The beauty of cosmetic surgery is that, with a few snips here and there, just about anyone can get an instant boost in self-esteem. But it's also the kind of knife that cuts both ways, leaving many to wonder whether such procedures also serve to perpetuate one beauty standard over another. You can argue that, for instance, liposuction and facelifts speaks to an somewhat unhealthy over-fixation on thinness and looking youthful. Now a potential breakthrough may add a new wrinkle to these sort of debates.
In a TV interview, Gregg Homer of Stroma Medical, claims to have developed a surgical technique that turns brown-colored eyes into baby blues. Or, more accurately, the laser-powered procedure clears away the dense layer of brown pigments to reveal the blue hue hidden underneath. He says it only takes 20 seconds to complete and, in a matter of weeks, patients can have an entirely different set of eyes. The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that the procedure is irreversible so anyone who undergoes it should be prepared for a lifelong change (Basically it's not like making the decision to dye your hair a different color).
It sounded so simple that even I felt a bit skeptical, until I looked into how the technology works. The approach is definitely solid since brown eyes are the result of high concentrations of melanin in the stroma region surrounding the iris and so, in the absence of this, eyes will appear blue. According to Homer, the conversion of brown to blue is initiated by zapping the concentrated melanin with a special laser tuned to specific frequency. This essentially destroys the brown pigments and allows the body to shed them naturally. And after a two to three weeks, Voilà! Blue eyes.
The current estimate to have such an operation done is about $5,000 for each eye, though the technology won't be fully ready for prime time for at least three years. In the meantime, Homer is confident that the procedure will prove to be safe with minimal side effects. However, at east one expert has expressed that safety might be a concern.
In an interview with CBS News, Elmer Tu of the American College of Ophthalmology brings up some of the potential complications:
The idea of using laser light to change eye color makes sense, Dr. Elmer Tu, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a spokesman for the American College of Ophthalmology, told CBS News. "Theoretically, it's possible if you go in and laser the eye to release the pigment that causes brown eyes," he said.
But Dr. Tu said safety could be an issue. The released pigment "has to go somewhere," he said, adding that a potentially blinding condition called pigmentary glaucoma is known to be associated with the chronic seepage of melanin into the fluid within the eye.
There's also another issue that critics might also consider just as troubling. In the interview, Homer mentioned that thousands of people have already emailed him to express their interest in having the procedure. And, he says, there's a reason why.
"The eyes are the window to the soul," Homer tells KTLA. "A blue eye is not opaque. You can see deeply into it and a brown eye is very opaque. I think there is something very meaningful about this idea of having open windows to the soul."
I don't know how many people would quite agree with that. Do you?
Correction: This post mistakenly referred to Gregg Homer as a medical doctor. He is a lawyer and not a physician. The article has been updated with the correct information.