that he helped pioneer "can treat the darkest African and Indian skin safely".
Cultura treats about 85 patients six days a week. They include former Miss America Ericka Dunlap, who flies in from Nashville for treatments; and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Some patients have come from as far as Turkey, Iran and Brazil.
Not a taboo
The growing acceptance of cosmetic procedures reflects a change in attitude, particularly in the black community, surgeons say. Until about five years ago, said Julius W. Few, a Chicago plastic surgeon, cosmetic surgery was typically regarded as worse than frivolous in the African-American community — and often associated with the race-effacing look of Michael Jackson. Many patients, he said, flatly tell him they don't want to "look white. Most people want to preserve their original look."
"There are indeed cultural differences," observed Ricardo Rodriguez, chief of plastic surgery at Greater Baltimore Medical Centre. Bahman Teimourian, a clinical professor of plastic surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said it behooves surgeons of all races to be knowledgeable about cultural standards.
A chin that might be considered weak by traditional American standards and a candidate for plastic surgery, Teimourian said, is seen as beautiful among people from the Middle East, where a small chin is regarded as a desirable sign of femininity.
"Half the world is going to be brown-skinned by 2050," said Harris, 40, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Ohio.
"We're not going to close our eyes to all those patients."
Similarly, he said, Cultura has been catering to men, who account for about 10 per cent of its clients. Many have been sent by wives or girlfriends for "beard management" and treatment of ingrown hairs.
Eric Ellerbee, 44, a UPS driver received complimentary injections of Restalyne, a cosmetic filler, to soften the lines that run from the side of his nose to the corner of his mouth. Ellerbee said he is so pleased with the results that he keeps "before" and "after" pictures of himself on his cellphone. "If you can do something that would make you look better — why not?"
Original Source: Sandra G. Boodman, Los Angeles, Time-Washington Post; http://www.inboxrobot.com/news.php?fid=128612562