Why demand for cosmetic surgery is booming in a post-pandemic world

"Zoom dysphoria" means that hours spent in videoconferences have made some people feel worse about their looks.
Why demand for cosmetic surgery is booming in a post-pandemic world
Photo: Kim Hong-Ji (Reuters)
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In the wake of the pandemic, the rise of Zoom has changed everything from the power dynamics of work meetings to how likely we are to multitask while chatting with colleagues. A new report suggests the prevalence of videoconferencing may also be linked to an uptick of interest in plastic surgery in the US over the last 18 months.

More than three-quarters of US plastic surgeons say their services are in higher demand now compared to before the pandemic, according to a survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Of that group, 23% said business had doubled, while 47% said they were seeing slightly more demand.

In the survey, which was conducted in June among 300 ASPS members, roughly 40% of surgeons pointed to the fact that patients weren’t traveling as much, meaning that people both had more time to recover from surgeries and could direct the money they might have spent on vacations to cosmetic procedures. In addition, 40% said patients “would pay anything to feel good and more confident during the pandemic.”

Other reports have noted the trend of people seeking procedures because they gained weight during the pandemic or perceived signs of aging that they feel were exacerbated by the stress of living through the crisis.

Plastic surgeons in the survey also cite the amount of time people spent scrutinizing their own appearances during Zoom meetings as a contributing factor to the business boom. This observation is supported by research. A 2021 study, published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, linked videoconferencing during the pandemic to “Zoom dysmorphia”—that is, worse self-image—among women who participated in an online survey. Self-pointing cameras can distort our appearance and highlight “facial attributes that would not have been analyzed previously,” the study notes, which can in turn lead to “unnecessary cosmetic procedures.”

The most popular cosmetic procedures in the US and around the world

So what kinds of procedures are people seeking out? The ASPS survey found the most popular procedure in the US in 2021 through June 2022 was liposuction, followed by facelifts, breast augmentation, tummy tucks, and breast lifts.

Among minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, the top five were Botox, soft tissue fillers, noninvasive fat reduction (such as CoolSculpting), nonsurgical skin tightening, and other skin care treatments. Patients between the ages of 31 and 45 were the most likely group to seek out Botox, while people under 30 were the most common demographic interested in lip fillers.

While the study focused on the US, other recent data suggest strong demand for plastic surgery around the world. In 2020, elective plastic-surgery procedures fell by 11% from 2019 around the world as lockdowns forced surgeons to temporarily close their practices, according to a survey published last year by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). But the effect of the closures was mitigated by strong demand among patients once practices reopened.

The US performed the most elective plastic surgeries in 2020 by far.

Differences in the most popular procedures in each country point to the racist ways in which white, Western ideals continue to shape global beauty standards. In Japan, eyelid surgery made up 65% of total cosmetic procedures, compared to just 6% in the US. In Turkey—a popular medical tourism destination for plastic surgeries, particularly among people from Middle Eastern countries—rhinoplasties are the most common procedure. In the US, meanwhile, nose jobs don’t rank in the top five.