After years of being haunted by a bad high school photo that highlighted her double chin, Kerri Adams thinks she’s found the solution.
Since November, the 41-year-old woman has spent more than $4,000 on a new fat-dissolving acid injected into her chin called Kybella.
“My profile has always bothered me,” said Adams, of Farmington. “Now that I’m older, I’m just more sensitive to things looking a certain way.”
Used by many to cure “selfie chin,” Kybella is the latest in a lineup of next-generation noninvasive cosmetic procedures. Recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Kybella has exploded in popularity, particularly with millennials and generation X-ers as social media and rising incomes have boosted spending on physical appearance. The drawbacks, however, aren’t pretty: patients’ jaw lines can appear battered and bruised for a short period afterward, and sometimes temporary nerve damage can occur.
“The face of cosmetic surgery is changing,” said Dr. Jess Prischmann, owner of Prischmann Facial Plastic Surgery in Edina. “Twenty-, 30- and 40-year-olds are seeking nonsurgical treatments now to avoid surgery later.”
Kybella treatments increased by 18 percent in 2016, while decades-old liposuction is down 34 percent since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Prischmann and others say Kybella is part of a movement in cosmetic surgery toward cheaper, less invasive therapies targeting smaller areas of the body without going under the knife. Similar treatments, like CoolSculpting to freeze fat cells and high-tech lasers to tighten skin, also have taken off.
Of the $15 billion that Americans spent on surgical and nonsurgical procedures last year, 44 percent went to nonsurgical procedures like Botox and light-based therapies, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Over the past few years, Adams has used filler to plump her lips and Botox to smooth out her wrinkles, but a quick fix for her double chin proved elusive until Kybella.
In the past six months, each of Adams’ four treatments have left her with a swollen “bullfrog” neck for a few weeks, but the fat under her chin has literally melted away.
“I like my profile a hundred times better,” she said. “It’s worth it.”
The disappearing ‘selfie chin’
The selfie is here to stay, but the “selfie chin” is fading fast. Thanks to the ubiquity of social media, people see their faces all over the internet these days.
“Selfie culture is a huge driver for procedures like Kybella,” said Minnetonka plastic surgeon Dr. Adam Lokeh, owner of Twin Cities Plastic Surgery. “When in history have we taken so many photos of ourselves? People recognize the angles they look better in and they’re constantly reminded of the flaws that bother them.”
Despite working out, eating healthy and boasting 13.9 percent body fat, 36-year-old Sarah Stevens said her chin fat is genetic and has plagued her confidence for years.
“I never liked to be in photos,” the Minneapolis woman said. “I made sure my double chin was hidden by taking photos from the top down and sticking my chin out.”
Stevens is not alone in her insecurity. Nearly 67 percent of people are as bothered by double chins as they are by lines and wrinkles around the eyes, according to a survey by the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.
In the past, double chins could be lessened only by surgery, some doctors say. People with genetic chin fat like Stevens are good candidates for Kybella, because once the fat is removed, they shouldn’t be left with loose skin. For others, surgical liposuction or a neck lift may still be the best option.
Stevens received two Kybella treatments free during a training period for the procedure at Zel Skin & Laser Specialists in Edina.
She has seen people promote Kybella on social media — Khloe Kardashian is a Kybella spokesperson — and felt comfortable with the injections knowing it’s a synthetic version of deoxycholic acid, a bile acid that the body uses to break down fat.
When injected into the fatty layers of the body, it does the same thing. Allergan, the maker of Kybella, claims that once the fat cells are removed, they won’t come back.
Stevens received 20 injections of the drug over three separate treatments. She said the procedure left her bruised, and with a “jiggly swollen thing” beneath her chin for a week, but the injections were nearly painless and she feels the results have left her looking thinner.
Now Allergan is testing the fat-dissolving liquid for use on other areas of the body such as “bra bulge” (armpit fat), “bat wings” (underarm fat), back fat and fat above the knees.
“People are being bombarded with the message that you can have something for nothing,” Lokeh said. “As more people do it, the stigma is dropping. You’ll start seeing more and more young people getting treatments like this.”
Men seeking chin solution
Since Kybella first emerged on the market in 2015, it has drawn the attention of men in search of a more defined jaw line.
“A double chin must be an area that men feel very self-conscious about,” Prischmann said. “Kybella brings in a higher proportion of men as compared to other procedures, such as Botox or fillers.”
Between 2000 and 2015, cosmetic minimally invasive procedures for men increased 69 percent, according to a report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Experts say sometimes men’s wives or partners persuade them to get cosmetic treatments. That was the case for 37-year-old Josh Pinto.
“Being a guy, I don’t really think of that stuff, but my wife asked me if I wanted to do it,” the Lakeville man said.
After one treatment of Kybella, Pinto said he can’t tell much of a difference (his wife can) and he’s not sure if he’ll do it again.
Eighty percent of users on RealSelf, an online resource dedicated to reviews and research on cosmetic treatments, say Kybella is “worth it” and the average cost per treatment is $1,375. Doctors say most people require three or more treatments to achieve desired results.
The 60-second procedure left Pinto unimpressed and with some numbness and small bald patches under his chin.
“That’s supposed to last only a little while,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t affect my winter beard.”
Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715