Plastic Surgery Slump: A New Economic Indicator?

Last updated: November 19, 2023

In the world of economic indicators, plastic surgery has emerged as an unexpected player. Amid high inflation and cautious spending, the cosmetic surgery industry has seen a significant drop in demand after a pandemic-induced boom.

Plastic surgery in progressDr. Steven Williams, the incoming president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, reports a 60% decrease in demand for all cosmetic procedures compared to the pandemic’s peak.

He identifies filler treatments as the industry’s bellwether, noting, “Most patients give up filler first.”

This decline in demand for filler, which is pricier than Botox, is a “canary in the coalmine” for the industry, according to Williams.

It’s another quirky indicator that some use to predict a recession, based on the logic that discretionary spending decreases when the economy tightens.

However, experts caution against relying solely on such business indicators. UC Berkeley economist Yaniv Konchitchki emphasizes that diagnosing a recession involves more than observing sales of a specific luxury item.

He relies on real-time data on S&P 500 company profits for a more comprehensive view of consumer discretionary spending.

Despite this, the downturn in the plastic surgery industry is hard to ignore, especially given its 2021 boom. Aesthetic surgical procedures soared by 54% that year, according to the Aesthetic Society.

A 2022 survey revealed that over three-quarters of US plastic surgeons reported higher demand compared to pre-pandemic times, with 23% stating their business had doubled.

Williams attributes this surge to factors like remote work, canceled vacations, stimulus checks, and a general desire for self-improvement.

However, as inflation and borrowing costs rise, the desire for aesthetic enhancements has waned. The Aesthetic Society reports a 12% drop in surgical procedures last year, and while cosmetic procedures increased by 19%, Williams believes this is due to scheduling practices and anticipates a slowdown.

As the industry navigates its backlog of clients, new patients are expressing financial concerns and prioritizing procedures.

Williams notes, “But what is clear is that there’s a ton of media attention around it. And media attention … that influences discretionary purchases and plastic surgery. Aesthetic plastic surgery is definitely a discretionary purchase.”

With Americans’ savings dwindling and spending habits changing, economists warn of a potential recession. The plastic surgery industry’s downturn may be an unusual economic indicator, but it’s hard to ignore.

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