Physicians across the US saw an uptick in cosmetic procedures after workers returned to offices.
A survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2022 asked plastic surgeons about their experience with an increased demand for cosmetic procedures since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.1 From the recorded responses, 76% of survey participants have seen an increased demand in their practice for cosmetic procedures compared to pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, 23% of aesthetic-focused practices reported their business has doubled, and 6% reported a dramatic increase of more than double their volume from 2021 to 2022.
Cynthia Elliott, MD, founder of and practicing physician at Skinspirations in Clearwater, Florida, spoke with Dermatology Times® to discuss her experience with increasing cosmetic procedures, the types of procedures patients were seeking before and after the pandemic, and what she thinks has influenced such a high demand for improved cosmetic features.
Cynthia Elliott, MD: Hi, I'm Cynthia Elliot, MD. My affiliation is with Skinspirations, which is my medical practice. And I own ExpertEsthetics, which is a medical training company for aesthetic providers.
Dermatology Times: Why has the number of cosmetic surgeries increased drastically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Elliott: I think there have been 2 phases. I think the first phase was because everyone was working from home and also wearing masks. So, they could do a lot of procedures that had downtime without having to take vacation time to do it. And they could also do it during the week or in the middle of the day, which was great for us. After the masks came off, people really hadn't been paying that much attention to their lower face. When the masks came off and then people started going back to work, they had to catch up then in their lower face that they maybe hadn't been paying attention to.
Dermatology Times: How are cosmetic and regenerative medical practices coping with the increase in demand for cosmetic surgeries?
Elliott: I think if they have the staff, they can absorb it. What we're finding in Florida is we can't get the staff. We probably would have gone up a lot more in terms of our revenues and number of new patients if we could find staff, but we haven't been able to find a medical assistant for a year and a half. We've even had them call and ask if they could work from home, which you know is not possible. But I think that's held some of the practices back. I've talked to other doctors who are having the same problem. Other than that, I think it's been fairly easy to absorb the volume, because most of these procedures non-surgical that we are doing, maybe the surgeons are doing more surgery, but non-surgical procedures have also gone up, but they're a little easier to absorb into your schedule.
Dermatology Times: Have you noticed an increase in medical dermatologists incorporating cosmetic procedures into their practice?
Elliott: Yes, I think in my opinion, they are, and I think too, new dermatologists just coming out of their residencies are already tuned into it. I'm not sure if maybe they're learning more about the procedures. They never used to teach cosmetic procedures. But I think most of them is because they've already got the patients there, they already know their skin, it just makes sense that they would add more aesthetic treatments.
Dermatology Times: How are cosmetic and regenerative medical practices different from medspas?
Elliott: Well, medspas, and it depends on the state, can provide laser treatments and injectables. I think it's just a matter of how much experience they have. They aren't required to have a doctor on the premises. And they also maybe don't have providers that have been doing the treatments for very long. Where medical practices have a doctor that's usually there all day every day. And I think that with more aggressive treatments, such as some of the laser treatments, it's really helpful to have a doctor there to provide help with anybody who has any problems with the treatment. And likewise, then we can be more aggressive with the treatment because we have the knowledge to be able to take care of anything that does happen. We see patients that were treated in medspas with aggressive laser treatments, but they weren't able to handle the complications. And then they come to us. And I think a lot of people don't realize that some of the laser treatments are very aggressive. And if they're assuming that everything they do there is being done safely, it's terrible for them to have to find out that that isn't true.
Dermatology Times: What are some of the most popular facial treatments opted for by people working from home in the US?
Elliott: I've been really impressed with how many people are starting a regular skin care treatment protocol. Just in the last you know, 2 or 3 years, we have so many people that come in every month and have a treatment done and then they do really follow their at-home strategies that the esthetician set up for them and a lot of them are younger than they used to be. So, we have a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who are coming in every month for you for a hydrafacial or microderm and I'm just so impressed with how well they're trying to take care of their skin.
Dermatology Times: Has social media influenced the uptick in cosmetic procedures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Elliott: Well, you know, obviously it's been huge. When patients come in and want to show me how they look on TikTok because they said Iwon't be able to see it in a mirror, that I'll only be able to see what they're talking about in a video. That is really interesting that it's almost that it's more important to them how they look in the video than how they look in person. But they want to reach these high standards and want to be able to look like there's a filter on them all the time, which I understand, but it can be really hard to get to that level.
Dermatology Times: Do you have any closing remarks?
Elliott: I think besides the masks coming off, I've seen a lot of people who haven't been to work in 2 years, and a lot of the big companies here are bringing everybody back. And it's kind of interesting because I was talking to one woman who said she had to go back to work, and that she really didn't want to because none of her clothes fit anymore. And so, I think that's part of it, people are seeking body treatments as well. But they also haven't seen their coworkers in 2 years. Except on video, but they are a little more self-conscious now to go back and that I understand because up until about a month ago, we were wearing masks in the office. And we finally stopped because the patients were all telling us that they didn't really want us to wear masks. But it was funny because last week one of my patients came in and when I walked in the room, he said, "Wow, I've never seen your face." And he's been a patient for 2 years. And I was afraid to ask him what he thought. But I think that it is important, that it isn't just the increase in treatments because people were working from home. I think it was this whole weird phase of not seeing people without their masks unless you live with them. And then suddenly, like even my dentist said, “It's time for you to start bleaching your teeth again.” I thought "Okay," but, you know, if no one was going to see your lower face, you didn't really have to keep up with it.
[Transcript edited for clarity]