The new rush on cosmetic and plastic surgery treatments before the comeback of face-to-face meetings
Clinics offering cosmetic services such as injectable facial fillers and body sculpting are already bracing for a rush on appointments this spring and summer. And this time, compared with the recent uptick in requests for treatments like Botox and Juvéderm, it’s not because of the so-called Zoom effect.
Rather, customers are preparing for the return of face-to-face meetings—both personal and professional—this summer as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the United States continues, even if achieving herd immunity across the greater population is unlikely.
“There seems to be a rush to have procedures before employers require people to start returning to work,” says Dr. David Shafer, founder of Manhattan-based practice Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). “As it is now, patients can come in for a breast augmentation on Monday and be back on Zoom on Tuesday, and no one at work would know.”
Growing at a rate of 3.1% annually, the domestic plastic surgery industry was estimated to be worth $17 billion in 2020, and more than $50 billion internationally, with a projected global valuation of $67 billion by 2026.
“Most cosmetic physicians, including myself, are at the busiest points of our careers right now mostly because of the huge demand for people to get back to life,” says Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a celebrity cosmetic dermatologist, author of The Pro-Aging Playbook, and creator of The Pro-Aging Podcast. “Since we are a service industry and only have our own hands, there is a huge demand and limited supply for how we work.”
In particular, minimally or non-invasive body sculpting procedures—such as SmartLipo, BodyTite, and CoolSculpting—have been trending among prospective patients. These procedures use lasers, radio frequency, and electromagnetic waves to eliminate fat without having to undergo surgery. A topical numbing agent may be often applied to lessen discomfort, and patients heal faster and can return to daily activity the next day.
“With warmer weather, summer clothes are getting taken out of the wardrobe, and body contouring procedures have become one of the most sought-after cosmetic procedures in the past few weeks compared to normal years,” says Dr. Samuel Lin, a plastic surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.
A typical patient, Dr. Lin says, is someone who is looking to tighten their skin and achieve a more “fit” body. “Those who maintained an active lifestyle throughout the pandemic can also benefit from body contouring procedures to eliminate stubborn fat deposits and excess skin from weight loss.”
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recently conducted a survey to get a sense of Americans’ perceptions of plastic surgery more than a year into the pandemic, including what treatments they are most interested in and how likely they were to book them. “Results show that body procedures are now the focus, with tummy tucks at the top of the list, followed by liposuction,” says Dr. Alan Matarasso, past president of the ASPS. “Women cited weight fluctuation during quarantine as the main driver for these choices. These are also treatments long put off due to time and cost pre-COVID. But now, with money saved for over a year due to limited access to spend on restaurants, travel, and other leisure expenditures, they have the money for these treatments.”
At Dr. Frank’s salons in Manhattan, the most popular services have shifted a bit, he says. “Since people still have downtime available they are looking to do the more invasive procedures more now than during pre-COVID life when they didn’t have the time to recover,” he explains. “Tumescent lipo is very common right now for that reason because people want to make big changes and will accept a bit of downtime. Additionally, the Emsculpt Neo, which is a new treatment that melts fat and tightens skin on the abs, butt, and thighs without any downtime, is very popular right now. It is recommended that you do one treatment for 30 minutes per week for four weeks for a total of four treatments.”
Dr. Bruce Katz, a dermatologist and founder of the Juva Skin and Laser Center in New York City, says he has never seen demand this high before—at least 25% to 30% higher than in previous years. He notes that his most popular services at the moment are treatments that reduce cellulite, reduce or remove fat, tighten skin, and build muscle. These include QWO, the first injectable used to treat moderate to severe cellulite in the buttocks, and Emsculpt Neo, an in-office body shaping procedure (conducted in 30-minute sessions over the course of weeks and months) that uses radio frequency and high-intensity electromagnetic energies to both reduce fat and build muscle.
“The demand for body contouring treatments is huge; it’s very clear that my patients are ready to leave their homes and want to look and feel their best when they do,” Dr. Katz says. “Due to the pandemic, men and women are sitting more, [but] anticipating travel as well as spending increased time outdoors, so are looking to get their bodies beach ready before the summer.”
Dr. William Rahal, a plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, describes the pent-up demand as “reflection, neglection, and realization.”
“While in quarantine, people were forced to stay at home, and it gave them time to self-reflect,” Dr. Rahal says. “What people have been realizing is that they have been neglecting themselves, their ‘me time,’ and their self-care regimen. Now that the vaccine rollout is underway, people have a greater sense of security and are finally ready to engage with that part of themselves and do the things they’ve always wanted to do but had been pushing off.”
Right now—before summer really kicks off—is a great time to undergo not only outpatient treatments but also plastic surgeries that require more recovery time, usually at least one to two weeks. “A majority of our patients are still working from home, so they can get away with only taking a few days off, depending on the surgery, of course,” Dr. Rahal says. “Travel and dining are also still very limited, so that sense of ‘missing out’ from having to stay at home during recovery has been completely eliminated.”
Renuvion skin tightening is also in very high demand right now, Dr. Rahal notes. “It’s a great alternative to a tummy tuck for those patients looking for a less invasive procedure with minimal downtime. The procedure delivers a combination of radio frequency energy and helium plasma, which allows for maximum tissue contraction, resulting in a tightened and toned look. It’s a very popular procedure with women postpartum as it also helps with scarring.”
Permanent side effects
But even if the pre-summer rush hinges mostly on the plan (or at least hope) to have more meetings in real life in the next few months, the influence of videoconferencing over Zoom and FaceTime could be permanent.
“I do see this continuing,” Dr. Rahal says of the Zoom effect. “In the past year, we’ve spent more time with ourselves than ever before. We have slowed down from the ‘always on the go’ mentality and have had more time and capacity to think. Whether it be looking at ourselves on Zoom, in the mirror, or just self-reflecting in general, many people have decided that they want to prioritize self-care to the extent they’ve always wanted to.”
Dr. Katz notes that there wasn’t as much of a downturn as might have been expected during the lockdown because telemedicine was normalized. His clinic plans to continue to offer patients telemedicine appointments, among other safety protocols such as requiring staff members to wear face masks.
“Even with offices starting to reopen, people are still using Zoom frequently as they are taking virtual meetings and continuing to look at their faces staring back at them every day. Botox and fillers are still very popular treatments for our patients who want to look their best on camera and in person,” Dr. Katz says. “I am also seeing patients come in for ‘tweakments,’ quick, fast, and easy procedures like Botox with no downtime, as they are already anticipating having to go back to the office and lead a more public and more social life.”
Most cosmetic and plastic surgery clinics also didn’t take long to rebound because advanced safety and hygiene protocols that became commonplace during the pandemic in retail and office buildings are already commonplace in medical facilities. “In a private plastic surgery office, social distancing is almost automatic as we strive to maintain patients’ privacy,” Dr. Shafer says. “Fortunately, when we built the office, we installed separate ventilation systems for each exam room, so there is no exchange of air between the rooms.”
Additionally, cosmetic procedures are gradually becoming more affordable and continue to become safer with technological advances in medicine. For these reasons, medical professionals predict demand for plastic surgery procedures will continue to trend upwards in the coming years. “A shift towards online learning and working from home has resulted in sitting in front of a video camera as the norm,” Dr. Lin says. “Injectable fillers and Botox have been the most highly requested procedures throughout the pandemic. Cosmetic surgical facial procedures such as face lifts, neck lifts, blepharoplasties [eye lifts], and rhinoplasties have also increased in popularity. The advent of working from home has provided patients prolonged periods of downtime to recover from surgical procedures that otherwise could not have been done during pre-pandemic times without taking time off from work.”
And with summer in mind, it should always be stressed that the first habit everyone should practice is applying sunscreen. For facial procedures, Dr. Lin recommends staying in the shade and using wide-brimmed hats.
“The pandemic has overall changed the culture of how we live our lives,” Dr. Rahal says. “A lot of these changes will be made permanent, and our goal is to make sure our staff feels safe and our clients feel comfortable during each part of their experience.”
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