OPRAH Show Critisized for Touting Risky Cosmetic Procedures

The 'Oprah' show drives enormous traffic to spas and doctors' offices when it features a new treatment, but concern over the ramifications is gaining momentum. Critics argue that, in the interest of getting something on the air before it has been shown elsewhere, Winfrey's producers are showing procedures without a discussion of risks and potential complications. 'People see a physician on 'Oprah' touting a new procedure, and they think that if it's coming from Oprah, it must be gospel," said Dr. Roy G. Geronemus, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

Doctors worry that some techniques may be too new for all the complications to have emerged, and that the demand for novel techniques will cause other inexperienced physicians to jump on the bandwagon. 'Cosmetic procedures are presented in a casual, cavalier fashion that gives people a false sense of security about safety,' said Dr. Amy E. Newburger, a dermatologist who is a consultant on the Food and Drug Administration General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel, a committee that issues recommendations on whether new devices should be approved.

Here are a few of the episodes stirring up controversy:


Originally presented on "Oprah is 2003 by dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler, Thermage is a skin-tightening procedure using radio-wave emitting machine to heat and expand collagen beneath the skin's surface. 'The show drove so much interest that our sales reps were selling machines over the phone,' said Stephen J. Fanning, president and chief executive of Thermage Inc.

Over 172 reports from doctors and patients of problems caused by Thermage have been filed, including facial burns and indentations. Dr. Wexler told the NYT that she did not address the treatment's complications on 'Oprah" because 'the number of burns were so few' that she did 'not consider it a risk that was necessary to discuss in detail.'

Nonsurgical Eyelid Lift

Last year Dr. Lisa E. Airan, a dermatologist in New York City, appeared on 'Oprah' in a segment about a new nonsurgical lower eyelid lift where Restylane is injected under the eye. The NYT article pointed out that Winfrey did not mention the more serious complications of such an injection close to the eye, nor what skills a doctor needs to do the treatment.

A number of dermatologists and plastic surgeons raised questions about the procedure's safety. Dr. Sherrell J. Aston, chairman of the plastic surgery department at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, said that a doctor who doesn't have experience operating on eye tissue may not be competent to inject Restylane around the eyes. 'If any injectable went into the large vessels, it could block the orbital artery or vein, cut the blood supply off to a major portion of the eye, and you'd go blind,' he said.

Thread Lift

Dr. Karyn Grossman, a dermatologist in Santa Monica, Calif., and New York City demonstrated the thread-lift technique on 'Oprah.' Since that show was broadcast, doctors have reported complications from thread lifts including scarring, indentations, bunching, dimpling, broken or lapsed threads, and asymmetry, said Dr. V. Leroy Young, a plastic surgeon in St. Louis who is the outgoing chairman of the emerging trends task force of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Thirty of 51 plastic surgeons Dr. Young polled at the society's annual meeting in April said they thought thread lifts created more problems than benefits, he said. The 'Oprah' show reran the original thread lift episode last August.