Dr. Gregory LaTrenta is an internationally acclaimed surgeon specializing in plastic and reconstructive surgery. He’s the author of two best-selling text books, “The Atlas of Aesthetic Face and Neck Surgery,” and “Aesthetic Neck Surgery, 2nd Edition,” both of which I saw while photographing him in his office. These volumes are impressive, as is Dr. LaTrenta, who is not only incredibly knowledgeable about his field—he’s been at it for nearly three decades—but calm, kind and welcoming. He immediately put me at ease, so it was easy to understand why he has such loyal, devoted patients. For more about Dr. LaTrenta and the secrets of surgery and skin, read on!
How would you classify yourself in the professional realm?
I’m a board-certified plastic reconstructive surgeon. I actually double-boarded in plastic and general reconstructive plastic surgery.
How do those two certifications help what you do?
It’s helpful in that I’m a real surgeon. I’ve saved lives, and I can pretty much handle just about everything. I’ve been in practice since 1987. So it’s going on 30 years.
So you have lots of on the table experience, if you will.
Correct. And there’s no substitute. Surgery is all about experience, and I’ve had an uninterrupted life of surgery, meaning I’ve never given up my practice, never worked full-time in academia other than my training and first couple of years of practice. I’ve never had a desk job, I’ve always operated for a living. I love it—I still love it. I’m very fortunate.
What remains so compelling to you after 30 years?
People. There’s no question about it. And the problems that you face, taking care of people. It’s interesting. Everybody does things for different reasons, and it’s fascinating to try to spend time with people and make them happy. Because it all comes down to happiness. In my field, if you make people happy you grow tremendously. One patient begets two patients begets four patients begets eight patients…it keeps going on. It’s logarithmic.
What was a case where you made someone extremely happy?
I just got an email from somebody from 20 years ago about how I altered the course of their life. Recently, I had another patient that wrote, unprompted, a beautiful letter about me on Yelp, just saying how happy I made her, that I was really artistic about it. She had a really difficult problem, and my work satisfied her to no end. When you change people’s appearance or improve their appearance, it has a huge impact on their lives. It’s a huge self-esteem boost.
What are the most difficult things you’ve had to face in dealing with patients?
It’s difficult to tell people no, and sometimes when you’re sitting there and you’re looking at someone who has come in for a consultation about improving something, and you’re having difficulty seeing what they’re saying, that’s when you have to tell them no. You’re questioning their credibility, their validity about being there. That’s difficult, and you have to approach that sometimes from 180 degrees. It’s very hard to tell people no. Nobody likes to be criticized. That’s the other thing. When people come in for improvement, you have to dance around the idea that they’re somehow deformed or not youthful anymore. You have to focus on just improving them.
And appearance is a difficult issue.
A lot of times people will come in for improvements at very touchy times in their lives. You have spend time understanding motivation, too, because that’s going to impact your results. You’ve got to get a sense of whether they’re grounded enough, if they have the social structure at home to support their recovery.
So what’s your process?
Some of that’s preempted because my patients are vetted. I’m referral only. I’ve never advertised. The vast majority of my clients are referred by others I’ve cared for and made happy. I’m fortunate.
What’s your age range?
Nowadays 70 tends to be the new 60. If someone is physiologically in good health, you can go up to 80. One of my happiest clients was 80 when she came in for a face lift. She was so happy with the result she gave me a handmade 19th century snifter. It was made in glass and hammered out in metal that was cut by hand to look like the four major tournaments that Bobby Jones had won. He had been a golfer at the end of the 19th century. She knew I was a golfer. Her father had won the snifter at Ridgeway Country Club. She gave me a family heirloom because she was so happy. You can’t just say no, and have a black and white age limit. So as long as you’re physiologically healthy, and your general physician says it’s okay, it’s fine.
What about the younger end of the spectrum? What’s youngest age you’d be willing to work with, and what kind of requests are being made by people in that age range?
Anybody younger than 18 has to have parental consent. The classical profile is either going to be an acne patient that needs care related to skin. Sometimes we’ll have a nasal patient who is graduating from high school and wants to have their nose smaller or modified in terms of appearance before they go off to college. They might be 16 or 17 and their nose may have grown too large for their face, and they’re feeling really self-conscious about their appearance. Sometimes a young woman will have grown breasts that are way too large for her frame. Most women achieve full size by 15. At 16, you can generally say it is acceptable to do if you have parental consent, if the patient’s well-grounded and has real physical reasons for doing it. Those are your main patients where you’d say it’s acceptable to do surgeries prior to 18. Some people will come in for breast augmentation or liposuction, and those are inappropriate prior to emancipation.
When are those surgeries appropriate to do?
I would think the appropriate age would be when you can drink and make decisions for yourself. So 21.
When I called to schedule my meeting with you, one of the options presented to me was to visit you in Connecticut. I’d like to hear more about the work you do there.
Twelve years ago, I started to see patients in Connecticut, because I live there. I found that I really enjoyed seeing patients a day a week there, and I saw that there was a real need to bring New York Presbyterian-based, Park Avenue-based plastic surgery out to where I live. There’s a huge market for it. I bought a building this past year, and then in January we opened a medical-grade skincare business called Peau. Three aestheticians I’ve worked with for 12 years came with me. One of them has been doing skincare for 20 years, and one has been doing it for 12 years. Two of them are laser-certified. It’s a medical-grade skin care facility, but there’s no surgery. We sell products there. There’s LED light there.
What are three simple things you can do to maintain skin or to preserve the effects of a procedure you’ve just had?
- Sunscreen. You should wear it every day. The higher the better as far as SPF goes. It’s the number one way to maintain skin quality, bar none.
- Lasers. They’re really effective. They can penetrate four or five millimeters without cutting, and with minor inconvenience and minor discomfort.
- Don’t ever discount the benefits of Botox and fillers. The best bang for your buck is Botox probably. It’s FDA approved for the lines around your eyes, forehead, frown, but you can use it for other things. Sweating. The other one is the fillers. They’ve gotten so sophisticated and specialized that you can pretty much annihilate anything from a very, very minor wrinkle in your upper lip to very deep lines around your mouth—you know, smile lines. There are lots of things. The future is very bright.