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The two have, however, very likely had chemical peels or laser treatments to stay fresh-faced, says Dr. Youn. “Chemical peels and laser treatments are very non-invasive, and they can have them done at lunch hour and look just fine afterward,” he says.

While Botox mutes emotional expression, some cosmetic procedures can actually make certain feelings easier to read, says Mr. Ekman. For instance, the frown lines that seem to have recently disappeared from Mrs. Pelosi’s face “make you look down or sour when you really aren’t,” he says.

Another common procedure, eyelid lifts, keep older politicians from always seeming bored or tired, he says.

But while we want our politicians to be fresh-faced, we expect them to come by their youthful good looks naturally, says Drew Westen, an Emory University professor who studies emotion in politics.

“[Having plastic surgery] would be readily interpreted by many as both a sign of vanity and being out of touch in an age in which so many of their constituents are struggling just to get by,” says Mr. Westen, author of the much-discussed book “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

But for aging female politicians in our youth-obsessed culture, looking your age isn’t just a cosmetic disadvantage; it’s often interpreted as a sign of advancing senescence - like buttoning up your coat wrong, or wearing two different shoes. So Mrs. Pelosi’s best bet may be to get plenty of cosmetic surgery, and deny it every step of the way.

“She looks fantastic, which says, ‘If I can keep myself together at this age, you’d better believe I can keep the country together too,’ ” Ms. Sperling says.