Story at a glance

  • Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that more cosmetic procedures were performed in 2019 than the year before.
  • While the coronavirus pandemic initially slowed interest in elective surgery, the industry is bouncing back.
  • Better technology and less stigma are contributing towards increased demand.

Be honest. How much time do you spend looking at the people you’re talking to on Zoom versus your own face on the screen?

Many Americans are spending more time looking at their reflection on video calls, in their bedroom mirrors and off the window as they look out from their homes in which they are quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic. And not everyone is thrilled with what they see. Could that explain why more Americans are getting plastic surgery than before?

“More people are paying attention to the things that are closer to home,” said Scott Miller, a board-certified cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon and the founder of Miller Cosmetic Surgery Center in San Diego, Calif. “It doesn't matter as much what car you drive, where you go on vacation, so maybe taking care of yourself and how you look and feel has gone up on peoples’ priority list.”

Nearly a quarter-million more cosmetic procedures were performed in 2019 than the year before, according to data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), which predicts even more interest next year. But even during the coronavirus pandemic, Miller said he's been as busy as ever since reopening his practice after the early stages of the outbreak. 

"The early signs of patients' confidence in resuming procedures with our trusted members is a testament to why we do what we do," said ASPS President Lynn Jeffers in a release


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Why now? Well, pent-up demand from those who had planned elective surgeries for before the coronavirus outbreak is certainly part of the equation, Miller said. But an increase in free time might also have something to do with it.  

“Plastic surgery [patients] are a lot of people who have busy lives and active lives and they see a window of time to do something that they’ve been wanting to get done,” he said. 

With nowhere else to go and nowhere to be, now might be the right time for a procedure with a significant amount of recovery time. Of course, it’s always possible that once Americans return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, they’ll have less time to spare, which could mean a dip in business for plastic surgeons. But even that is becoming less and less relevant as technology gets better, said Miller, who has seen a decrease in estimated recovery time after surgery for his patients.  

“Now, particularly with regard to facial surgery, our ability with more contemporary techniques [can] give people a significant improvement with real surgery more elegantly planned,” said Miller, who trained with Bruce Connell, known as the "Father of the Modern Face Lift." “You get to have your cake and eat it too, and I think that has really changed the calculus.”

A significant amount of the increased demand for plastic surgery involves minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, laser hair removal and fillers, and the ASPS predicts facial rejuvenation procedures will continue to grow in popularity. Demand for other cosmetic surgical procedures stayed steady, with breast augmentation at the top of the list, while breast reconstruction (yes, that’s different) grew by 5 percent.

"Some of the newer techniques have encouraged women to have breast reconstruction who might not have chosen it previously or may not have been good candidates for the procedure in the past," Jeffers said in the release.


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Americans who had never considered plastic surgery are considering it now, Miller said, partly because people are talking about it more. Whereas the stigma attached to plastic surgery led some to hide any procedures they had done in the past, elective surgery and cosmetic procedures are now a topic of conversation in pop culture, on social media and even on Netflix. This August, "Skin Decision: Before and After" put a clinical twist on the classic makeover show, featuring plastic surgeon Sheila Nazarian and nurse Jamie using some of the latest technologies and procedures. 

"Injectable use is now a part of our cultural conversation, thanks to the average patient seeing the benefits of natural results from the advancements in technique and products that allow plastic surgeons to individualize their recommended treatments to what each patient needs," ASPS President Lynn Jeffers said in a release.

And as Americans get older and stay healthier than ever before, more of them are able and willing to take the risk. In an era of “optimization,” where a simple Google search reveals plenty of new techniques to do everything from sleep to eat, Miller noted there is less stigma in wanting to look or feel a certain way. 

“There’s nothing wrong with taking care of something that bothers you in a safe, predictable and affordable way,” said Miller, adding that “happy, healthy people” make the best candidates for surgery. 

So how do you make sure you do it right? Miller said there are four major steps for someone considering plastic surgery: 

  1. Do your homework. Surgeons can help guide you, but only you know what will be right for you.
  1. Know what you want in a provider. Consider their level of experience with the procedure you’re interested in and look at their track record, even considering their aesthetic.
  1. Schedule about three consultation sessions. While any less might not be enough, too many more is simply unnecessary, Miller said. 
  1. Listen to your gut. It’s your money, your body, and, ultimately, your decision. 

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Published on Nov 19, 2020