As COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible across states and demographics, first-time and returning patients alike are booking these procedures more than ever.
For the first time in a very long time, there seems to be good reason to feel hopeful that life is revving back up: Vaccinations are soaring, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are dropping, and summer is on the horizon. As social calendars begin to fill up, many are also doing everything from making haircut appointments, to refreshing wardrobes, to making consultation appointments with plastic surgeons.
"There's been a huge increase in smaller, pick-me-up operations that I think is pushed from people getting vaccinated and feeling that life is going to be happening again," says Melissa Doft, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City. And after more than a year of exceptional and universal stress, it's safe to say that Americans are ready to boogie — and they want to look their absolute best doing it, with some opting for a few cosmetic tweaks here and there before emerging.
Once plastic surgeons were given the green light to begin elective procedures again in June 2020 after having been on hold since March, the aesthetics industry saw a sharp and immediate spike in intensive facial and neck surgeries with longer recovery periods. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery annual survey attributed this to what they call the "Zoom effect" of the pandemic era; an age of digital living that also allows an abundance of at-home time for a more comfortable recovery.
Alan Matarasso, immediate past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and board-certified plastic surgeon based in New York City, considers our current climate the ultimate trifecta for body procedures. He attributes at least part of this shift to the uptick in vaccinations, which has changed the CDC guidelines around masking outdoors and will likely only continue to relax these guidelines.
"I think the mask was part of the draw with the focus on [facial procedures early in the pandemic], but it seems there's been a shift because people are not masking as much," says Matarasso. "On top of that, they're home and aren't worrying about wearing fancy clothes to work," while the thriving pandemic yoga pant wardrobe culture, which is conveniently recommended by surgeons after body surgery, allows a far more comfortable and discreet recovery.
But the real clincher? The blissful dog days of summer. "Summer coming up will always drive liposuction and breast surgery," says Matarasso, but this current combination of factors, "the unmasking, ability to wear loose-fitting clothing, and being at home can be additional drivers of those procedures."
Case in point: Doft’s Upper East Side practice, which she says "is all about the body right now." With hope and renewal on the horizon, and our collective eagerness to drop the masks as soon as it's safe to do so, many patient requests have recently taken a sharp turn from heavy downtime facial procedures throughout the pandemic to all eyes focusing on a fun, free summer, one in which they feel a little more confident in their bodies. And to some, that looks like booking one (or more) of these trending post-vax procedures before summer is in full swing.
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Liposuction and other body procedures
A new study from medical journal JAMA Network Open analyzed the weight changes of Americans starting from the first government-issued stay-at-home orders and found that its 269 participants, on average, gained 1.5 pounds a month between February and June 2020. The study cited the disruption of daily life, including the lowering of normal step counts and physical activity, "as well as concurrent self-reported increases in snacking and overeating," during that time. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with fluctuations in weight, many are now looking to their plastic surgeons to perform liposuction.
"We are really busy with body-sculpting and body-shaping procedures in my practice, right now," says board-certified dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, who is based in New York City. Frank defines body-shaping treatments as technology and device-driven, like EmSculpt or CoolSculpting, while body-sculpting is the more invasive liposuction or laser option.
"Patients are realizing that the end of lockdown is near, but they still have time at home and they’re looking to do rejuvenation procedures that may have some downtime," he says. "They suspect that once the sun comes out and things open up, they’re not going to be spending time recovering from anything."
Doft has noticed a similar trend in her practice, with a recent and sudden uptick in a request for liposuction procedures. She attributes the uptick to summer being right around the corner, as well as the world starting to open up again.
"Now there's this rush of like, 'Oh my gosh, July is coming!'" says Doft, of her skyrocketing liposuction procedures. "I'm hearing from patients that the hope is that beaches are going to be open and they might meet someone this summer, and that is really incentivizing people to get ready and kind of freshen up after a really hard time."
Fraxel and other skin laser treatments
Echoing Matassaro and Doft's earlier insights, Boston-based board-certified dermatologist Mitalee Christman tells Allure that some of her patients are considering less-intensive, energy-based procedures, like the Fraxel laser or radiofrequency treatment Thermage, to improve texture and tighten sagging skin, respectively, as "a way of kind of exerting some control over your appearance and your future after a year where so much was out of their control."
Of course, these zen patients are in addition to the frantic patients who are apparently asking for same-day consult and procedures, while "calling the office and saying, 'The time is now! We're almost out of mask time!'" laughs Christman.
And while Christman explains that procedures with heavy downtimes have slowed down as we get closer to summer, requests for Fraxel are still kicking as patients are willing to tolerate the five-day recovery time, excessive skin peeling, and its flaky, flushed sunburned look that come with healing, versus a more aggressive, discoloration and fine line-busting, skin-resurfacing carbon dioxide laser, often referred to as a CO2 laser, and its three months of ensuing redness.
It also doesn't hurt that Fraxel is widely considered to be a do-it-all laser that can peel away nearly any skin texture concern, including acne scars, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation to reveal a new layer of baby fresh, glowy, healthy skin.
In fact, Fraxel is so popular that Christman calls the laser one of her "big three" procedures right now, crediting the laser's "predictable, immediate, and gorgeous outcomes" that promises a look and feel of rejuvenation and vitality.
Breast augmentations and breast lifts
Most plastic surgeons expect a springtime increase in breast procedures, but the recent demand for augmentation or lifts is off the charts. Doft says "there aren't enough days in the week" to fit in all of her prospective patients. She attributes this huge push to the growing vaccinated population, "because as more people are getting vaccinated, it also means the window to stay at home and recover comfortably is closing."
Consequently, she says that currently, breast augmentation is super popular at her practice because this year, things are reopening and that includes pools and beaches, so bikinis will be brought out of drawers. "I keep hearing from patients things like, 'I've always thought about a breast augmentation, and now I want to get it done before the summer' and so I think a lot of young people are pushing to get those surgeries because they're hoping to be out and about, maybe meeting a prospective partner, after more than a year of being by themselves and not doing much."
In Matarasso's Manhattan office, breast lifts, a procedure that removes any hanging breast skin and elevates a downward nipple up to a more forward position, are becoming more frequent, especially for older people whose breasts have started to sag. Mothers who don't want the full "mommy makeover" but still want a little boost are also fans of a lift’s natural look.
"The extra skin makes them wear a bigger bra and I think that may be some part of what is also driving the popularity of the breast lift," explains Matarasso, noting that when at home, patients "may not be in a fancier bra or held up properly, and it's making them more aware of the sagging." With the removal of the excess sagging skin, a newly restored perky breast is often one cup size smaller than their hanging breast, enabling them to wear a bra that actually fits their anatomy correctly.
Thermage to tighten skin and diminish fine lines
In Christman's downtown Boston practice, a crush of recent patients have been seeking treatments that offer "quick turnover, quick results, and a quick boost," and one of her go-to recommendations for anyone who is a good candidate is the zero-downtime Thermage, which she says "basically lifts and almost shrink-wraps the lower face and neck."
By using radiofrequency energy, Thermage "harnesses your body's own healing capabilities to build collagen," she says. "Results can be subtle, but they’re cumulative, and there's a real preventative benefit for younger patients who start in their late 30s and 40s," according to Christman, especially if you return every few years.
Injectables, injectables, and more injectables
Every doctor Allure spoke to for this story majorly emphasized the recent and rising demand for injectables, notably Botox and filler. "We hadn't really seen too many filler patients over the last year, especially patients who view injectables as more of a treat than a necessity," says Doft. “But Botox and filler are becoming [popular again] now: People want to get their fine lines erased, to have their cheeks and chin plumped and sculpted. Lips are coming back, and we’re still seeing a huge focus on the jaw."