Why HAS breakfast TV's Dr Nina gone under the knife at just 36

Why HAS breakfast TV’s Dr Nina gone under the knife at just 36…(and can you spot what she’s had done?): She is beautiful, successful and still so young, but here she tells of the pressure cosmetic experts like her feel to practise what they preach

  • Dr Nina Bal is a facial aesthetics doctor at Tempus clinic in Belgravia, London 
  • Cosmetic expert, 36, had surgery to raise drooping eyelids last December
  • She says her face is her business card and it’s important to always look her best
  • Italian-born Nina has been injecting herself with Botox since she was age 27 

When Dr Nina Bal walked into the operating theatre in her surgical gown last December, she was nervous. She wasn’t there to perform a procedure, but to undergo eye surgery herself, and her medical background meant she was only too aware of the potential pitfalls involved.

‘Sometimes knowledge can work against you,’ she tells me. ‘I was super-aware of all the risks of surgery and quite apprehensive, but I knew I wanted to get this done. There was no way I was going to walk away.’ The risks, after all, had to be considered in context. Nina was having surgery during a pandemic, not for some life-threatening condition but to raise her drooping eyelids, something she’d long disliked about her appearance, but which no one could deem essential.

For Nina, however, a facial aesthetics doctor (that’s someone who administers Botox and fillers, to you and me) and mother of two, her unhappiness with this perceived flaw had grown to a point where, aged just 36, she wanted to go under the knife.

Dr Nina Bal who is a facial aesthetics doctor at Tempus clinic in Belgravia, had surgery to raise drooping eyelids. Pictured: After 

This wasn’t just about looking prettier, but about her career prospects. Working at the ultra-swanky Tempus clinic in Belgravia, Central London, and regularly appearing as a cosmetic expert on ITV’s This Morning and shows such as E4’s The Body Fixers, Nina knows that to persuade people to fork out often thousands of pounds to look better, you need not only to possess impressive medical qualifications, but also to be a walking advert for your services.

‘My face is my business card and it’s really important I look my best at all times,’ she says.

While many of us have seized on lockdown to eschew make-up and blow-dries, Nina has found herself busier than ever with what she and her colleagues call ‘the Zoom boom’ — the huge rise in inquiries from people horrified at having to scrutinise their features all day on video-conferencing services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Save Face, an organisation representing practitioners, has reported a 57 per cent rise in interest in face and neck procedures.

‘Zoom has been great for business,’ says Nina. ‘Since we were allowed to go back to work when the lockdown eased in July, it’s been the busiest I’ve ever known.

‘Normally you don’t see yourself when you talk, but now the main thing people are becoming aware of, which they weren’t before, is facial asymmetry.

Nina said she felt like her eyes were particularly ageing her, since she turned 35. Pictured: Before

‘So many people were contacting me on Instagram, saying: “Oh my God, until this happened I was unaware my face was uneven.”

‘They were also noticing fine lines and lots of people were saying: “I didn’t realise I frown so much when I talk, it makes me look so angry.” ’

During virtual consultations — the only way Nina can see clients during lockdown — she has mostly been prescribing medical-strength creams for conditions such as pigmentation and dullness, as well as maskne, acne from having to wear a mask.

Towards the end of last year, she started feeling increasingly dissatisfied with how she looked on screen, too.

‘Since I turned 35, the thing I’ve felt was particularly ageing me was my eyes,’ she says.

‘Obviously in my industry I’m extremely aware of facial aesthetics. I thought everybody was looking at me and thinking, “Well, she doesn’t look fresh”, and that I wasn’t giving the right impression.’

Usually, when Nina has such concerns, she fixes the problem herself with some Botox.

Nina (pictured) revealed she has been injecting herself with Botox since age 27 to prevent volume loss or lines 

‘I’ve been injecting myself with Botox since I was 27, just a very small amount mainly to prevent any volume loss or lines. At work, all the doctors in the clinic give one another injectables when we have a spare moment.’

Such is the pressure to look perfect for patients that Nina, who is also a qualified dentist, has actually enjoyed working in the full personal protective equipment that is now required.

‘We wear so much you can barely see the person underneath and there’s definitely a good side to that, which is, “Oh great, now I don’t have to worry about my make-up or my hair, I don’t have to look glamorous, I just have to go to work”,’ she says, laughing.

Even though patients could barely see her face, the imperfection was gnawing away at Italian-born Nina, and was one of the few that injections couldn’t fix completely.

70% 

of the population is using video calls during the pandemic

‘I’ve got extremely hooded eyelids and ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I was going to sooner or later have to have some kind of surgery to fix it because I look very similar to my dad, and his eyes are so hooded I don’t know how he can actually see out of them.’

For years, Nina remedied the issue herself. ‘I managed to give myself a nice brow lift with Botox. It was really effective and helped me look fresher.

‘But then I had two pregnancies, I spent a big part of last year homeschooling and I could just feel my eyes getting heavier and heavier — it wasn’t just an aesthetic thing, I could feel the weight of them all the time.’

Nina also wanted to go easier on the Botox.

‘I actually prefer a more natural look with some lines, so I didn’t want to keep injecting myself. I decided I needed to address this when I was young and could still enjoy putting on nice make-up.

‘One of the things I couldn’t do was put on any eyeliner because skin was hanging over my eyes and I couldn’t see what I was doing. I thought, why wait until I’m 60 when I could do it now?’

Nina (pictured) said many of her patients want to avoid surgery, but excess skin in the upper eyelid is one of the few times where there is no other option 

I take Nina’s point, but still, 36 seems incredibly young for invasive surgery, especially when she spends much of her own time explaining to clients there’s no need to go under the knife because super-safe, reversible ‘tweakments’ are readily available.

‘Probably 99 per cent of my patients come to me because they want to avoid surgery.

‘But excess skin in the upper eyelid is one of the few times when there is no other option.’

She also took the view that the younger the patient, the better the recovery. ‘The skin is in better condition so things heal much quicker,’ she explains.

Nina says no one has ever commented on her eyelids ‘apart from my six-year-old son, who said: “Mummy, you have a lot of skin on your eyes” ’. So I’m not surprised some of her family were horrified to learn of her decision.

‘My dad was saying, “This is who you are, that’s my brow shape, that’s the beauty of your face, that’s what makes you approachable, having eyebrows that slope down makes you look less aggressive,” ’ she says.

Many of Nina’s (pictured) colleagues recommended she went to consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon and associate professor Daniel Ezra, for her surgery 

‘He was mentioning actresses with the same eye shape, saying they look great. But I was determined to do it.’

Looking at photos, I’m with Nina’s dad. I don’t think she needed it. In ‘before’ pictures, she looks great to me — no matter how much I focus on those eyelids. In the ‘after’ shots, she looks great too, only slightly more surprised.

By the time we meet on Zoom, the startled look has diminished and instead Nina looks relaxed, as if she’s on holiday.

With her contacts, Nina was perfectly positioned to find the best person for the job. Many of her colleagues recommended consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon and associate professor Daniel Ezra, whom she’d already been seeing for two years for fillers in the tear trough area under her eyes to prevent dark circles.

Ezra specialises in blepharoplasty, surgery that removes excess skin from the eyelids, currently the third most popular form of cosmetic surgery in the UK after breast enlargements and reductions.

During their two consultations, one on Zoom in the November lockdown, one face-to-face after it lifted, Ezra suggested that, while Nina was sedated, he also carry out a lash lift, where a CO2 laser is used to make small ablations above the lash line in two or three rows.

Nina (pictured) said many of her patients are having work done around their mouths because no one can see their jawline during recovery because of masks 

When a laser touches the skin, the skin shrinks or tightens, making lashes which usually point downwards or straight ahead tilt upwards by around 10 per cent to 15 per cent.

‘Lashes droop as you age and I thought, since I was going to be out of it anyway, why not have it done as well?’ Nina says. Like many, Nina used lockdown and social distancing as an opportunity to recuperate in private.

One cosmetic surgery group has reported an increase in inquiries about tummy tucks, and a 520 per cent increase in inquiries about breast reduction. These seem to be largely from people who have realised, since they are working from home, that they can take minimal time off and needn’t worry about colleagues spotting tell-tale scars.

‘I know a lot of my patients have used this time to have work done around their mouths — they’re wearing masks so no one can see their chin or their jawline during recovery,’ says Nina.

She decided December would be the ideal time for surgery, when clinics had briefly reopened after the November lockdown (now Ezra is only consulting on Zoom, with a 100-strong waiting list for when he reopens) and, for once, she’d be staying at home with no social plans.

Nina (pictured) felt no pain after her surgery, only a slight tightness around her eyes and didn’t have any bandages 

‘None of the usual Christmas events were happening and I didn’t even need to put make-up on for Christmas Day.

‘I was just with my family and they love me anyway.’

For the procedure, which took place at Ezra’s Harley Street premises, Nina was sedated intravenously.

‘I thought sedation meant I would be awake or aware throughout, but in fact I was completely out of it. When I woke up an hour-and-a-half later, the surgery was all over and I just felt really relaxed, like I’d slept for a long time.’

Straight afterwards, Nina felt no pain, only a slight tightness around her eyes. There were no bandages, just removable stitches. ‘You have to have very thick antibiotic cream in the eyes, which means your vision is very blurred, so for a bit I couldn’t really see anything, but I felt fine. I was actually just really excited because already I felt so much lighter around my eyes.’

Just one hour later, she was able to return home. ‘My youngest son, who’s two, didn’t register anything, my six-year-old just said, “You look like a monster” because of the stitches in my eyelids,’ says Nina.

Nina (pictured) said seven weeks after her surgery, the scars are much better but she still has a slight numbness around her eyelashes 

Having booked a week off work, she rested for 48 hours.

‘With two kids I couldn’t rest any more, but I couldn’t lift anything for two weeks, which was hard with a two-year-old.’

It took Nina about two weeks to feel completely back to normal. Today, seven weeks later, she’s just about ready to apply eye make-up. ‘The scars are much better, I just still feel slightly numb around my eyelashes — that’s probably the most uncomfortable part of the procedure because the laser burns the area where the lashes are inserted into the eyelid, leaving them quite red. But the lift has made such a huge difference,’ she says.

So would Nina consider more surgery? ‘Not right now,’ she says. ‘Blepharoplasty lasts 20 to 30 years, so maybe if I needed it again I’d then consider a surgical brow lift. But generally, this experience has also made me even more aware that surgeries can go wrong. I’d still say if something can be fixed with non-surgery, always go for that option.’

Overall, however, Nina has no regrets. ‘I always say to my clients, this isn’t about what other people think, it’s about how much something bothers you. I’m so, so pleased I didn’t wait.’

Nina Bal’s new Face Sculpt Serum, £120, is available at drninaskin.com

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