Published: Apr 25, 2011 6:18 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 25, 2011 3:19 PM EDT

MIAMI (AP) - Michael Bell was tired of looking tired. He'd had enough of the pesky questions about whether he had slept well.

"I wanted to look as good as I felt," said the retired educator, 53. "My face didn't show how much energy I really had."

So, after months of research, he got a little help for his sagging eyelids from a plastic surgeon. And he looks younger. Even his friends say so.

Forget droopy eyes. Bid farewell to those telltale wrinkles. And say sayonara to turkey neck. A small but growing group of middle-aged men are going under the knife to hold back the relentless march of time. They're also getting Botox injections, soft tissue fillers and chemical peels in pursuit of a youthful look.

Procedures for men grew by 2 percent in 2010, led mostly by baby boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - who are getting more comfortable with the idea that a little cosmetic help can go a long way. It's the first uptick since 2007, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, who say the change also signals that people are growing more comfortable spending money on themselves after the recession.

Between 2007 and 2009, the number of male cosmetic procedures remained steady at 1.1 million. But last year, the number inched up to 1.2 million. And, of all plastic surgeries, the share of men's procedures has grown more significantly - from 8 percent of the total in 2008 to 13 percent in 2010.

The biggest increase has been in minimally invasive procedures - Botox and soft tissue fillers, primarily.

"It's more acceptable," says Ivan Malave, 50, who had his eyelids tucked, his eyebrows raised and then a hair restoration procedure for good measure. "My father would've never ever thought of doing this, but I definitely feel I made the right decision."

Men of all ages are growing more comfortable with the idea of getting help for their looks, from special creams to injections or laser. Popular plastic surgery reality shows and affordable financing have also fueled the interest. Men see guys like themselves - not just celebrities or actors - improving their appearances on these shows and learn they can get the same results without taking too much time from work.

Alfredo Amoedo for instance, had surgery for the annoying bags under his eyes on a Friday and was back at work by midweek.

"If you feel sick, you take a medicine," Amoedo, 50, explains. "If you work out, you take a supplement. This is pretty much the same."

Local doctors say boomers are reaching an age where exercise may no longer be able to fight off gravity. Hence, in 2010, facelifts for men rose 14 percent and liposuction 7 percent nationally, according to that ASPS.

"For the baby boomer generation," says Dr. Jeffrey S. Epstein, a Miami and New York plastic surgeon who specializes in hair restoration and facial plastic surgery, "looking good and looking young has always been very important. Now they want to stay competitive and they want to look good."

About 70 percent of Epstein's patients are men, most of them in their 40s and 50s. In the past three months, he has seen a 20 to 25 percent increase in patients from the same time last year. "There's pent up demand," he adds. "I think there was a lot of job insecurity at one point and people weren't willing to spend the money."

In some cases, it is precisely that job insecurity fueling interest in cosmetic surgery. "It's a tougher job market, so they want to look better and younger," says Seth R. Thaller, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "They want to look less tired and more alert. They don't want the drooping jowls or eyes."

On the other hand, Stephan Baker, a plastic surgeon in Coral Gables, says his patients are successful businessmen who have accomplished a lot and don't feel threatened by younger men. "They're pretty successful people and it's more of an ego thing. They don't have to prove anything. They just want to look good."

Carlos Wolf, another Miami plastic surgeon, says many of his male patients look at cosmetic surgery as "an investment in their future. I often hear, 'I'm between jobs, but I need to look good for interviews.' Or, 'I look older than I feel.'?" He says men are willing to try something they believe will give them an edge in an interview or a deal.

Amoedo of Southwest Miami-Dade negotiates vertical real estate contracts for wireless carriers and looking good is an important part of his business. "When you walk into a building to negotiate, you want to portray a youthful look. You want to look energetic," he says. "But it's also for yourself that you do it. How you look does affect how you feel."

Some men are prompted to visit the plastic surgeon for other reasons. Quite a few find themselves suddenly single and want to date again - usually younger women.

"That's a big motivator," Wolf says. "It gives them a wider age range for dating."

Men's expectations of cosmetic surgery is vastly different from women's, according to local doctors. Men take much longer to make up their mind about a procedure and they tend to do a lot of research. They usually come to consultations alone, though wives or girlfriends sometimes tag along for support.

"It's still considered a female kind of thing," Baker says. "A woman will come in at 40, but a guy will wait longer."

Men also tell surgeons they don't want a drastic change in appearance, just enough to make them look better. "For the most part, they don't want to go from 60 to 20," Thaller says. "They go for the subtle look. They want natural."

While Botox, fillers and other noninvasive procedures have led the way in male cosmetic procedures, South Florida plastic surgeons say they still see plenty of men who prefer a one-time full makeover.

"They don't want to take too much time on it," Baker adds. "They don't want to have to come every few months for something like Botox. They want to get it over with all at once."

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