Exclusive interview with OC’s leading Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Sean Kelishadi
The beauty of cosmetic surgery lies in it’s elusivity — the better it is, the less you know. The best work is the kind that goes virtually undetected. The goal for most patients is to leave their physicians looking not only enhanced, but natural. As plastic surgery becomes more widely accepted, the demand for great surgeons grows. The reality is that although there are several good plastic surgeons, not many can provide the impeccable results most people are looking for.
We were fortunate enough to come across Dr. Sean Kelishadi, and after looking through his portfolio of work, we knew we had to sit down to speak with him. Dr. Kelishadi’s work is truly unique. He focuses on detail and transforms his clients using cutting-edge technology, a creative eye, and a love for his craft. We sat down with him to discuss his journey into medicine, his lifestyle and how he became one of the leading plastic surgeons in Orange County.
Sean, tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Tehran, Iran and I moved to Los Angeles when I was five. I grew up in Encino and went to a small elementary school really close to Michael Jackson’s house. I actually went to school with one of his nephews and Barry White’s daughter was also in my class so it was a total LA scene until 6th grade.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a plastic surgeon? Did you always know you wanted to venture into medicine?
No, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. I liked playing sports when I was in high school but my mom always told me to be a doctor from the time I was four years old and I thought that was a good option. When I got to college I realized I wasn’t going to be a pro athlete and I really liked the sciences so I double majored in chemistry and biology. I was pretty sure I wanted to do something to help people so it was either going to be medicine or be a teacher. Eventually I was pre-med and I was pretty sure I wanted to be some kind of surgeon, probably from all the TV shows I’ve watched because they always save the day and were in the spotlight.
Was there a defining moment that lead you to surgery?
When I was at Vanderbilt I was reading a newspaper about this really cool research project to help people in need of organ transplants which really intrigued me so I actually went to work with a heart surgeon for two years and did research with him and he really inspired me to do surgery. I knew for sure then I was going to be a surgeon.
I chose general surgery for my residency because I wanted to keep my options open. When I went to University of Maryland to get my general surgery residency I got to rotate in trauma, oncology and pediatric surgery and I loved all of them, but with plastic surgery I liked that I could operate on anything from head to toe. We were experts of anatomy and I also liked the fact that there’s very few emergencies in plastic surgery. I like to plan ahead and having to think of what I need to do at two in the morning is not something I envision being a good long career for me. You can do it when you’re twenty or thirty but in your sixties it’s not as much fun. I also love the creative aspect of plastic surgery/
Do you think creativity is what ultimately separates the really profound plastic surgeons from the rest?
Yes, there is skill that’s required in surgery but in general it’s pretty hard not to have surgical skill when you go through rigorous training.
I did seven years of general surgery training and then three years of plastic surgery training, so I was ten years as a resident working close to one hundred hours per week. If you haven’t figured out how to operate at that point, you’re pretty hopeless. I was lucky to have really good mentors and I think the thing that helped me was learning from really amazing leaders of the world. One of my mentors always said, “don’t pooh pooh what someone else does,” there’s many different ways of doing plastic surgery. That’s what makes it amazing. You just have to figure out what moves you and find what makes you special.
What would you say is your personal approach to surgery?
I’ve always tried to figure out the simplest way to get the most effective result that’s going to be long lasting, with the least amount of morbidity and risk. That’s my approach and I like to keep things simple. I like to have a reason for why I do things. I don’t use a cookie cutter approach, for three different people I might do different things on the same procedure, just because that’s what they need.
What is something that has really become a high demand procedure in 2018?
That’s a very good question and it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. In terms of technique I’m a very firm believer that “old school” is still “good school” but I try to keep up with the times. In terms of surgery there’s not a lot that’s new because we’re now refining techniques or doing things that lower your chance for infection or complications with implants. For example, with breast augmentation the implants have become somewhat sturdier and so much more real in terms of how they look and feel. We now have so many different shapes and sizes for different aesthetic tastes.
What’s really been trending are the non-surgical treatments because people can’t take time off from work like they used to and they want to do whatever they can that gives them minimal downtime with the best results. Non-surgical things like Botox and fillers have been around for awhile but they’ve really been trending up and will continue to. Radio frequency technology has been around for a while as well but people are applying it now to a lot of different things for skin tightening and doing non-surgical breast lifts that don’t leave a big scar. Granted, they’re not as effective as surgery, but they are nice because they do give you an enhancement.
How are you implementing technologies like radiofrequency and laser for non-surgical treatments?
What we’re doing now is taking microneedling and combining it with radiofrequency (to generate heat) so you’re getting two forms of injury. The needles puncture little holes in the face and those holes will normally create a scar that contracts and forms new collagen which gives the skin a brighter look. Adding radiofrequency causes more tissue contraction and more college formation. So it’s almost supercharging what we had before.
There’s a lot of these combined technologies that are coming out and I think what’s going to be really interesting here is a new multifaceted approach to anti-aging. People are seeing their doctors to make sure that their hormones are optimized. They’re also now using medical grade skin care because every day what they put on their face is an investment in themselves. Then you have your neurotoxins such as Botox and Dysport and other modalities like chemical peels and lasers. In my own practice I’ve been really excited about the microneedling with radiofrequency, I use a platform called Vivace. I also have a machine called the HydraFacial which is like a medical grade facial. It’s neat because when you offer all these things people get to really maintain better and thus don’t need plastic surgery as often.
Have you found that women and men who start preventative treatments earlier benefit more from it later on down the road?
I think every situation is different. There’s some young people who when they speak are very animated and move their face quite a bit; whereas some other people talk and their face is smooth and it barely moves. They’ll smile and there’s not a single wrinkle. For the person that doesn’t form any creases in their expressions, just putting Botox is kind of a random shotgun approach and I think that’s very expensive and not very targeted.
Somebody who is twenty and every time they talk they raise their eyebrows and it forms a crease in their forehead might however be a good candidate. If you start using Botox early enough it may keep them from forming a permanent crease there. I think for them it’s very powerful. So there’s some people that might use it as early 19 years of age but there’s other people who might not need it until they’re 35. It varies on your genetics and also how animated you are.
What should people be aware of when deciding on which treatments they want?
I think people just have to be aware that some of this stuff can be used appropriately or it can be used for the wrong reasons will thus be ineffective and a waste of their money. I really recommend that they try to see someone who’s got a great reputation and is preferably a board certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist who likes to educate people on these topics. You want to go to someone who can actually explain it to you, and not sell it to you. Then together you can create a good custom approach for you. I’m very protective of my patients, I don’t want them getting something just because their friend got it. I want them to get what’s effective for them.
What are some of the ways you’re connecting with your clients to establish trust and essentially build your brand?
In my practice I try to really put myself out there on my social media accounts like Instagram and Facebook. I want people to know that I’m a family guy. I want them to know I play with my daughter and I like sports. I like to be available to them and I think that people like my approach and my open door policy so for a lot of those people I’m a really good fit.
What gives you the greatest sense of gratitude that you feel for your career?
I think seeing how happy my patients are is the most amazing thing.Actually yesterday I had a whole group of patients that were really tough cases that I really had to think about and all of them turned out amazing. Seeing how happy they were and how appreciative they were for what I did for them — it’s really cool.
No matter what I’m doing this job is to make people happy. I want to do a good job, I take pride in my work. I have to deliver what my patients are hoping for. When my patients come back to me to tell me they got a new job or their interaction with their significant other is so much better because they’re more confident or seeing them posting pictures on social media, it’s like wow this is a really big deal. You become part of their family and it’s really cool. I’ve got a client who graduated from graduate school and out of the blue I’m getting a picture of them in a robe with a cap and gown on, and they’re sharing their successes with me. It’s really touching.
Many of your clients are women, and many are mothers. Can you talk a bit about how motherhood was affecting their sense of self and confidence before they came to see you?
A majority of my patients are moms. Having kids is a blessing but sometimes it can take a toll on you and cause significant changes in the bodies which many women may hide with clothes at social gatherings but there are a lot of people that lose their confidence a little bit at home. They now notice that they have stretch marks or loose skin or their breasts have deflated and so forth.
It’s really neat with the mommy makeovers to restore that confidence to really nice people and loving mothers. It’s great to see that what I do helps them get back on their feet or feel confident again. What’s funny is that with most the couples that come see me the men are so supportive and always tell their wives, “I love you just the way you are.” These guys are so quiet and supportive but after the surgery their like, “Oh my gosh, you look so good!” They know to be supportive no matter what but once they see the results they are really happy for their significant others.
What is the actual mommy makeover?
It’s whatever you have to do to restore the female silhouette to it’s pre-pregnancy form but the reality is a lot of women who come to me for a mommy makeover are not mothers. They’re people who lost a lot of weight and their bodies have changed, or they got into fitness or they just are aging and want to restore themselves.
It’s typically a combination of procedures. Most people get some kind of breast procedure, either a breast augmentation or breast lift and some kind of body procedure like a tummy tuck or liposuction. We also can do fat transfer, especially with mothers because during pregnancy hormone levels all change and people store fat in certain places so I’ve got women who come to me and they’ve got deflated breasts that are sagging after they’ve had kids.
People workout like crazy out here in California so they’ve got really toned muscles everywhere but their stomach that was stretched out with a baby in there is just this empty bag of skin. Then they’ve got these huge areas of fat in their lower back and over their love handles and there’s parts in their hips and buttocks that have deflated so all there’s these different problems going on.
With that kind of patient what I’ll do is put breast implants in to restore volume, we’ll do a lift to position the nipples right over the center of the dome of the implants to make sure it’s projecting at the most projecting point and we get rid of excess skin. Then for the tummy we cut off the excess skin, we reshape the belly, we tighten the muscles that were separated from having been pregnant and then we suck out fat from those areas under the bra rolls and the lower back and flanks and then we take that fat that wasn’t needed and we put it in areas where volume was lost like in the buttocks or the hips. We just create this S curve where the silhouette just kind of flows.
What’s your personal philosophy on your own health care routine, whether that be diet and exercise or a strict skincare regimen?
Diet wasn’t as important when I was younger but then I realized that it is something that I’ve had to be really disciplined in because my metabolism isn’t what it was when I was younger and I think the food that we eat is different now. I’ve actually been eating a vegan diet recently (even though I love steak and French fries) because I was getting a dad bod. My daughter is four years old so I can’t eat Cheetos and ice cream with her everyday because it’s not good for me. I had to find a way to discipline myself. Diet’s important because as a surgeon we stand in awkward positions all day. It’s very important for me to stretch and also make sure I don’t have muscle imbalance so that my posture is good and I have a long career. I’m really big on balance in my own body and it also helps relieve stress because I do have a lot of responsibility between being a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a surgeon with people’s lives in my hands. That’s the basis. And I still have goals of my own that I have to meet. I want to lose some more weight and I want to put on more muscle and be leaner so those are my goals for 2019.
Skincare is very important. Those people that say they just wash their face with a bar of soap, it sounds really macho and cool but it has really bad long term effects. I live in Southern California and we have sun here all year round. Even when it’s cloudy you still get sun exposure and in California we’re outside every day. Almost all year long we’re getting sun exposure, so I like to use medical grade skincare because I’ve seen the difference with it. I change up my routine, for a couple of months may use something that has growth factors in it and for a couple of months I might use something with some Retinol in it. I sometimes use some bleaching and blending products that help smooth out skin tone. I’ve done the Vivace treatment which is amazing and I am a firm believer in it. I have a skincare line that I brought in from Europe and I love their masks.
I was looking at some pictures of myself as my twenty year college reunion was recently and I noticed that I’ve lost volume in certain areas of my cheeks and under my eyes. So at some point I’ll get one of my trusted friends to put some filler in those areas. I do also use Botox twice a year. I do let myself just be natural for a little while but I do like to use those so I’m not all wrinkly when I smile at people.
A lot of guys are apprehensive to talk about using preventative measures like Botox and filler. Can you just shed a little light on that?
The fastest growing market in aesthetics is men because we only make up 8% of the market. It’s very low hanging fruit. The world we live in is very competitive. The reality is that in the 1900’s almost 60% of this country was in some kind of agriculture and farming, but now with all the processing we do with food only 6% of this country is in agriculture and about 85% are in sales. I’m a salesperson. I’m trying to tell people I’m the best plastic surgeon, my anesthesiologist wants to get good ratings so that more doctors want to work with them. We’re all sales people. Every one of us is selling something.
For men, we’re lucky because we don’t age quite as fast as some women do. But once we age, we look old and a lot of us are going to be working a long time because of how expensive life has become. The stock market is not as reliable as it use to be and companies aren’t giving out pensions like they used to so at some point you don’t want to lose your job to someone younger because you look a bit outdated.
I’ve seen a lot of salespeople who are real macho and they like to surf or are always out in the sun and they don’t want to wear sunscreen. Let’s go to another extreme, skin cancer isn’t fun. Getting a piece of your nose cut off that’s the size of a nickel is not very attractive. And trying to figure out how to reconstruct that is not fun. That’s something I also do on the side is reconstruction for skin cancer patients outside of my aesthetic practice. Who wants to cross that bridge? I don’t want pieces of my ears, my nose, my eyebrows missing so I wear sunscreen every day.
Truthfully I think most men want to feel younger or look younger at some point but are still resistant to cosmetic care. Why is that?
I think we want to look good, we don’t want to look outdated. We want to be competitive. Youth is about not having wrinkles. The easiest way to explain it is, when babies come out of the womb they love their mom. It’s not just because they hear their mom’s voice in the womb but it’s because the mom gained weight. They have all this estrogen in their body and their face becomes really round, roundness is youthful. When the baby comes out their mom’s skin is glistening and it glows and it’s like oh my god this is like an angel looking at me. But then grandma comes over with all the wrinkles and moles and discolored skin and the baby starts screaming, because grandma looks scary. Nobody wants to look scary. Subconsciously we’re trained to be scared of people that look like that really old wrinkly outdated grandmother.
If you’re trying to work in a sales field I guarantee that when you take better care of yourself, you look better, you dress nicer, your skin’s glowing and you smell good — you’re more likely to have a successful career. It’s bad but that’s the world we live in. I think for a lot of the men out there it makes sense to protect yourself daily. It takes five seconds to wash your face with something good, it takes another five seconds to put a cream on and it takes another five seconds to put some sunscreen on. That is great. It’s better than waking up one day and looking in the mirror and asking yourself, “who is this guy?” or feeling bad about yourself. We are all our own toughest critics. Once you let yourself go it’s hard to get it back, nobody wants to have that realization.
What is your best piece of advice for people who are looking for a great plastic surgeon or who are considering plastic surgery and maybe on the fence about it?
When searching for plastic surgeons you first have to make sure they’re board certified in plastic surgery. Board certified surgeons went through their most rigorous training and that certification is one of the most rigorous and difficult things they’ve achieved in life. I know firsthand about it as I spent twenty years away from home to be able to do that. Secondly, just because someone has a billboard doesn’t make them a good plastic surgeon.
Look at their before and after photos and look for long term results. If someone’s showing you pictures that they did a week ago, that’s okay but you want to see pictures within one to three years out because that tells you a couple of things; first, that plastic surgeon cares about their results and second, their patients must really like them because they’re coming back to be seen.
What is your best piece of advice for other young surgeons who are trying to build a reputable practice and make a name for themselves in such a competitive field?
First of all in any career field, don’t do something because of the money because if you’re not passionate about it, you’re not going to be good at it — and you won’t make any money. Find what you’re passionate about and be the best at it and offer something unique that no one else does. For plastic surgeons, my mentors always told me you’re going to build your reputation on who you don’t operate on. So for me I don’t operate on people who I’m not comfortable with and how that goes is, I take pictures of them and we look at those photos together. When what they see on the screen is similar to what I see and their concerns are things that I can fix, that’s a great match. I have one lady who came in one time and wanted a facelift and she was a beautiful lady and I could definitely help her with the facelift. As we’re looking at her pictures she said, “yes, oh and there’s this wrinkle on my forehead that I just can’t stand. I hate this thing and I’m hoping you can fix this.” And I’m looking at this camera that I have it’s a 16 megapixel camera, I’m looking at this photo and I do not see a wrinkle on her forehead. I asked her to point it out to me and she couldn’t point it out to me and she said “but it’s there, I swear it’s there” and at that point I decided I couldn’t operate on her because if I can’t see what she’s concerned about there’s no way I can make her happy.
People who want to get in touch with you have a consultation follow you on social media. How did they find you. How did they reach out.
I’m very easy to find. My website is my initials, sskplasticsurgery.com. If they want to call the office my number is (949) 515-7874 and on social media I will pop up on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram @sskplasticsurgery. I answer all my own messages on those social platforms so if they want to reach out to say hello they’ll be speaking with me directly.
Thank you so much!