I Love My Job: Dr. Kevin Cross Says You’d Be Surprised How Busy Philly’s Plastic Surgery Scene Is
Named one of the country's most sought after beauty gurus, the local 43-year-old plastic surgeon opens up about the thousands of facelifts and nose jobs he's performed in the region.
You know that belief that you should be satisfied with what you have? Plastic surgeon Kevin Cross finds it downright silly. If paint in your home started to chip, would anyone object to you touching it up? Recently named one of the country’s most sought after beauty gurus by Town & Country, Cross is on the pursuit of perfection right here in Philadelphia. Three years ago, he became the first plastic surgeon ever to perform a whopping 1,000 facelifts by the age of 40. Through his practice Cross Plastic Surgery, with offices in Center City and Villanova, Cross does it all, from facelifts, neck lifts and nose jobs to tummy tucks, injectables and liposuction. But if you’d like to sit down for a consultation, you’ll likely wait around three to four months. Cross says he treats every procedure like a work art and even likens his profession to architecture. Here’s what it’s like to be trusted with some of the toughest decisions people will ever make in their lives.
I grew up in… Elkins Park, and went to Abington High School. I went to Penn for undergraduate and medical school, so it took me quite a long time to leave Philly. When I finally left in my mid-twenties for my general surgery and plastic surgery training, I swore that I wasn’t coming back [Laughs], but after spending about two years in Chicago and most of the next decade in Manhattan, in 2008, we found ourselves right back where it all started. We couldn’t be happier!
I knew I wanted to be a doctor when… I used to worry about rainy days because I didn’t want the worms to drown…Yes, I still rescue worms in puddles when I leave the house in the morning.
I knew I wanted to become a plastic surgeon when… growing up, I preferred watching M*A*S*H to cartoons or kid shows. The main character, Hawkeye Pierce, was one of my childhood heroes. That got me interested in surgery. Plastic Surgery was more unexpected. I was taking a break while studying in the library in medical school. On my desk was a plastic surgery journal that someone had left open. I became fascinated with the changes that plastic surgeons were able to make, and I loved how visible those changes were. I fell into a chance to do a rotation in plastic surgery shortly after and the rest is history.
I first picked up the scalpel when I was... in medical school. In medicine, you watch others perform procedures before having the chance to do them yourself. I remember being a medical student and watching people operate and wondering how I would perform when I had my chance. Thankfully, when my opportunity came, my hands performed what my mind wanted them to do.
During consultations, people ask me to advise them like they’re family because… they want honesty. I feel it’s my responsibility to tell them what they don’t need and what I think will benefit them.
Some of the biggest cosmetic surgery trends in the Philly region are… not necessarily what is trending on social media. People in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas tend to be a little more polished in their aesthetic goals. A desire for “huge” everything is not really what I am seeing. I don’t get a lot of requests for buttock implants or giant lips. My patients tend to want refinement, not exaggeration.
Recent trends include using injectables in novel ways to treat problem areas that were previously very difficult to treat. For instance, our nurse injector Maria Schafer has been using the fat melting injection, Kybella, to treat problem areas like knee fat and bra strap bulge. These areas were previously only treatable with surgery.
This spring and summer I’m booked with . . . tummy tucks and liposuction in the spring and noses and breast surgery in the summer. Surgical procedures do have a seasonal rhythm to their popularity. People want to get into bathing suits in the summer, so they plan their tummy tucks and sculpting procedures in the spring.
Summer brings younger patients who are on break from school for nose surgery and breast surgery. The only procedures that tend to remain extremely constant throughout the year are my facial rejuvenation procedures like face and neck lifts, and eyelid procedures. I perform hundreds of these each year, generally performing four to six each week.
The most popular procedure in the last year has been… an even split between facial rejuvenation — eyelid procedures, face and neck lift procedures and noses — and body contouring like breast surgery and tummy surgery. In skin care, Microneedling in my practice has really blown up. It’s a centuries-old technique that originated in China. In its modern form, it has much of the benefits of lasers without the risks.
The greatest amount of work I’ve done on a single patient has been… a full-body makeover from arms to calves. She was a very healthy patient who had lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise, and she had participated in the Broad Street Run. After the race, she had so much chaffing from skin rubbing on skin that she couldn’t take it any longer.
We started with liposuction of the arms, and worked our way down to a breast reduction, tummy tuck, and further liposuction of the torso and legs. When we were finished, the patient was about 30 pounds lighter than when we started. It is rare that I do this much work at one time on any patient, however. Safety always comes first. She was seen and cleared by her internist and a cardiologist before moving forward. For most patients, I ask them to make a priority list of the things that bother them most. We then sit down together to decide how we should work through the list, and put together a staged approach for reaching their goals.
The youngest and oldest patients I’ve operated on were… 13 and 86. The 13-year-old boy had broken his nose. The 86-year-old had a facelift. I spent a lot of time explaining that, since her tissues were thinner and less elastic than they were 10-20 years ago, she could not expect the same longevity from her result that I can provide to most patients. She eventually cut me off and said, “Longevity is not my priority at this point in my life.”
The men who come in to see me usually want… facial rejuvenation. Men are just as sensitive as women to how they are perceived in their social surroundings. Men are often acutely aware of how heavy eyelids or a saggy neck will signal tiredness. Whether they are in a business meeting, or playing with their grandchildren, they want to look engaged. They want to project energy and vitality.
Celebrities with work I admire are… those who I don’t know have had any work done. If it is recognizable to even a plastic surgeon, it was not done as well as it could have been.
Plastic surgery is more of an art than a science because… none of the surgical procedures in plastic surgery involve cutting on a dotted line. There is much more free form to how we move tissues and much more room for interpretation as to where things go. Over the years, I’ve realized that the closest real world relative to plastic surgery is probably architecture.
In architecture, you have to understand how a foundation is needed to support the underlying structures, how the facade is influenced by the frame. Similarly, in plastic surgery, we have to keep in mind how the bones and muscles and fixed structures of the body will affect how the end result appears. We have to respect these principles in order to maximize our results.
Something people would be surprised to know about Philly’s plastic surgery market is… how common it is for people to consider plastic surgery. My wait time for a surgical consultation often balloons to three to four months. I wish I could add days to the week to take care of all of the people who are interested in being treated.
Town & Country called me the Philadelphia answer to Manhattan plastic surgeons because…
my techniques and approach to surgical procedures are as precise as they can possibly be. I give the editor of that story a lot of credit for doing her research and looking outside of the usual sphere of New York and L.A. to find out who is doing the best work.
I keep my practice in the Philly area because… there is nowhere better to live and raise a family. Philly is the perfect blend of big city food and culture with small town comfort. It has history and pride, but also a little humility. It doesn’t hurt that my parents and in-laws are close enough that we can see them on a regular basis.
The procedure I’m most known for is… face and neck lifting. I now see patients from all over the world for facial rejuvenation work and do more than ten times the national average of facial rejuvenation procedures in a given year.
Cellfina is actually an effective cellulite treatment because… 98 percent of our patients who are treated will see results that last four years or more. It’s been transformative. We went from having NOTHING to offer patients with cellulite to an in-office, one-hour procedure that works in almost every patient.
A procedure I’m most proud of performing is… rhinoplasty. Noses are inherently very challenging. There is an intimate relationship between skin, cartilage, and bone. The nose is also not very forgiving. Anything that is not perfect is going to end up being visible. I spent a tremendous amount of time studying the work of my mentors and critically analyzing my own work. I am proud of how consistent and precise my results have become. My results will almost always look better than the simulations that we examine with patients prior to performing their procedures.
I prepare for a surgery by… mentally performing each procedure the night before. I borrowed this idea from professional skiers and gymnasts. If you watch skiers prepare, successful skiers visualize themselves making each turn. Every movement is choreographed in their mind. I have a ritual where, each night before a surgery day, I stare at the pictures of each patient that I will operate on the next day. I rehearse each part of their procedure. I work out the potential pitfalls and missteps. I plan my moves in my head.
It seems redundant to continue this practice after thousands of surgeries, but I find that it helps prevent any bad habits from forming or accidents from occurring. I have a hard time accepting anything less than perfect, and I believe this one practice has done as much for my pursuit of perfection as anything else in my career.
Our society tends to shame people who get work done because… there is a belief that one should be satisfied with what they have. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this concept, and I’ve come to appreciate the silliness in that philosophy. If one has crooked teeth, no one argues whether there is a benefit to braces. You can’t straighten crooked teeth on your own. In the same way, one can’t straighten a crooked nose, change the size of one’s breasts, or reverse the stretching of skin after pregnancy on their own. To further the analogy, if the paint on a house starts to chip, no one would object to the homeowner taking action and repainting the house. Similarly, if age causes changes to one’s appearance, it should be acceptable to take action to reverse these changes.
I opt to not carry out a surgery when… either myself or my staff has reservations about the connection we’ve made with a patient. My team is the most important asset in the practice. They get a good read on patients, and I value their feedback. If we can’t, as a team, connect with a patient, we are less likely to provide them with a perfect experience.
When I’m not at work I usually… spend as much time as possible with my family. I often leave before my kids are up in the morning and get home after they are sleeping, so when I get free time, it’s theirs.
I splurge on… traveling. I might not be able to be home every day when my kids finish school, but it is important to me that we form lasting memories as a family and get to see the world together. We’ve recently gone to the Grand Canyon and Alaska. Upcoming trips that we are excited about are traveling to the Galapagos Islands and our kids’ first trip to Europe.
I drive a… Tesla. I adopted an old first generation hybrid car from my parents when we moved back to Philadelphia. After 10 years and 100,000 miles, it was time to upgrade. The environment is my passion, so I have to walk the walk. Electric is the way to go! I haven’t stood outside at a gas station in over six months. There’s no going back.
I currently live in… Villanova. Cutting down on my commute has allowed me to spend more time with my family. I’m less than 20 minutes from our downtown office and a stone’s throw from our Villanova office.
The restaurants in my rotation right now are… the new Tredici in Bryn Mawr for a good cocktail. Staying in the burbs, Ekta for incredibly aromatic and flavorful Indian, and in town we recently loved Little Fish for their seafood.
A hobby of mine unrelated to my work is… exercise in various forms. After a recent knee injury, I started biking. Compared to running, my body doesn’t feel like it is ready to revolt after each ride. A few bugs in the teeth is a small price to pay for happier joints. After nearly 15 years of marriage, I need to make sure that I do something to ensure that my wife still finds me a little studly.
My daily schedule starts with… a very intense battle with my alarm. I’m an early riser out of necessity, not out of desire, so the 5:30 a.m. wakeup is a struggle every morning. I finish work between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.
I was able to perform so many surgeries before I was 40 because… of the training and support I received early in my career. I had great mentors that put me in a position to be successful surgically. My break came when I formed a wonderful professional connection with a very respected aesthetician in Philadelphia named Betsy Rubenstone. She believed in me, and her patients trusted her. Through this, I was given access to a large number of potential patients. Thankfully, my results supported that trust and word started to spread organically.
When people tell me I’ve changed their lives I think… that I’ve been privileged to be trusted with such an important decision.
The best career advice I’ve ever been given is… look patients in the eye and talk with them, not to them.
In ten years I see myself… passing on the skills that I have acquired to the next generation of aesthetic plastic surgeons. Or pursuing a second career as a break dancer. [Laughs] I’m obsessed!