It's 3 p.m. on a Thursday, and I've just furtively emerged onto Park Avenue, scarf wrapped practically up to my nose. If someone had told me even a year ago that I would be ducking out of the office at the age of 30 to have "work" done, I can promise you I wouldn't have believed them. And yet? Ten minutes ago, I'd voluntarily had roughly 20 injections of acid shot into my chin.
But let's back up. Fundamentally, I'm a believer in hard work—no shortcuts, no quick fixes. As an overweight kid who mercilessly ran, cycled, boxed, boot camped, barre'd, and Megaformed my way into a size 2 adult, I consider it a point of pride. And as anyone who's ever worked to achieve their fitness goals can tell you, there's no contouring technique or pair of Spanx that feels as great as earning your results.
What happens when hard work isn't enough, though? In my case, the one "flaw" I couldn't sweat away was my double chin. It's hereditary; my family is Irish and that stubborn little pooch has held strong at every weight I've ever been. To add further insult, it seems to actively defy the decade-and-change of effort I've put in, making me appear far heavier from the shoulders up than I actually am. (In addition to genetics, docs say that constantly looking down at our phones can also cause unflattering damage.)
So, when I first caught wind that the FDA had approved an injectable called Kybella, specifically designed to eliminate this problem area, my interest was immediately piqued. Here's how it works: The drug is a synthetic form of deoxycholic acid, which is naturally produced by your body to aid in the breakdown of dietary fat. In this case, though, it's injected through the muscle into the submental fat layer beneath your chin. Within minutes, the acid kills the cells through a process known as lysis; in the weeks that follow, your immune system will naturally (and permanently!) dispose of the cellular debris. (Related: These Skin Treatments Fix the "Trouble Spots" Your Workout Can't)
Okay, so the science seemed sound enough, but since I'm the type that takes years to pull the trigger on a new haircut, I wasn't about to pursue any medical procedure without a bit more deliberation—even if it was a non-surgical alternative to liposuction. After scouring the internet (think: "botched Kybella cases," "worst Kybella side effects," "Kybella = cause of death???"), I was relieved to find that there were, in fact, no horror stories that surfaced and that the worst known outcome was a few weeks' worth of a crooked smile in the rare event that a nerve was struck.
Duly convinced, I scheduled my appointment at Skinfluence, the Park Avenue practice of Marina Peredo, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital who not only administers the treatment but was among the earliest physician trainers. If I was really going to do this, I told myself, I was going to do it right.
Upon arrival, I was ushered into a patient room where Dr. Peredo scrutinized the underside of my chin to determine how many treatments I would need. Thanks to my age and otherwise-healthy weight, she surmised that I may be one of the rare cases who get away with one session; most people require a minimum of two. She also confirmed what I knew to be true from my own experience: "Certain people are simply predisposed, and genetic submental fullness can't be resolved by lifestyle or diet alone," promised Dr. Peredo. (And doesn't "genetic submental fullness" sound so much more elegant than "double chin"?!) Feeling vindicated, I sat back and she got to work.
First, a numbing cream was applied below my chin, followed shortly thereafter by an ice pack. By the time Dr. Peredo returned, she could have shaved off my double chin with a deli slicer and I wouldn't have known. After using a pen to mark along my jawline and plot out nerve locations, she applied a grid-like temporary tattoo demarking the injection points. As predicted, I couldn't necessarily feel the needles, but within minutes a slight burning sensation started to build below my skin. And then, almost before I knew it—she was done! I'd put the pain quotient on par with laser hair removal, but in about one-tenth the treatment time.
Within minutes of the final injection, I had exited the office and was headed toward the subway, conspicuously swaddled in a seasonally inappropriate scarf. I wasn't in pain, but the area was red, tender, and had already started to swell quite a bit. Dr. Peredo warned that the swelling would be considerable, visible, and that it might last up to two weeks. Yikes.
By the next morning, the natural arc connecting my chin and neck had formed an amphibious, perfectly diagonal gullet. That afternoon, when I dared to lower my scarf at a curious friend's request, she cheerfully assured me that, "It really doesn't look terrible; now you just know what you'd look like from the neck up if you gained 30 pounds!" Lovely.
Even so, within 48 hours of feeling self-conscious and attempting to conceal the evidence, I'd tired of my own vanity. Yes, I'd been narcissistic enough to undergo this treatment in the first place, but I certainly wasn't going to remain cloistered for up to two weeks. Nor was I willing to shroud myself in outerwear as the spring temperatures climbed into the 80s.
Ironically, as much as I'd hated my double chin over the years, I realized that my frustration had always been momentary; only now, upon finally taking action, did I find myself obsessing outright. Whether this indicated that maybe it had never been that bad to begin with, I don't know, but I decided to simply go about my business and let the swelling run its course—after all, it really just looked like a more extreme version of the very problem I was hopefully on my way to eradicating.
Five weeks after the first treatment, I returned for the second. I had noticed a significant change, but Dr. Peredo suggested a second session to achieve peak results. That said, upon comparing the before-and-after photos at the office, the difference after just the one round was more staggering than I'd even realized. (Related: The Best Skin-Care Treatments for Your Neck)
The procedure the second time around went much the same; however, the swelling did abate much faster this time. Within a few days, I looked entirely presentable, and at three weeks my results had already eclipsed where I'd been at the five-week mark following the first session.
The Bottom Line?
I'll be the first to admit that Kybella is both pricey (it can range between $1,500 and $1,800 per treatment) and will definitely crimp your social calendar for a few weeks. But I personally came away feeling as though my newly defined jawline was well worth it.
Think of it this way: What's a couple of weeks of discomfort compared with a lifetime of self-consciousness? No, it's not enjoyable in the moment, but that could be said of most things we do in the name of beauty. Ultimately, I came to realize that it's like anything else—whether you're at the gym or in a doctor's office, every result has to be earned one way or another.