If you're looking to make ever-so-subtle changes to your complexion, these cosmetic procedures could be just what you're looking for.
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Many folks aren't interested in overhauling their appearance with beauty treatments, and they definitely don't want to be told that they should be. In fact, these days, the general desire is refreshingly the opposite.

"People have leaned into their idiosyncrasies, no longer afraid of the things that make us different and finding great value in them," says Lara Devgan, M.D., a plastic surgeon in New York. "It's self-​acceptance that comes from a place of self-love, not inadequacy," says Caroline Robinson, M.D., a dermatologist in Chicago.

So it's no surprise that with cosmetic procedures, people are re­nouncing cookie-cutter results — the same pillowy lips, narrow nose, sculpted cheeks, and Facetuned complexion — and instead requesting "tweakments": pro treatments that produce natural, almost-imperceptible changes. Reminder: You don't need to get a cosmetic procedure if you're perfectly happy with yourself as is, and there's nothing wrong with embracing what your momma gave you. But if you're looking to make low-key changes, know that injectors are moving away from what's referred to as the golden ratio, a teaching guide to creating optimal proportions in the face. "It's a standardized approach, so everyone starts to look like one another," says Sabrina Fabi, M.D., a dermatologist in San Diego.

Plus, it's based on a narrow, Euro-centric view of beauty that, for many women, and especially women of color, is at odds with nature. "Take lips. The golden ratio says that the proportion of the upper lip to lower lip should be 1 to 1.6. For a Black patient, that doesn't work. Most of us are [naturally] 1 to 1, or sometimes it's skewed toward the upper lip being fuller," says Dr. Robinson. (Related: Are Thread Lifts a Lower-Stakes Facelift Alternative?)

Experts are being more careful to pre­serve "imperfections" too, because overcorrecting what some may perceive as a flaw can backfire, rendering yourself virtually unrecognizable. "Keeping some of the imperfections can make the whole face look more natural," says Dr. Devgan.

Research in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology confirms that we tend to prefer natural results after cosmetic procedures. The study involved showing over 3,000 people photos of patients with fillers. Those whose results were rated most natural were also rated the most attractive. "A millimeter of change can make a profound impact," says Dr. Devgan. And it shows that "if you're trying to be somebody else, you're going to be a poor facsimile. If you want to be an enhanced version of yourself, that's an achievable and beautiful goal."

Here, experts break down the gentle cosmetic procedures to consider — and how to ask for them so you get exactly the results you want.

Book a Consultation

Before anything, consider who performs your treatment because it can mean the difference between loving the results and not recognizing yourself. The vetting starts with a consultation. Ask about your injector's philosophy on cosmetic pro­cedures and aging. "Do they just want to help you achieve a radical before-and-after, or are they considering that you may do more treatments, which will have a combined effect," says Dr. Fabi.

A provider should explain all options and possible outcomes, while you keep an open mind. "It's not like ordering off a restaurant menu. Our role is to guide you toward what's best based on your concerns," says Dr. Robinson. Along with scoping a provider's before-and-afters, make sure they take photos of you at every appointment to monitor your evolution. "After reviewing photos, I've definitely said, 'I cannot do more filler — you won't look like you,'" says Dr. Fabi. (BTW, your doc may recommend focusing on one of these common filler injection sites.)

Consider Low-Key Cosmetic Procedures

If you want some enhancement but nothing too invasive, you have many cosmetic procedure option: lasers, IPL (intense pulsed light), microneedling, radio frequency, and ultrasound treatments are all ideal tweakments that won't change the shape of your face or features but can help tighten, smooth, and even out skin. Let your provider guide you to what's best for your skin type and tone based on the downtime and cost you want to invest.

That said, "for all skin types and tones, one of the most rewarding treatments you can do in the office is a chemical peel," says Dr. Robinson. It's a great multitasker that brightens, speeds cell turnover, and helps improve fine lines and texture.

Before you opt for any cosmetic procedure, however, be sure you're on a good skin-care routine. The prerequisite for Dr. Robinson's patients: a daily regimen of SPF 30 or higher, an antioxidant serum, and a retinoid or retinoid alternative like peptides or bakuchiol. "Your skin will respond better to treatments, and you'll be protecting your investment," she says.

Ask About Toned-Down Filler

Bigger, bolder moves call for some learned, modern techniques from a pro. With neuromodulators like Botox, "the key to natural results is to preserve natural movement," says Dr. Devgan. That may seem counterintuitive when you think of Botox's role as stopping you from making wrinkle-deepening expressions, but it can be done without trapping you in your face. Her micro-droplet approach places smaller doses with more needle pricks to relax but not freeze muscles and improve texture. "Remember, you can always add more. It's more difficult to take away," says Dr. Robinson.

A talented injector may suggest treating areas you wouldn't have considered. For example, Botox can be used to flip the lip so it doesn't disappear into your mouth when you smile or talk. Similarly, fillers don't only plump areas or fill wrinkles. They can restore fat or bone that's been lost, supporting the skin and maintaining the position of features, says Dr. Robinson. (Related: A Complete Guide to Filler Injections)

Take nasolabial folds (the lines that run from the sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth): The best way to minimize them via cosmetic procedure is to inject the cheek area and jaw. "People say, 'I don't care about my cheeks and jaw,'" says Dr. Devgan. "But it's cause and effect; the folds are from sagging in the midface." Besides, placing filler under the folds may smooth skin, but it changes your face shape — these days, that's the opposite of what you may want.

 

Shape Magazine, September 2021 issue