LOS ANGELES Think you've seen it all when it comes to cosmetic surgery?
Look more closely. Eyelash transplant surgery wants to become the new must-have procedure for women -- and the occasional man -- convinced that beauty is not so much in the eye of the beholder as in front of the eye itself.
Using procedures pioneered by the hair loss industry for balding men, surgeons are using "plug and sew" techniques to give women long, sweeping lashes once achieved only by glued on extensions and thick lashings of mascara.
And just like human hair -- for that is the origin -- these lashes just keep on growing.
"Longer, thicker lashes are an ubiquitous sign of beauty. Eyelash transplantation does for the eyes what breast augmentation does for the figure," said Dr Alan Bauman, a leading proponent of eyelash transplants.
"This is a brand new procedure for the general public (and) it is going to explode," Bauman told Reuters during what was billed as the world's first live eyelash surgery workshop for about 40 surgeons from around the world.
Under the procedure, a small incision is made at the back of the scalp to remove 30 or 40 hair follicles which are carefully sewn one by one onto the patient's eyelids. Only light sedation and local anesthetics are used and the cost is around $3,000 an eye.
The technique was first confined to patients who had suffered burns or congenital malformations of the eye. But word spread and about 80 percent are now done for cosmetic reasons.
For many women, eyelash surgery is simply an extra item on the vast nip tuck menu that has lost its old taboos.
More than 10 million cosmetic procedures -- from tummy tucks to botox -- were performed in the United States in 2005, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The figure represents a 38 percent increase over the year 2000.
Erica Lynn, 27, a Florida model with long auburn hair, breast implants and a nose job, had eyelash transplants three years ago because she was fed up with wearing extensions on her sandy-colored lashes.
"When I found out about it, I just had to have it done. Everyone I mention it to wants it. I think eyelashes are awesome. You can never have enough of them," Lynn said.
Bauman, who practices in Florida, does about three or four a month. Dr. Sara Wasserbauer, a Northern California hair restoration surgeon, says she has been inundated by requests.
"I have been getting a ton of eyelash inquiries ... If I had $10 dollars for every consultation, I'd be a rich woman."
The surgery is not for everyone. The transplanted eyelashes grow just like head hair and need to be trimmed regularly and sometimes curled. Very curly head hair makes for eyelashes with too much kink.