Ask Dr. Barber

Every month Dr. Barber answers questions submitted by readers of Guilford Woman and Kernersville Living magazines.  If you’re interested in reading past articles, click here.


Q. I am in my mid-twenties and I was born with a cleft lip. My lip was repaired when I was a baby and it looks fine to me. However my nose does not look normal and I was wondering if there is anything that can be done to improve its appearance? I have never had any surgery on my nose as far as I know, unless something was done when I was a baby.

A. Of course, there is something that can be done to improve the appearance of your nose, but you should be seen by someone who specializes in what we call a “cleft-lip nose”. A cleft lip nose can be very noticeable in some, yet exhibit only minor deformities in others, and the difference is usually related to the severity of the original cleft lip. It is unlikely that any corrective surgery has ever been done to your nose, since it is rare to operate on a baby’s nose while it is still developing. At your age, however, your nose has fully developed and you are a candidate for surgery at any point. The most common appearance of a cleft lip nose is collapse of the nostril on the side that the cleft lip occurred, so that if your cleft lip was on the left side of your upper lip, then the nasal deformity will also be on the left side of the nose. Characteristic findings of a cleft lip nose include asymmetry of the nostril openings, some lateral flaring of the base of the nose on the affected side, and lack of cartilaginous support of the nostril on the cleft side creating a flattened look. The basis for correcting this problem is to add support to the nose by transferring cartilage to the nose to allow it to sit up correctly and more symmetrically. This surgery is commonly performed and can often deliver very beautiful results. The surgeons who take care of this are typically pediatric plastic surgeons or craniofacial plastic surgeons, who specialize in acquired or congenital anomalies of the face. My recommendation is for you to make an appointment at one of the Universities in North Carolina where there is a cleft lip team, and those universities are Duke, UNC or Wake Forest. All of them have excellent teams, so I cannot say one is better than the other. When you make your appointment, let them know that you had a cleft lip as a baby and would like to see one of the plastic surgeons on the cleft team who specializes in rhinoplasties in patients who have had a cleft lip. Good luck.

Q. I am the mother of 4 children and nursed all of them for nearly a year each. I have small breasts but my nipples are too big and honestly just look like they are stretched out. They were not like that before I had children so I think it is related to four years of nursing. Can this be fixed?

A. Yes, yes, yes. You have what is called nipple ptosis. It absolutely was caused by 4 years of nursing. The procedure to correct the problem is relatively simple. The reason nipple ptosis occurs is that the nipple gets stretched by the nursing baby. This creates the problem that the base of the nipple no longer has the tissue strength to support the nipple, so it basically just hangs down. The surgery to correct nipple ptosis is performed under local anesthesia and involves shortening the height of the nipple. This is done by removing some of the redundant skin at the base of the nipple, but no tissue from within the nipple is removed. The surgery takes less than an hour to perform and there is no significant down time other than avoiding vigorous activities such as jogging for a couple of weeks.



Q. I had a face lift about 15 years ago and have been very happy. However, my cheeks are again beginning to sag, especially in the jowl area. I am 68 years old and do not think I want to go through another face lift. Is there an alternative to a full face lift to re-tighten my relaxed cheek skin?

A. Assuming that you are healthy, there may be a couple of options for you. If you have recurrent laxity of the skin in the cheek and jowl area, then probably the best choice for you is to undergo a cheek lift. A cheek lift is not as aggressive as a full face lift and the goals of a cheek lift are more limited. A cheek lift will tighten the jowls, re-establish a nicer jawline, and soften the nasolabial fold. The nasolabial fold is the crease between the corner of the nose and the corner of your mouth. The cheek lift will not significantly improve any skin laxity of the neck, if there is any present. The surgery to tighten the cheek can be performed under local anesthesia and a little Valium by mouth or heavier sedation if you so choose. (Read More)


September 2017

Q. I have heard that there are some technologies that will tighten the skin of the neck and face so that a face lift can be avoided. Is this true and does it work well?

A. The answer to your question is that there is a technology that has been developed to tighten skin. It uses radio frequency waves to create heat which contracts the skin. (Read More)

Q. I have heavy upper eyelids with too much skin hanging down. How can I find out if my insurance will pay for an upper eyelid lift?

A. There is a very simple and painless test that ophthalmologists perform in their office called a visual field test. It will measure whether the redundant upper eyelid skin is obstructing your peripheral vision or not. (Read More)


August 2017

Q. I am contemplating having fat injections in my buttock area. I have seen a surgeon who has scheduled my surgery. However, I recently read some reports about problems with butt lift procedures using fat. Before proceeding, I just want to make sure the procedure is safe. What is your opinion regarding a Brazilian butt lift with fat?

A. Like all elective surgical procedures in plastic surgery, a butt lift is generally considered safe, however there are potential risks that one takes when undergoing this surgery. Brazilian butt lifts have become quite popular, especially in South America but also, to a lesser extent, in the United States. The number of these procedures being performed in this country has been steadily rising over the last ten years. The procedure involves transferring fat from one part of a patient’s body to the buttock area. The fat is first harvested by way of liposuction of, for example, the abdomen, love handles, hip rolls, and thighs. The fat is cleaned and then concentrated by removing fluids. Once the fat has been prepared, it is reinjected in the buttocks. The harvesting of the fat is performed in a very traditional fashion using standard liposuction. This part of the process is considered very safe with limited risks. (Read More)


July 2017

Q. I would like to know when I should replace my breast implants.  I had an augmentation about 10 years ago in another state.  I know that I have saline implants but do not know anything else about them.  When should I plan to replace these implants?

A. This is a good question and one that I face every day in my practice.  Before I answer your question about when to replace a breast implant, let me say that you should make an effort to get as much information as you can about your implants from the doctor that placed them.  Most plastic surgeons will keep breast implant records for many years.  It is always good to know the manufacturer of your implants, the size of the implants, the date of placement of the implants, and whether the implants are under or on top of the muscle.  This information will be of great benefit to the plastic surgeon who may be replacing them in the future.  Also, if the implant is leaking, the manufacturer will often provide new implants at no charge, so knowing the manufacturer is beneficial to you. (Read More)


June 2017

Q: I had a breast augmentation with silicone implants about 2 years ago. My right side is perfect, but my left side is very hard and does not look natural. My surgery was done in another state and I have moved to the Triad area and do not have a plastic surgeon. What can be done to improve the appearance of my “bad side”?

A: What you describe is called a capsular contracture and is caused by aggressive scarring that has formed around your implant. It is not known exactly why contracture forms in a woman’s breast but it is postulated, and evidence is beginning to support, that hardness is caused by a bacterial infection around the implant. The infection is sub-clinical, meaning that it does not cause any symptoms such as fever, swelling, redness, or pain. (Read More)


May 2017

Q: I am 42 years old and have fine lines on my cheeks and around my mouth. I do not have any saggy skin on my face but I do hate the fine wrinkles. I grew up on the coast and abused my skin when I was a teenager. Now it seems that I am paying for this mistake. Is there anything that works to smooth fine lines on the cheeks and around the mouth? 

A:  It is difficult to completely eradicate fine lines on the face, but there are certainly some non-surgical options that will improve the skin. First and foremost, start protecting your skin against further damage with regular application of a good broad spectrum higher SPF (above 35) sunscreen. This one step in your daily skin care regimen is the most important thing that you can do, both to reduce additional premature aging and to protect your skin against skin cancer, which is epidemic in the South. (Read More)


April 2017

Q. Is there any way to get rid of the signs of aging on my upper chest? I have brown spots, red spots, and wrinkles. I confess I do go into the sun a fair amount.

A. First, let me say that it is OK to go into the sun but you must protect yourself with a good sunscreen. It is so common for me to hear how careful patients are protecting their face, but they forget to put sunscreen on their chest. So as a result, some of the worst sun damage I see in my practice is in the décolletage area. (Read More)

Q. I would like to have some filler like Juvederm® injected into my cheek folds that run from my nose to my mouth. These folds have progressively gotten more noticeable as I have aged. I read online that one of the complications of filler to the face is blindness, so I have held off doing the injection. Is this true and if so, is it very common?

A. Online sources of information can sometimes be misleading, but in this case the information that you read is correct. Blindness is a potential, albeit rare, risk with any injectable into the face. It is most associated with hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Juvederm® and Restylane®. (Read More)


March 2017

Q. I recently had the breast cancer gene test and was found to be BRCA2 positive. My mother died of breast cancer at 40 and I am now 36. My mammograms are clear so far but I have been advised to consider removing both of my breasts to protect myself from the disease. What is the best form of reconstruction for double mastectomy if I chose to go this route?

A. I applaud you for having the gene test for breast cancer. You now can take some control over the disease rather than the disease having control of you. As you have probably been informed, there are two genes that are commonly evaluated to see if a patient has an increased risk of breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. BRCA is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer. (Read More)


February 2017

Q. I recently moved to the Triad area after living in the Northeast for most of my life. I am interested in having some plastic surgery on my eyes but I do not know how to find the right plastic surgeon since I am relatively new here. Can you give any advice on making sure I pick a good doctor?

A. There is no absolute science to picking a good doctor in any specialty. Fortunately, in plastic surgery most everything is somewhat elective and you at least have time to investigate your choices and visit several plastic surgeons before making a decision. You did not say what kind of eye surgery you are contemplating, so I am assuming that it is some type of cosmetic surgery of the eyelids. My suggestion is to first ask your primary care doctor to give you a list of 2 or 3 plastic surgeons who he/she would recommend. (Read More)


January 2017

Q. A few years ago I had a facelift. Most everything went well except where the facelift scar went into my hair in the temple area. I now have a bald spot about the size of a nickel, but only on one side. It is not that noticeable except when my hair is wet. Is there anything that can be done to get hair to grow back? My plastic surgeon basically told me that it is not noticeable and not to worry about it.

A. It is not unheard of to have some loss of hair in the temple area after a facelift. The hair loss is generally due to tension caused by the pulling of the skin when doing the lifting of the face. If the tension at the incision is significant enough, it can reduce the circulation of blood to the skin around the incision. Hair follicles are very sensitive to reduced blood flow and can result in the hair bulb, where the hair grows, dying. This leads to a bald spot. (Read More)

Q. The hole in my earlobe where my earring sits has gotten progressively larger over the years. My earring now does not sit nicely against the earlobe but hangs down. Can the hole in the earlobe be made small again?

A. Yes, it can. It requires a small surgical procedure to remove the enlarged hole and suture the skin back together again. The repaired earlobe hole is allowed to heal for about three months, then the lobe can be re-pierced. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia and has no down time after the repair. The key in the future after re-piercing is to not wear heavy earrings that pull on the hole causing it to elongate again.