It’s a pervasive marketing message in aesthetics: Rejuvenation procedures can increase competitiveness in the workplace. But there’s been a lack of research that puts data behind the relationship between ageism — prejudice against people due to age — and the desire for cosmetic procedures. Until now. According to a preliminary report published July 2019 in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, a significant number of patients who seek cosmetic procedures indeed believe they are discriminated against because of their older age.
The study springs from two commonly held truths: (1) Ageism increases risk for psychological distress and problems with physical health. And (2) Many cosmetic patients seek anti-aging procedures. To study the relationship between the desire for cosmetic procedures and ageism, researchers surveyed 50 patients, mean age 49.4 years, from an aesthetic plastic surgery clinic. Two-thirds of patients were having anti-aging treatments, including fillers and neurotoxins. The rest had a range of treatments, from breast implants to labiaplasty.
Patients answered questions about their experiences with and reasons for discrimination, as well as perceived age discrimination across interpersonal, romantic, work and health contexts; their anticipation of ageism; and self-ratings of health and self-esteem.
“Our survey found that over 30% of participants reported that they had been treated with less courtesy or respect than others, received poor service in a restaurant or store, or had other discriminatory experiences because of their age. Many patients also reported perceiving ageism in their interpersonal relationships, such as by being excluded by others or teased or mocked due to age,” according to an emailed response from study author Rebecca L. Pearl, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Our study also found a negative relationship between perceived age discrimination and self-rated health. In addition, patients who reported experiencing age discrimination or reported expectations of age discrimination in the future had lower self-esteem than patients who did not experience or anticipate age discrimination.”
Dermatologists and other aesthetic providers, therefore, should consider taking steps to educate patients who might worry about future age discrimination about realistic expectations from cosmetic procedures aimed at making them look younger.
“Dermatologists who provide cosmetic services should be aware that some older patients may seek anti-aging procedures due to concerns about age discrimination, and that these concerns are associated with poorer health. It is important to manage patients’ expectations about what cosmetic procedures can and cannot do to address their concerns about ageism,” says Dr. Pearl.
In some cases, cosmetic providers should consider referring patients who seem greatly stressed by ageism to a mental health professional, the authors write.
To optimize outcomes, researchers need to look further into the relationship between cosmetic procedures and anticipated and perceived ageism, according to Dr. Pearl.
“We surveyed a small number of patients from a single plastic surgeon’s clinic. Future research could survey more patients across multiple practices. Our survey was cross-sectional, so we cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between age discrimination and poorer health and self-esteem. The use of longitudinal or experimental designs could help to clarify the potential causal path between age discrimination and health. Research is also needed to determine whether or not cosmetic procedures alleviate patients’ concerns about or experiences of age discrimination,” she says.
Dr. Pearl reports no relevant disclosures.
Pearl RL, Percec I. Ageism and Health in Patients Undergoing Cosmetic Procedures. Aesthet Surg J. 2019;39(7):NP288-NP292.