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Home / Articles / Today / Tech Today /  New iPhone apps allow plastic-surgery hopefuls to 'Heidi' themselves
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Tuesday, September 14,2010

New iPhone apps allow plastic-surgery hopefuls to 'Heidi' themselves

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Want a new nose? Chin reduction? Botox? A South Florida cosmetic surgeon has an app for that.

After the success of his iSurgeon app on Apple's iTunes, Dr. Michael Salzhauer of Bal Harbour Plastic Surgery was approached by the United Kingdom's version of MTV to create a similar program for its website.

Called "Heidi Yourself," the new online tool lets users see what they'd look like if they changed their body or facial features. The name comes from MTV reality TV star Heidi Montag, who admits to having 10 plastic surgery procedures in a single day.

Heidi Yourself went live at the end of August and gets about 200 hits a day. And about half a million have downloaded Salzhauer's free iSurgeon iPhone app since it launched last year, he said.

Salzhauer is among a handful of plastic surgeons using iPhone apps to promote their practice with a do-it-yourself-first photo editing tool. Toronto-based FaceTouchUp.com, which created morphing software for Salzhauer's homepage, is building iPhone apps for plastic surgeons in Toronto and Beverly Hills and is slated to release more from doctors in California and New York in the next two months. In March, Dr. Elizabeth Kinsley of Covington, La., launched the iAugment app, designed to show a woman what it would look like to have larger breasts.

For Salzhauer and others, the interactive apps have become a new form of marketing. Out of the roughly 1,000 operations Salzhauer has done in the past year, about 50 clients mentioned they changed their images on the iPhone app before coming in.

"In this economy, it's not like plastic surgery is on top of everyone's mind," Salzhauer said. Few who visit the MTV UK Heidi Yourself site may travel to see him, he said, but the exposure is worthwhile. And a few clients who downloaded iPhone versions have come from out of town to book his services.

"Cosmetic surgery has been hurt by the recession and it's more of a luxury," said Steve Ullmann, a healthcare management and economics professor at the University of Miami. "As more people can see what they are able to become ... it can generate more business."

Like prescription drugs advertisements and self-diagnosing websites such as WebMD.com, the iPhone apps give patients a sense of power.

"It's knowing what you want to ask the doctor before you even walk in," Ullmann said.

In the case of iSurgeon, that power comes with a light-hearted cosmetic surgery spin.

Like competing apps, iSurgeon requires users to upload a photo, preferably a profile shot of the area to be changed. A finger swipe or mouse click will stretch, shrink and lift parts of an image.

The iPhone app includes a timed game to see how quickly and accurately you can improve another patient's nose, breast, tummy or butt. And with every nip and tuck on the app comes comical sound effects of moans, buzz saws and screams.

"I take my work seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously," Salzhauer said.

While some may use it for a cheap laugh, Salzhauer said he sometimes gets about 50 to 100 images sent to him daily from people who want to show him what they created on the app. A few months ago, about half of those were sent jokingly, but now 75 percent of the e-mailed photos he gets are taking the app seriously.

The technology to morph photos with a virtual makeover has been around for some time on the Web and in professional software like Adobe's Photoshop, which can cost $500. But with the ease of a smartphone application, it only takes seconds to take a photo and begin editing it.

"Photoshop software is kind of complicated and expensive," Salzhauer said. "This is free and instant."

The free iAugment app by Louisiana's Kinsley racked up about 100,000 downloads in the first month and now averages about 50,000 to 60,000 downloads a month.

"Those numbers are a lot greater than what I expected, and I think people think it's a fun thing," Kinsley said. "Plastic surgery can be very intimidating and it can be very intimidating to make that appointment." The app serves as an icebreaker.

Kinsley said she's been surprised at the number of plastic surgeons who have reached out to ask how they can make their own app — or be featured on her app. She charges an advertising fee for inclusion in the app's "Find a Recommended Surgeon" feature.

"If you look at the cost of developing an app versus a YellowPages ad, it's pretty close," Kinsley said. "It's a more 21st century way of marketing."

Hisham Al-Shurafa, founder and CEO of Toronto-based FaceTouchUp.com, said he's been getting requests to make apps for cosmetic surgeons in Florida, California and New York. The most popular feature after photo morphing: being able to see real patient before-and-after photos.

"They say it's nice if a patient or potential patient can just open up their cellphone and show their photos," Al-Shurafa said. "I'm pretty surprised now that we've been getting contacts from various corners of the country, from various doctors asking if we can build them an app. Typically doctors are late adopters when it comes to technology."

The free version of Salzhauer's iSurgeon puts the Bal Harbour Plastic Surgery name and contact information on the finished product photo, and encourages users to share edited photos on Facebook. But the paid version for $1.99 — purchased by about 7,000 — lets users save photos without the practice's logo.

Hiring a programmer to create it cost Salzhauer about $10,000. "It was surprisingly affordable," Salzhauer said, and he's long since made his money back on it.

Although plastic surgery often raises concerns of negative body image messages, Salzhauer said the only complaints he's heard are those who wish the software was more advanced.

The next step: building an application for the larger-screen iPad. But for Salzhauer, it's a side project — not a priority.

"I think everybody is trying out new things to get through this economy," he said.

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(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.

Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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