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Cosmetic surgeries see biggest gains since the Great Recession

Mandi Woodruff
Patient Evelin De Aguilar, 30, smiles in her doctor's office while recovering from surgery to remove liquid silicone she had paid to be injected into her buttocks previously for aesthetic reasons, in Caracas, October 31, 2013. Venezuelan plastic surgeon Daniel Slobodianik performs various procedures, including operations on patients who have previously had illegal or amateur injections of liquid silicone into their buttocks in order to enhance them. The reverse operation that Slobodianik carries out costs approximately $8,200 and takes between two and three hours depending on how much fluid the patient has in the area. Plastic surgery is common in Venezuela, where many women from all walks of life undergo procedures to nip, tuck or boost different parts of their bodies. Picture taken October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Though it may not bode well for America’s self-esteem as a whole, there may be a reason to celebrate the fact that cosmetic procedures have seen their greatest gains since the Great Recession.

Plastic surgeons performed more than 11 million cosmetic surgical procedures in the U.S. in 2013, up 12% for the year and 18% higher than the 9 million procedures ordered in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

In the wake of the economic downturn, plastic surgeons have offered more options for less financially confident consumers who want to stick to their budgets but still get work done -- why pay for a pricey facelift when you can get some Botox for a fraction of the cost? Invasive surgeries like breast augmentations and tummy tucks are still the bread and butter of many a plastic surgeon, but rapid developments in noninvasive procedures have been a boon for the industry and penny-pinching patients alike.

Nonsurgical procedures increased in 2013 by 13% with 9.5 million procedures. A man -- cosmetic procedures for men have grown 237% since 1997 -- who might have spent $15,000 to $20,000 on a facelift a few years ago can opt for a round of Botox or a quick microdermabrasion treatment, both of which rarely break the $1,000 mark.

“Not everybody is willing to be [in recovery] for several weeks after a major procedure,” said Dr. Jack Fisher, president of ASAPS. “They’re looking for a less dramatic change with shorter recovery.”

Botox injections, which cost a few hundred dollars a pop, are the most popular noninvasive procedure by far, with 3.7 million procedures performed last  year—15% more than in 2012. Other contenders may soon dethrone it in popularity, however. Photo rejuvenation, which reduces signs of aging caused by sun exposure, was up 35% with half a million procedures in 2013 and Hyaluronic Acid (wrinkle fillers) saw 31% growth with nearly 2 million procedures.

Liposuction and breast augmentations still ruled the list of invasive procedures, with gains of 16.3% and 5.2%, respectively). Buttock augmentation procedures, which can cost from $5,000 to $10,000, were up 58% year-over-year.

The nose job indicator

Economists have often unofficially linked the ups and downs of the plastic surgery industry to the overall robustness of the U.S. economy. In 2009, Merrill Lynch analysts found 77% of plastic surgeons blamed the economy for reducing the total number of breast augmentation procedures they did from the year before.

The worse Americans feel about their finances, they argue, the less likely they are to treat themselves to a little nip and tuck.

“If you just watched your portfolio lose 20% to 30% of its value, why would you decide to go get a facelift?” Fisher said. “2009 was a very bad year for most plastic surgeons. There was a drastic drop, especially in more expensive procedures.”

This year’s figures, while uplifting for a business that was hit during the recession, weren’t entirely unexpected. The beauty industry as a whole has been on the upswing over the last year.

Karen Grant, senior beauty industry analyst for NPD Group, sounded optimistic in a February review of the cosmetics and beauty industry. “Consumers continue to struggle with lower income levels, but the global economic environment continues to stabilize,” she said. “The social trends all around us indicate an improving outlook and a willingness to invest when the associated risk is low.”

Here were the most popular cosmetic procedures in 2013, according to the ASAPS. 

Surgical procedures:

Liposuction (363,912 procedures, up 16.3%)
Breast augmentation (313,327 procedures, down 5.2%)
Eyelid surgery (161,389 procedures, up 5.4%)
Tummy tuck (160,077 procedures, up 2.3%)
Nose surgery (147,966 procedures, up 2.9%)

Nonsurgical procedures:

Botulinum Toxin (3,766,148 procedures, up 15.6%)
Hyaluronic Acid (1,872,172 procedures, up 31.5%)
Hair Removal (901,571 procedures, up 2%)
Microdermabrasion (479,865 procedures, down 3.8%)
Photo Rejuvenation (456,613 procedures, up 35.3%)