Washington ophthalmologist William Gonzalez peers down at Wendy Wein through six-power surgical glasses. He dips his vibrating electric needle into a glob of dark pigment on a tray and, with a flourish, pierces her right eyelid.
"As you will see," says Providence Hospital's chief of ophthalmology, getting on with his microsurgery, "the technique is really quite simple."
"I just had to do something with my eyes," says the patient. "Whenever I smile, they disappear."
The doctor is tattooing her eyelids with little brown dots. "I prefer to call it 'implanting pigment,' " he says.
The procedure was invented in Southern California, where youth and beauty may be fleeting but eye liner is forever. It's called Ac'cents -- "the permanent lashliner that looks great all day, all night, and never needs retouching" -- and is, along with a similar procedure called Natural Eyes, the latest innovation in makeup. It comes in light brown, dark brown, charcoal and black -- no smudge, no budge.
"It creates a truly natural look," Gonzalez says, noting that the swelling usually goes away in a day, while the bruises take a week or two. "You'd be surprised how many women have to spend five or 10 minutes in front of the mirror with an eye liner pencil every day. This allows that individual never to be caught without her eye makeup."
Wendy Wein's husband David, however, isn't so sure. "I don't believe it's harmful. I just don't understand the reasons for it," he says. "I like Wendy's eyes the way they are."
Marketed by an ophthalmological supply company called Dioptics, the Ac'cents package includes a session with a cosmetician and half an hour under the needle at a doctor's office (where, unlike at tattoo parlors, the practitioners use an anesthetic). It's priced between $800 and $1,200.
"The actual cost of the procedure is nominal, so it's almost all profit," says physicians' consultant Jackie Mattison, a local representative of Ac'cents who has signed on as Gonzalez's beauty adviser. "I'm going to start reaching out to the the plastic surgeons and the dermatologists, too . . .
"I say to a lot of doctors, 'How much money do you want to make? If you want to make big bucks, you got to set up an expensive waiting room and charge high fees.' People love to pay a lot of money to doctors. The more you charge, the better the patients feel."
Small wonder that physicians all over the country -- from former tennis star Renee Richards to Belair, Md., eye surgeon Dahlia Hirsch -- are signing up for the $500 Ac'cents training seminar, the $2,500 Ac'cents power unit and the $150 Ac'cents hand pieces, which are designed for easy disposal after one use.
"Let's just say that our current business is seven times over our original projections," says Dioptics president Diana Starr Langley. With her left eye Ac'cented and her right one naked, she is a blinking before-and-after advertisement.
"When the publicity first started coming out, I know we got calls from a lot of women, but also from a few male models and actors," she says. And there was a national television newscaster who had it done. I won't tell you who, but it was someone with real light lashes."
Tom Brokaw, perhaps? Ted Koppel? Morley Safer? Langley keeps mum.
"There is that difference between men and women," says Renee Richards, who ought to know. A pediatric ophthalmologist, she's hoping to Ac'cent some of her friends in women's tennis. "If you're sweating all over the place playing a match on TV and then you have to go into a room full of international press people and be photographed at close range, you like to look at least a little bit reasonable."
Says Hirsch, a classmate of Gonzalez's from the University of Maryland Medical School, "I may very well have it done myself -- if I can find someone who has enough experience."
Gonzalez, for his part, says he's the first local physician to have performed the procedure (at $800 a pop). Among his early customers, albeit free of charge, were his wife Karen, who is Providence Hospital's chief of dentistry, his optician Wendy Wein and his beauty adviser Jackie Mattison.
"I was the very first," Mattison says. "I have a lot of confidence in Dr. Gonzalez. He already had a lot of hands-on type experience. The doctors practice on turkeys."
Don't imagine, however, that scores of surgeons are tormenting frantic gobblers with vibrating needles. The doctors don't practice on the whole bird, just on the legs, which can be purchased in convenient packages at any supermarket.
"The skin on a turkey leg is very similar in feel and appearance to the skin around the eyelid," says Ac'cents inventor Bob Fenzel, a Southern California ophthalmologist. "It works out as a good, inexpensive teaching model."
Wendy Wein, meanwhile, is delighted with her new eyes.
"I love it! Sensational!" she says after the surgery.