Red Magazine


Red Magazine    October 2011

Red Magazine



‘An end to eye bags?’


Beauty Editor Caroline Brien

describes her experience of

having eyelid surgery.

An End To Eye Bags?

Realising that her under-eye puffiness was genetic, rather than late-night-induced, Caroline Brien turned to a surgical solution.

Confession of a beauty writer number one: at 36, I am no stranger to Botox. Not so much that it turns my forehead to stone but, instead, used subtly as a line fighter. No biggie.

Confession of a beauty writer number two: it was the night before a procedure to flatten the persistent puffy bags under my eyes that it sunk in I was going to have proper cosmetic surgery. And I was suddenly petrified. BIG biggie.

Absurd as it sounds, until that point, I’d been so excited about my new post-eight-hours’-sleep eyes that I’d ignored the reality of the operation itself. But, in my hospital gown, having my pre-surgery check in a London clinic, the anticipation of the results was cancelled out by the thought that someone was about to take a scalpel to my eyes. How sedated would I be? How much pain would I be in afterwards? And just what would I look like the next day?

That’s not to say I had arrived at my decision to have surgery on a whim. As I entered my thirties, I began to notice that after a late night and one glass of vino too many, there was no escaping the tell-tale puffiness under my eyes the next morning. Creams and cover up disguised a little, but not completely.

One weekend, visiting my parents, I took a close look at my father, and realised he, too, had perpetual under-eye puffiness. That’s when I started to suspect that mine was more a genetic, that a lifestyle, problem. By 36, it was clear that the bags under my eyes simply weren’t going to shift. No amount of sleep or de-puffing eye cream had any effect. The bags had become fully formed luggage.

Knowing that the situation would only get worse, I considered my treatment options. I began researching lower blepharoplasty - cosmetic surgery to tighten the under-eyes and remove bags. I learnt that, with age, fat starts to move around the eye, forming bags and ruining the smooth under-eye contours of youth. Surgery - done well - is supposed to restore the area to its former youthful flatness. However, as your face changes continually, so your eye bags can be back in full force 10 years later.

I spoke to fellow beauty editors about having surgery, including one veteran who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. I decided to go ahead; I just needed to find a surgeon I could trust.

A chance conversation with a friend led me to a consultation with Dr Jesper Sorensen, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. Honorary consultant plastic surgeon at University College London Hospitals, he specialises in microsurgery, delicate work under a highly powered microscope.

The original method, Dr Sorensen explained, that’s still in use after 50 years, is to make an incision below the lower lash line and remove the fat. However, he uses an updated technique called transconjunctival blepharoplasty, where he works from the inside of the lower lashes. It’s not so much nip and tuck, as slice and suck. ‘The lower eyelid has three layers,’ he said. ‘You have skin, muscle, then fat. Making the incision inside the lash line means the muscle stays strong and intact, which is vital, as it plays the biggest part in the prevention of sagging. Also, as there are no scars or stitches, the recovery time is minimised.’

Before and after photos


Transconjunctival blepharoplasty of the upper and lower eyelids. The upper eyelid crease has been re-defined and the lower lid fat removed, improving contours and eyelid shape.

A few weeks later, I was wheeled into an operating theatre to be put under. Some opt for local anaesthetic, but they are braver women than me. Having people buzzing around my head brandishing sharp objects is not the way I want to spend an hour awake.


I was surprisingly lucid when I came around an hour later to tea, sandwiches and a heated blanket. Buoyed by no feelings of pain or swelling, I took a first tentative look in the mirror and found the bruising wasn’t as bad as I’d envisaged. However, I did look like I was wearing red contact lenses.


Dr Sorensen came to check on me and explained that the blood from the incision travels up into the corneas and can take some time to dissipate. ‘After two days you’ll hate me,’ he said laughing. ‘ After two weeks, you’ll love me.’

The next day, I woke up at home feeling perky, but quickly realised that the hard part was far from over. The list of post-op requirements is extensive: antibiotic eyedrops every two hours, plus cold compresses and tablets to reduce the swelling.


I wasn’t supposed to read, watch television or use a computer for two days, as it stops the eyes blinking, which keeps them moist. There’s also no bending over for a week, as it causes more swelling which, being easy to forget, made collecting the post and emptying the bin a minefield.


By 5pm, the last 30 hours had taken their toll, I had black eyes worthy of a boxing match (I lost), felt in pain and generally unwell. On day two of my seclusion, I took a more pampering approach to recovery. I lit Diptyque candles, took a long soak, then surrounded myself with cookbooks and, unable to go to the supermarket, complied a shopping list. Then, out of total inertia, I decided to ignore the no-screen rule and cracked open my unwatched box set of Six Feet Under.


The aftermath of the surgery needs to be meticulously planned. You need at least a week off work. Not being in any pain, it was easy to forget my appearance. Putting out the rubbish minus sunglasses one day, a neighbour ran over to ask if I was okay. Even when I explained, he didn’t look entirely convinced that something more sinister hadn’t befallen me.



“I look at least five years younger, my lashes longer and eyes more feline”



Five days later at my follow-up with Dr Sorensen, I was delighted to hear the incisions had completely healed and I could wear make-up again. I could also see a new flatness now the swelling was subsiding. The bruising could be hidden with concealer. Seeing the results for the first time, one friend said, ‘Wow, you look younger and really fresh-faced.’ In fact, quite a few of my female friends admitted they’d like the procedure done, too; men, however, looked at me as if I was mad.


It can take up to three months to see the final results, but my under-eyes were perfectly flat after a month. Now, because the bags aren’t there, the emphasis has been taken away from the darker skin under my eyes. Strangely, my eyelashes look longer and my eyes more feline, too. And I look at least five years younger. Was it worth it? Yes. And I’d definitely do it again. After all, the reality is that in 10 year’s time, I may need to.

Who the operation might suit..

'If your eye bags are the inherited kind, not purely age-related, you are aged 25-40 and your skin still have good elasticity, this may be the only procedure required,' says Dr Jesper Sorensen, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. 'For those over 40 with eye bags and lose, wrinkled skin, the procedure is usually combined with microsurgical skin tightening to move the sagging skin and adding a thin layer of fat to restore smooth skin contours.'


.. and who it won't

If your eye bags aren't pronounced, or are just due to age-related sagging. If the dark circles under your eyes are hollow, rather than puffy, you may be better of with a procedure called microfat grafting to plump up the area. Dr Sorensen does advise that patients who use Botox should stop three to four months before, so the surgeon is able to get a true picture of the eye area.


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