From lip fillers and liposuction to Botox and rhinoplasty, interest in cosmetic surgery is rising.
A recent report published by PMC, a digital archive of medical texts held by the National Library of Medicine in the US, revealed a spike in searches for reconstructive surgical procedures since June and in early July. These reached and then surpassed the number of searches recorded at the start of the year, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Google Trends analysed 10 search terms, using a scale of zero to 100, from January 1 to July 10. The numbers are telling – searches for lip fillers and rhinoplasty in January were about 55 out of 100. These dipped to 30 and 41 respectively in April, during the height of the lockdown, and then increased to 65 for lip fillers and 78 for nose jobs, by July 10. Liposuction experienced the largest increase, with searches standing at just under 60 in January, fewer than 50 in April and then rising to almost 90 by July.
The stats suggest that more time spent at home led to more time scrutinising body image. Anecdotally in the UAE, the trend is similar, say experts, who list five reasons why the pandemic may have contributed to a rise in plastic surgery.
While physical interaction may have decreased, more time is being spent on Zoom calls, which typically close in on the face, making people more aware of their features. Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing, says working online has thrown up many insecurities.
"I have heard people say: 'I didn't realise my face looked so tense when I listened, so I went and did Botox', or that 'my nose seems so prominent on my face, I would like surgery'… Obviously when we are hyper-focused only on our faces and the faces of others, we end up seeing the minute details that we would not have been aware of if we hadn't spent the day looking at ourselves," she says.
Dr Matt Stefanelli, a plastic reconstructive aesthetic surgeon from Highness Clinic in Dubai, says the pandemic has led to more people coming in for various non-surgical procedures, such as threads for tightening chins and jaw lines, lifting eyebrows and raising cheekbones. It's a result of what he calls "Zoom deformation". Much like selfies, the videoconferencing tool can distort the face, he explains. "The real face is a photo taken from two metres away, not like this, so close up."
Social media use has shot up owing to more time spent indoors. In March and April, the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority reported an average of 20 per cent increased use across platforms. Rose Al Hamra, hospital director at CosmeSurge, says this makes some people more conscious about their looks because "the focus remains on self-image".
Afridi agrees, saying: “Social media is known to exacerbate anxiety, depression, self-criticism and negative thoughts as you compare your life and your looks to someone’s curated version of life and a filtered version of their looks,” she says.
Dr Vassiliki Simoglou, a counselling psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, goes as far as to say that surgery has been “vulgarised” worldwide. “The cult of beauty and youth now takes the form of surgeons, beauticians and influencers around the globe showcasing procedures on social media with sensational before-and-after face, lips, nose and weight loss transformation photos.
“More diversified, targeted, affordable and accessible than ever, cosmetic procedures seem available at the touch of a button,” she says, the ultimate in instant gratification.
Dr Jamil Al Jamali, a plastic surgeon consultant at Medcare Hospital, shares a startling statistic correlating social media use to the average age of patients. "The number of women between 19 and 34, who are getting these procedures, has risen by 41 per cent in a decade." Further, he says, young women between the ages of 18 and 25 have become more interested in cosmetic surgeries. "Only a few years ago, it was uncommon to get such queries from this age group." The average age of Stefanelli's patients, meanwhile, is 30 years.
Privacy to heal
Working from home gives patients the space needed to recover. Dr Hassan Galadari of Galadari Derma in Dubai, says this could a factor in people's decisions to go ahead with a procedure, especially more discreet ones, because they can recover without taking what might otherwise mean up to a week off work as swelling or bruising settles. "Patients used to time these before a weekend or while taking some time off," Galadari says. "Working from home has allowed them to circumvent that."
Major procedures that involve debilitating surgery, such as buttock implants, have also become more popular, says Stefanelli. Not to be taken lightly, the procedure can take more than a month to recover from, during which time the patient struggles to sit or lay down, and cannot exercise. In February, Stefanelli had five such surgeries; this number increased to nine in July.
Travel bans and complications surrounding international travel mean that those who would usually go abroad for plastic surgery procedures can no longer do so. Al Jamali says this is one reason why UAE clinics are experiencing an influx of plastic surgery patients opting to have procedures performed in the Emirates. CosmeSurge clinic, for instance, reported an increase of more than 100 per cent in its number of surgical procedures since the start of the year, with the clinic being fully booked since June.
Some people are also using the money they once spent on holidays on treatments, instead.
With gyms having been closed for a while, many found it difficult to muster up the motivation to work out at home. Al Hamra says some looked to plastic surgery to rid themselves of the extra kilos gained during the period of restrictions on movement and beyond. “The restrictions impacted lifestyles and so people gained weight, which has led to requests for procedures such as liposuction and body contouring.”
“People decide to have cosmetic surgery for many different reasons, but most often this has to do with a lack of confidence and low self-esteem,” Al Jamali says. The pandemic, it would seem, has exacerbated these emotions even while providing more opportunities to sign up for surgery.