Health Experts Disturbed by Dangerous Trends

Cat-eye contact lenses, facial tattoos, toe-shortening surgery: These “trends” may sound humorous to the layperson, but health and social experts aren’t laughing.

“Vanity” contact lenses resembling cat and reptile eyes are available on the Internet without a prescription. Mike Tyson isn't the only person wild enough to cover his face with tattoos. And at least one New York City podiatrist is helping patients squeeze into pointy shoes by shortening their toes.

In addition to health concerns, experts say people who go to such lengths to be noticed may suffer from undiagnosed psychological issues.

"People who will go to these extremes to fit in or get attention, even to the point of mutilating their own bodies, there's something lacking there," said Oregon psychologist Marilyn Sorensen. "It's one thing when it's a clothing style or fad — that's cute — but when it's hurting or changing your body, that's a self-esteem problem."

In some cases, trend-followers might not be aware they're jeopardizing their health. Dr. Jonathan Primack of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York said that's a likely scenario with dare-to-be-different contacts.

"Kids think they’re cool. They're attracted to the stand-out effect. But they need to be aware that contact lenses should only be used under a doctor’s care,” said Primack, a cornea (search) specialist.

Some Web sites like sell "fire" and "wolf" lenses only to customers with a doctor's prescription. But other sites and some stores sell the lenses without requesting a prescription.

“I had a patient who bought colored contact lenses over the counter, slept with them in his eyes overnight and developed a sight-threatening infection on the surface of his cornea,” said Primack.

Appealing to a totally different crowd, toe-shortening procedures — another potentially dangerous trend — are being sought among some fashion-conscious women.

“I had a patient yesterday who had a second toe that was too long. She wanted to wear stylish shoes, so she got the shortening procedure," podiatrist Dr. Suzanne Levine told the New York Post. Levine also said she practices what she preaches — she has had the surgery herself.

Pointy-toed "Sex and the City"-like shoes have been popular for several seasons, but most medical professionals blanch at the fashion-driven procedure.

“Young people in their 30s who get the procedure might in their 60s have significant problems," said Dr. Leroy Young, chairman of the emerging trends committee at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“You have to worry that people like that who come in with a major concern over a minor defect might have body dysmorphic disorder (search),” he added, referring to the disorder in which normal-looking people are preoccupied with an imagined defect in appearance. "And what if open-ended shoes come back in style?”

In fact, Young, who is based in St. Louis, recently sent home a patient who thought her fourth toe was too short. He convinced her surgery was unnecessary, but said if she'd persisted, he would have recommended she see a mental health professional.

A third trend worrying doctors and social service works is facial tattoos. Spotted on teens, gang members and boxer Mike Tyson, the tattoos can preclude people from finding work, and in some cases may be hazardous to their health.

Pizza Schmizza (search) chain founder Andre Jehan, who was recently in the news for allowing homeless people to carry signs for his store in exchange for food, said one youth he “employed” had a face full of ink.

“McDonald’s wouldn’t even hire him,” he said.

There's also a risk that facial tattoos will harm veins that go straight to the brain, said Dallas-based dermatologist Dr. Forrest C. Brown. But Brown added that the social ramifications are of greater concern.

"Do you really want a tattoo in the middle of your face for the rest of your life?" he asked. "And even if you remove it, your skin will never be the same."

Kathy Oliver, executive director of Outside In (search), a Portland, Ore.-based social service agency that serves low-income and homeless people, said she has a waiting list of youths who want their tattoos removed for free through the agency's Project Erase (search). Many of these young people have tattoos on their faces and in other visible areas, and therefore cannot get work.

The saddest part about all of these trends, Sorensen said, is that many of these "fashion" victims are actually doing very little to improve their social situations.

"Those trying to fit in get so caught up being like everyone else that they don’t see how ridiculous it is," she said. "People will realize there is something lacking in them. And those trying to stand out wind up getting the wrong kind of attention."