New iPhone apps allow plastic-surgery hopefuls to ‘Heidi’ themselves


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

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, 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, 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

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, 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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