By Donald Brown, MD, FACS

Almost every industry in the United States has taken a significant hit since the recession began a few years back—every industry, that is, except for plastic surgery. Since a minor decrease in business in 2008, when the economy was at its worst, plastic surgeons have seen an across-the-board increase in expenditures on cosmetic procedures. All told, plastic surgery spending increased by 10% between 2009 and 2011 alone.

Americans underwent 13.8 million cosmetic procedures in 2011, for a total of more than $10.1 billion in costs. These numbers are impressive in their own right, but taking into account the economic climate in which this record spending occurred, they’re pretty astounding.

To put things in perspective: Between 2009 and 2010, Americans experienced a 0.6% reduction in income on average. During this one-year period, spending on food dropped 3.8%, spending on clothing dropped 1.4%, and spending on entertainment dropped 7%—yet spending on breast augmentation increased by 1.3%, spending on liposuction increased by 5.1%, and spending on butt lifts increased by a remarkable 24.4%.

What accounts for the rocketing growth of the plastic surgery market? A number of factors, really. For one, the stigma formerly associated with plastic surgery appears to be melting away: survey results released last year by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), for example, found that 51% of Americans approve of plastic surgery, and 67% of Americans would not be embarrassed if they had plastic surgery and their friends and family found out.

As approval of plastic surgery increases, many people—both women and men—are becoming more willing to take the plunge and have a procedure done. Also, with the job market as tough as it is right now, people are on the lookout for anything that can give them a competitive edge—and they’re discovering that improving their appearance can do just that.

Then there’s the fact that plastic surgery is far more accessible today than it ever has been before. Rhinoplasty and breast augmentation used to be for the rich and famous; now, with doctors helping their patients work out affordable financing plans and daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social sending out email severy month offering deeply-discounted cosmetic procedures, virtually anyone can find a way to cover the cost of the work they want done. In fact, according to a 2009 survey conducted by the ASAPS, nearly one third of plastic surgery patients make less than $30,000, and more than half make less than $60,000.

Whatever the reasons—and clearly, there are many—plastic surgery is indisputably more popular now than ever before in the history of the United States. The number of cosmetic procedures performed in 2010 represented a 77% increase from ten years prior, in 2000 . . . and there’s no indication that the momentum driving this trend will slow anytime soon.

About the Author
Dr. Donald Brown is a double board certified plastic surgeon in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about him here.