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updated: 2/21/2013 12:15 PM

Plastic surgery provides lift in our saggy economy

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  • In tough economic times, people stay in the workforce longer and look to plastic surgery procedures as ways to compete in a younger environment, says Dr. Loren S. Schechter.

    In tough economic times, people stay in the workforce longer and look to plastic surgery procedures as ways to compete in a younger environment, says Dr. Loren S. Schechter.
    Courtesy of University Plastic Surgery

  • Video: 2012 Breast Symposium


Our economy still looks a little droopy. It could use a lift or at least an injection of good news. Plastic surgeons are happy to oblige.

The number of cosmetic plastic surgery procedures jumped 5 percent to 14.6 million in 2012, according to statistics released this week by the Arlington Heights-based American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Minimally invasive cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and other skin treatments, laser removal of hair and a record 6.1. million Botox wrinkle treatments led the surge. Facelifts and eyelid surgeries also saw increases.

Our saggy economy might have something to do with that.

"People are staying in the workforce longer and want to do things to compete in the younger workplace," says society spokesman Dr. Loren S. Schechter with University Plastic Surgery, which has offices in Wheaton, Grayslake, Morton Grove and Lake Forest. Workers hoping to stay employed and applicants interviewing for jobs often feel it is to their advantage to look younger, especially "in occupations like sales, where you are really in front of people," Schechter says.

Also adding to the increase in cosmetic surgery are improvements that allow surgeons to offer minimally invasive procedures with quicker recovery times that don't require patients to miss chunks of work, the doctor says.

Some of the recent increase in plastic surgery is fueled by men, who now make up about 20 percent of his business, says Schechter. Skin treatments, eye lifts, nose jobs and other facial procedures are "becoming less taboo" for men, he adds.

Much of the attention given plastic surgery revolves around cosmetic breast implants for women. While breast augmentation remains the most popular cosmetic surgery, the number of women opting for those procedures fell by 7 percent last year. Meanwhile breast-reduction surgeries for men grew by 5 percent with nearly 21,000 procedures in 2012.

Officially called gynecomastia, overdeveloped or enlarged breasts in men can be caused by heredity, disease or as a side-effect of medication, Schechter says. "I don't know if the incidents have increased, but there's more awareness," he says.

Likewise, breast-reduction surgery for women continues to be in demand.

"The challenges we have seen is with insurance coverage," says Schechter, chairman of the ASPS's government affairs committee. While most women have the surgery to alleviate health problems, they sometimes have to "jump through hoops" to prove that their breast-reduction surgeries should be covered, Schechter says.

In addition to elective cosmetic surgeries designed to improve people's appearance, plastic surgeons saw a 1 percent increase last year in reconstructive plastic surgeries on abnormalities. Most of that involves the removal of tumors and skin cancers.

"We have an aging population and much of that is related to sun exposure," Schechter says.

TV shows, tabloid magazines and other media that focus on "plastic surgery nightmares" and botched procedures actually help members of the ASPS and other professional organizations by reminding people to seek out accredited medical facilities and qualified surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, Schechter says.

"The media attention has taken some of the stigma away. Now it's talked about," Schechter says. That attention comes everywhere from a winning contestant on "Biggest Loser" telling about her surgery to remove excess skin, to cancer patients who have undergone mastectomies taking part in the first Breast Reconstruction Awareness day.

Conversations are one of the first steps for people contemplating plastic surgery, says Schechter, who says surgeons need to know a patent's motivation and expectations.

"The goal is to look better and feel better," he says, noting that he declines to perform surgeries in 10 to 15 percent of the cases he sees. "Sometimes the expectations aren't realistic. Surgery is not going to save your job or save a failing marriage."

But the American push for plastic surgery procedures does add more than $10 billion to an economy hoping to look more robust.

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