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Plastic Surgeons Stay Busy in Recession

Tight job market fuels interest in cheaper, less-invasive procedures, survey shows

FRIDAY, July 31 (HealthDay News) -- Earlier this year, Janice Axelrod, an insurance broker in Chicago, visited a plastic surgeon for a "makeover" -- a chemical peel and injections of abdominal fat under her eyes, around her lips and at the corners of her mouth.

Axelrod's decision was not motivated by concern she might lose her competitive edge in a tightening job market. "I would have done it recession or no recession," she said. "It was about my confidence and how I felt seeing clients."

But many other women see such cosmetic procedures as "employment insurance" in these tough times. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that nearly 3.5 million women in the workforce (3 percent) have already undergone a cosmetic procedure as an investment in their careers.

"Many people are going out on the job market and want touch-ups," confirmed Dr. Seth Thaller, professor and chief of plastic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. "I have a patient coming in next week who works. Her competition is younger, and she's getting plastic surgery to be more competitive in the market."

According to the ASPS, Botox procedures, which are used to treat moderate to severe frown lines, were up 8 percent in 2008 versus 2007; use of hyaluronic acid fillers for wrinkles and folds increased 6 percent, and chemical peels were up 2 percent.

Total cosmetic procedures and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures have increased since 2007 (3 percent and 5 percent, respectively), while more involved surgical cosmetic procedures, such as breast augmentation and tummy tucks, are down 9 percent overall.

A standard Botox procedure involving the upper face averages $800, said Dr. Loren Schechter, who performed Axelrod's procedures for about $5,000.

Two vials of Restylane, a filler commonly used around the nose and lower face, can cost $1,200, added Schechter, who is an assistant professor of surgery and chief of plastic surgery at Chicago Medical School and an ASPS spokesperson.

Other than cost-savings, a major reason women opt for more minor procedures is not wanting to take time out from a job or a job hunt.

"A lot of people don't want to be away from work," said ASPS president Dr. John Canady, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

"Without a doubt, people are looking for quicker recovery time. That's why Botox and fillers are so popular: The downtime is minimal to none," agreed Thaller.

Axelrod, who took less than a week off work, said her face was swollen for about two weeks.

While three-quarters of practitioners from a recent ASPS poll reported an "increased or stable" demand for these types of minor procedures, many individual surgeons say they feel the pinch of the recession.

"Across the country, there's not a place that hasn't felt the economic impact," Canady said.

Some filler companies are giving discounts for their products, Thaller said.

And while some patients still will fork over $1,000 or more to boost their employment prospects, others are opting out of the plastic surgery market completely.

Some people just don't show up for appointments, Thaller said.

Others are simply cutting back.

"People who used to do two or three areas [with Botox] might do one area now, or they're not coming every three to four months. They're coming every six to 12 months," Thaller said. "They're looking for deals. They don't want to spend $200 or $400, when before they would spend $1,000 or $1,200 without batting an eyelash."

More Information

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has more plastic surgery statistics.

SOURCES: John Canady, M.D., president, American Society of Plastic Surgeons and professor of plastic surgery, University of Iowa, Iowa City; Seth Thaller, M.D., professor and chief of plastic surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Fla.; Loren Schechter, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and chief of plastic surgery, Chicago Medical School and spokesman, American Society of Plastic Surgeons; Janice Axelrod, Chicago

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