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Bat wings, begone: Arm lift surgery rises in popularity

Arm lifts are becoming increasingly popular especially among women who have lost substantial amount weight.  |  Supplied photo

Arm lifts are becoming increasingly popular, especially among women who have lost a substantial amount of weight. | Supplied photo

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Updated: January 16, 2014 6:23AM

Though it’s tempting to blame Michelle Obama with her supertoned arms, the 4,000 percent growth in the number of brachioplasty surgeries in this country is a sign of our nation’s shrinking success.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year, more than 15,000 women went under the knife to have excess skin — commonly called bat wings — removed from their upper arms. A decade ago, only 300 such surgeries were performed each year.

Though men can certainly qualify for the procedure, Dr. Niki Christopoulos, board certified reconstructive and plastic surgeon for Advocate Hospitals, including Christ in Oak Lawn, said, “We tend to get requests mostly from women who’ve experienced massive weight loss.”

Such dietary success often leaves an unsightly byproduct: flabby, sagging skin. Brachioplasty removes that skin, but it leaves a scar, Christopoulos said.

She said there are three reasons the elective surgery, usually not covered by insurance, is trendy: the rise in obesity and subsequent weight-loss success stories, the increase in the number of bariatric surgeries and an overall social acceptance of cosmetic surgery.

“It’s not such a stigma anymore to have plastic surgery,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to look their best?”

Not to be confused with liposuction, a less-invasive procedure that can help average women who struggle to tone those stubborn upper arm muscles in the pursuit of wearing sleeveless fashions popularized by our first lady, brachioplasty requires a large incision from armpit to elbow, Christopoulos said.

Liposuction candidates tend to have just a little extra fat and decent quality skin that can retract after that fat is removed, she said. But for women who have lost large amounts of fat and now have loose, poor-quality skin, brachioplasty is “truly the only way to get rid of it,” she said.

“I’ve only seen it done in women, and only gotten requests from women because women tend to collect fat in their arms and legs, especially as they age,” Christopoulos said. “Men tend get fatty deposits in the love-handles area.”

When an obese woman loses a large amount of weight, often with the help of bariatric surgery, excess fat may disappear but the stretched skin does not.

“It’s a wonderful surgery, but it’s not for everybody,” Christopoulos said. “It leaves a scar and arm scars tend to widen over time because we are always using our arms.”

But, she added, for people who live in Chicago and other northern cities, those arms tend to be covered most of the year anyway.

The best candidates for the surgery, which lasts two to three hours, are women who are healthy and are at or near a stable weight, Christopoulos said. The cost of the procedure ranges from $4,000 to $7,000, she added.

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