About Face: Plastic Surgery is Increasing in a Corvid-19 Landscape
Plastic surgery is experiencing an unexpected Covid-19 driven surge. I’m personally excited to delve into what, exactly, are the catalysts for its sudden rise.
Americans are getting more and more interested in plastic surgery during the Covid-19 pandemic which makes a sort of logical sense, given the increase in social media engagement, previously correlated with rises in inquiries in plastic surgery procedures, the isolation and subsequent ability to obsessively focus in on our minor flaws, the extra time to research all available procedures, and, of course, plenty of time to recover if you do take the plunge.
Full disclosure? I’ve had two nose jobs and wore my subsequent bandages like small white badges of honor; my previous experience has lead to me to always keep an eye on emerging trends in the cosmetic enhancement and surgery industry, making me particularly intrigued when I saw that, as cities reopened, plastic surgeons and their injector peers were in high demand.
But even before the Covid-19 pandemic brought about the perfect storm of factors to get and recover from surgery in secret, plastic surgery, along with noninvasive procedures such as fillers and CoolSculpting, has long been on the rise.
Part of this is due to women — who make up 86% of all cosmetic procedures — being bombarded by images of the “feminine ideal” across every source of social media available in the last few years. In fact, 97% of plastic surgeons interviewed cited social media as a reason for the recent rise in plastic surgery’s popularity. There are countless Instagram accounts and YouTube channels detailing the “glow ups” of stars like Lana Del Rey, Bella Hadid, Emma Stone, and every single one of the female Kardashians, speculating what procedures they might have had and by whom. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after the popularity of Instagram exploded between the years of 2010–2015, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons started observing a boom of growth in most procedures that averaged about 4% YOY growth.
Celebrities obsession with plastic surgery has spilled over to young women. Plastic surgery used to be something clandestine, reserved for the very discreet and the very wealthy. But new financing options, like CareCredit, along with new openness towards surgery by those who’ve gotten it, has suddenly allowed it to become socially permissible and financially obtainable. And websites like RealSelf, a site devoted towards plastic surgery and those getting it, have also helped to demystify procedures, provide cost transparency, and connect patients to support one another through the process.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that nearly every single sector has been negatively impacted financially by the Covid-19 crisis, including the whole of the cosmetic services industry. On average, cosmetic companies reported profit losses of over 4–8% in first quarter sales.
And for elective medical procedures-which are deemed non-emergency by nature-the March shutdowns delayed surgeries for up to four months, with a study showing that over 27% of patients up for elective surgery had their dates pushed back. Covid-19 also completely closed plastic surgeons’ offices and med-spas, which are often devoted to performing non-invasive procedures.
Still, plastic surgeons rose to the challenge of Corvid-19 in March. Out of the 8,000 surgeons who make up the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, almost 2,700 have private practices. And a great deal of surgeons offered both their medical expertise and equipment to deal with the rise in coronavirus patients at the start of the pandemic. As Park Avenue plastic surgeon Dr. Douglas Senderoff stated “We’re a resource. We all have general surgery experience. We have ICU experience. There’s hundreds of us just sitting around, waiting for the call.”
But now, as the country slowly reopens, so have plastic surgery clinics and medical spas with doctors reporting an increase in inquiries from potential patients and bookings for procedures themselves. In fact, some doctors find themselves so overwhelmed their books are closed until late fall 2020.
So, let’s breakdown why this increase in elective surgery is occurring in a time when close face to face contact can put the health of all players at risk and many people don’t have money to spare.
It’s all in the eyes
Lock-downs and subsequent boredom have people both focused on self-improvement and working what they do have. One of the surprising results of this combination is that now, as fashionable face masks have suddenly become in and also required in 30 states, surgeons are seeing an influx of patients requesting eye enhancing procedures.
Dr. Alexandra Schmidt states “We’ve had a lot more inquiries about things like upper eyelid surgery. That’s one thing that’s a quick procedure with an easy recovery, and it can make a huge impact in the way that you look especially when all people see is your eyes.”
This makes sense. While lip augmentation and rhinoplasty are always popular, eyes are one of the few features that remain visible and expressive over a face mask. Blepharoplasty, brow lifts, and botox can magnify the beauty of our eyes over our face-masks. And with so many people working from home, popular body based plastic surgery procedures like breast augmentation, which normally accounts for 300,000 of elective cosmetic surgeries a year, doesn’t really do much to enhance your Zoom image-unless you haven’t learned to work your angles, that is.
Zooming in on minor flaws
You see what I did there ^. Work from home orders and the subsequent reliance on telecommunication systems, like Zoom, FaceTime Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and more, have people facing themselves daily in a way they didn’t when they worked in offices. In fact, as we stare at small pixelated versions of ourselves constantly, we are also constantly faced with flaws we might have not picked up on before. Psychologytoday states “These technologically mediated pictures of ourselves are bringing attention to flaws we didn’t know we had. We are noticing our odd teeth, wrinkles, strange expressions, and are feeling insecure.” Plastic surgeons agree, stating that there has been an influx in new patients requesting procedures to “fix” flaws they’ve noticed flaws during Zoom calls and the like.
“They’re seeing themselves on camera and they’re noticing every little detail of their aging and fullness under their jawline….(resulting in an) increased demand for chin liposuction and jawline contouring procedures,” reports one plastic surgeon. Park Avenue Plastic Surgeon Dr. Steve Levine concedes stating “now that more of us are faced to stare at ourselves in our computer screens while on video conference, I expect people who otherwise may not have been interested in surgery to consider a consultation.”
In fact, the biggest uptick in requested procedures have been those that effect us from the neck-up. 65% of recent appointment requests were for Botox and its ilk-Dysport and Xeomin-while 37% were for fillers like Juvéderm, all treatments geared towards enhancing facial features.
Clinics ranging from South Korea to Japan to the US have all seen a surge in requests for cosmetic procedures. Shelter in place and lock-downs have given potential patients the perfect time to recover at their own leisure and not have to worry about missing work or using up sick days for procedures, like rhinoplasty, that can take up to 10–14 days to recover from.
In fact, factoring in recovery time and time off from work and social obligations is often a huge determinant when deciding to get surgery. But as Texas based plastic surgeon Rod Rohrich states, among the Covid-19 pandemic, “(patients) can actually recover at home and also they can have a mask that they wear when they go outside after a rhinoplasty or facelift.”
And the normalization of virtual consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed potential patients who live in rural areas and other states or countries easier access to their preferred surgeons when they would have previously been excluded. Instead of having to drive or fly for a consult-something that’s surprisingly common in the past-virtual medicine has made it more economical for people to speak in depth with surgeons from the comforts of their own home.
It’s a form of self-care
Depression, hopelessness, stress, and social isolation have all run rampant during Covid-19. So it’s no surprise that some of the reasoning behind why there’s a sudden surge in interest in surgical procedures is also similar to why you might get a blow out at a saloon after a stressful day or do a clay mask while binge watching “You” after a bad breakup. Plastic surgery is, after all, an extreme extension of self-care: it’s something we do to try and feel better about ourselves.
As Columbia neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez points out efforts to bolster our physical appearance often are actual efforts to bolster our self-esteem. She states that for some people looking likethe best possible versions of their self is a coping mechanism, “Some people might be relieved that they get to forgo these beauty routines to fit the ‘status quo,’ but some might really miss that. It’s a very complicated but rationally validated coping mechanism.” And in a time when everything, including a novel virus is up in the air, can you blame people for doing whatever they can to try and feel better?