Elective cosmetic operations rebound from mild decline

By Ken Little – The Star News Online

On the face of things, it’s reasonable to assume that the economy would have an effect of the number of cosmetic procedures performed in recent years.
While that’s true to a degree, there is no shortage of people who opt for surgical and nonsurgical procedures in the Wilmington area.

One reason may be that individuals of a certain age perceive they must look their best to remain relevant in today’s highly competitive workplace.
“People definitely say that. The need to look good is always very important,” said Adeena Babbit, spokeswoman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, an organization of surgeons specializing in cosmetic surgery of the face and body.

A study recently released by the society shows that almost 10 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in 2009 in the United States. That’s a drop of only 2 percent from 2008.

All indications are that the trend continued through 2010, according to several local plastic surgeons.

“We really haven’t seen a drop-off. We have realized pretty steady growth over the last three years,” said Edward Ricciardelli, plastic surgeon at Summit Plastic Surgery & Dermatology, which has offices in Wilmington and Supply.

The market for plastic surgery and nonsurgical procedures is on the upswing from 2009, said Charles Kays, one of four surgeons in the Wilmington Plastic Surgery practice.

“Back in 2009 when there was an economic downturn, we saw the elective cosmetic surgery aspect of our practice drop off probably 20 percent,” Kays said. “We pretty much have corrected. I don’t know if that’s an indicator the economy’s getting better. You can see now cosmetic surgery has recovered not to, but near, the level before.”

Ricciardelli performs nearly 800 procedures a year.

“At least in my practice, plastic surgery has shown pretty steady growth,” he said.

“Definitely there’s a lot of anti-aging (procedures done), and surgery after massive weight loss,” Babbitt said.

Looking For A Lift

Kays said surgical procedures popular among his patients include facelifts, eyelifts, liposuction and breast enhancement. Popular nonsurgical procedures include skin fillers to remove wrinkles and lines.

“There are a whole lot of noninvasive skin fillers to correct wrinkles and lines that don’t need anesthesia,” Kays said. “It’s all part of a facial rejuvenation kind of scenario.”

Including reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients, Kays performs more than 500 procedures a year. He said the recovery in his practice began in 2009. Most patients have considered having a specific procedure done for some time and make it a priority within their budget.

“Typically, a patient comes in and will say, ‘It’s always been a problem’ or ‘It’s something I’ve always wanted to change.’” Kays said. “They know what it’s going to cost, and they’re going to make that judgment.”

Depending on the procedure, a patient can spend between $1,000 and $5,000. Few are covered by health insurance, so in most cases cosmetic surgery is an out-of-pocket expense.

Wilmington “is pretty representative” in terms of the kinds of procedures performed nationwide, Ricciardelli said. Many patients in his practice are in the 40-65 age group.

Patients under 40 are more likely to receive a noninvasive treatment like Botox or fillers, he said. Many in their 20s and 30s come in for breast augmentation, Ricciardelli added.

“That has not fallen off. It has continued to grow, and it’s a very popular procedure,” he said.

The over-50 group, which includes the Baby Boom generation just beginning to reach retirement age, often seeks procedures such as facelifts and eyelifts.

“We see patients in their 60s now that are in great shape, and they are still very active,” Ricciardelli said. “They’re nowhere near retiring and they want to look good.”

Facing Competition

The idea of remaining competitive in the workplace drives some clients to seek a more youthful appearance, Ricciardelli said.

“Oftentimes, it is a motivation. They feel good or feel productive, but they want to stay competitive in the sales force or something where they are in public,” he said.

Excluding the segment of the practice that involves reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients, Kays also said most patients come in with long-standing concerns about their appearance.

Kays said there’s more of an emphasis “on looking good in the summer” in places like Wilmington.

“Maybe the demographics of being in a beach community may lend itself more to body contouring or facial rejuvenation rather than, say, rhinoplasty,” otherwise known as nose surgery, he said.

Ricciardelli said about 80 percent of his patients are female. Surgeries common among men in Wilmington include liposuction, eyelid lifts and office procedures like Botox injection.

“Botox is very affordable. Skin (treatments) is very affordable,” Kays said. “It’s a way to avoid going under the knife and improve your appearance in an affordable kind of way.”

Then federal government might do well to track the health of plastic surgery practices across the nation when trying to gauge the strength of the economic recovery, he said.

“It’s definitely trending up to where it was prior to the economic downturn,” Kays said.

Ricciardelli said plastic surgery or nonsurgical procedures are becoming more accepted by the public because they are less invasive with quicker recovery times than 10 or 20 years ago, anesthesia techniques are better and more options exist.

“Results are better,” he said. “The thing about these surgeries, the (focus) in plastic surgery now is to help people look younger rather than being real aggressive. The results are very natural.”

[Read the article on StarNewsOnline.com]

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