The demand for plastic surgery continues to rise

TRAVERSE CITY – A nip here, a tuck there. When it comes to elective surgery, people are pouring some serious cash into surgical makeovers. Americans spent approximately $8.2 billion on cosmetic procedures last year, according to a 2005 statistical report compiled by The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).

Locally, plastic surgeons are seeing a continued rise in the number of people interested in cosmetic procedures, both surgical and nonsurgical.

F. Matthew Smith M.D. heads the Great Lakes Plastic Surgery Center in Traverse City. He performed about 150 cosmetic surgeries last year. Of those, a third received tummy tucks, followed by 25 percent with breast augmentations.

The reasons people seek cosmetic surgery are varied, but they are centered around body image. The top surgical procedure last year was lipoplasty (liposuction), according to the ASAPS report. That was followed by breast augmentation, blepharoplasty (eyelid), rhinoplasty (nose), and abdominoplasty (tummy tuck).

The majority of Smith's cosmetic surgery patients are female and the type of procedures they seek largely depends on their age. Women are often looking for implants and liposuction in their 20s and into their 30s. In their 30s and into their 40s, they're largely interested in tummy tucks and breast lifts, he said. Women in their 50s and 60s are seeking facelifts.

As for his male patients, Smith said liposuctions and facelifts account for most of the surgeries.

The mirror doesn't lie

Nationally, particularly in larger, more urban areas than Traverse City, there appears to be a developing trend of baby boomers electing cosmetic procedures to gain an edge in their professional lives.

Smith, who came to Traverse City in 1998 when he opened his practice, said body image and appearance have risen to the forefront of priorities for professionals in our society.

"A number of my surgery patients are professionals," Smith said. "They do it specifically to feel better about themselves and feel more refreshed."

But whether they're doing it to get ahead in a particular industry that may seem to favor youthful appearances, or to battle more general "ageism" in our society, is difficult to determine.

At least in Northern Michigan.

Thomas Doerr M.D. of Bay Area Plastic Surgery said he hears or reads about this idea more than he witnesses it. Now in his 26th year of practice in Traverse City, Doerr said it's a very distinct minority, of all of the patients he's seen, who identify their professional lives as a reason they seek cosmetic surgery.

While he agrees it probably happens in bigger, urban areas, he has his doubts about it happening in TC. Eighty to 85 percent of Doerr's cosmetic surgery patients are female and are looking to improve their appearances as they age.

"Mainly, it's an issue where they don't like what they see when they look in the mirror" as opposed to trying to get a step up in the workplace. "I just don't see it in my office," Doerr said. But he added that since more people are seeking aesthetic surgery, "It could be coming."

The changing face of cosmetic work

While 30 or 40 years ago, the typical patient of aesthetic plastic surgery was able to go away for six weeks to recover, Smith said most of his patients don't have that luxury.

"The majority are asking, 'What can I recover from in 10 days?'" he said.

Smith said the endoscopic techniques adapted for plastic surgery have been critical to making plastic surgery an option for more people. These techniques can significantly reduce a patient's recovery period, Dr. Smith said. There are also treatments for reducing bruising and swelling, and camouflage make-up that counteracts post-surgery redness.

"It's about getting the same results and minimizing the downtime."

THE COSTS

Advances in surgical technology haven't made plastic surgery any more affordable. There are a few exceptions in which medical insurance will cover a procedure – some breast reductions, for example – but it is rare.

The average cost of a breast augmentation (saline implants), for example, is $3,583, says the ASAPS. But that figure does not include hospital, anesthesia, or other related fees. Locally, breast augmentations cost $6,000 to $8,000.

Despite the considerable costs, the desire to seek out surgical treatment to improve physical appearance doesn't appear to be waning, whether for personal or professional reasons. BN

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