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Will the Pandemic Make Us Rethink Nonsurgical Facial Procedures?

Although doctors are accepting clients for cosmetic procedures again, many customers are rethinking what treatments are worth the upkeep.

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Over the last five years, the beauty world has evolved in two interesting ways: On the one hand, clean beauty is definitely having a moment, as people become more conscious about what goes into—as well as on—their bodies. Simultaneously, social media’s selfie culture is driving people to get non-invasive treatments to improve skin issues like the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and acne scars. It’s one reason for the rise in popularity of non-surgical facial procedures over the last several years, especially Botox (to freeze muscles), fillers (like Restylane and Juvéderm, which use hyaluronic acid to smooth out skin and fill in wrinkles) and LASER treatments.

However, many of these procedures require regular upkeep, and the lockdown orders put into effect for the months of March, April and May meant that non-essential medical procedures had to be delayed. But now that plastic surgeons have opened their offices again, the big question is: Will people still be dedicated to their favorite filler procedures or–having already gone months without them—now question their need? And do they still want artificial dermal fillers injected into them or are they looking for natural alternatives?

According to Dr. Kristin M. Baird, Founder and Medical Director of the Dermatology Center of the Rockies, most patients want noticeable results with little or no downtime, which is why some of the most popular introductory aesthetic procedures are non-surgical ones (Botox, dermal fillers, Intense Pulse Light treatments, microneedling, and Hydrafacials).

“In Colorado,” Baird says, “patients want to look like a more refreshed and rested version of themselves, not an overdone celebrity look-alike.”

In addition, because advances in technology have given plastic surgeons a multitude of knife-free cosmetic treatments, doctors are seeing patients for smaller procedures, more frequently and at a younger age. “Our patients are requesting more subtle improvements in their facial contour and volume rather than waiting until an older age that might require a “lift” procedure,” explains Dr. Stephen Weber of Weber Facial Plastic Surgery.

But these smaller, more frequent procedures require more upkeep. Botox typically lasts three to four months, while dermal fillers usually need replenishing every four to six months. Under normal circumstances, that kind of time schedule is workable, but during the COVID-19 lockdown it became a problem for some patients. In fact, UK magazine The Face reported that some “self-confessed cosmetic surgery ​‘addicts’” were so desperate, they asked their doctors to make a house call. When that didn’t work, some inquired about purchasing filler online to self-inject or even considered buying LED lasers from dubious online sources.

Dr. Baird says that as the pandemic unfolded, her office was able to support patients through virtual consultations and complimentary shipping of skin care products. For Dr. Weber, while a small group of established patients requested at-home procedures during quarantine, he obviously didn’t grant any of those wishes. But what both doctors say is that once their offices re-opened, the pent up demand for services meant patients needed to schedule treatments weeks in advance: “My current waitlist for non-surgical and surgical procedures is about six to eight weeks which is slightly longer than before the lockdown,” says Dr. Weber.

So exactly what kind of treatments are patients lining up for?

“We’re seeing a continued demand for Botox, dermal filler and LASER resurfacing,” says Dr. Weber. Dr. Baird agrees, noting that in addition to traditional filler products, she has also seen an increase in people wanting to consult for hair loss treatment options. “I think this has become a growing concern for both men and women,” she says. “Many people at home have been seeing a lot of themselves on Zoom calls, which has been driving the demand for cosmetic treatments.”

What Dr. Weber has found is that the lockdown has increased demand for a procedure called autologous fat transfer (or fat grafting). Patients who were previously fans of fillers are concerned about their short-lived lifecycle, especially with the possibility of another lockdown this coming fall and winter due to a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Autologous fat transfer procedures can last anywhere between five and 10 years, making them more long-term and permanent than “off-the-shelf” filler products. Plus, the process uses your own own body fat. “Many patients are excited to use some of their ‘COVID 19’ pound weight gain to provide fat that can then be used to naturally augment their face, body and breasts,” he says. “We find that autologous fat transfer creates more beautiful and natural results because we’re replacing fat lost with aging with their own fat.”

With a second wave of coronavirus being predicted for this fall, we asked both doctors for advice regarding what kind of treatments they should be investigating now in preparation.

“We’re encouraging many of our filler patients to consider autologous fat transfer treatments, [since] it will outlast any near future lockdowns,” says Dr. Weber. He also thinks it’s a great time to pursue any other desired treatments, including surgery, as the now ubiquitous face mask is the perfect camouflage for most face and neck procedures.

While Dr. Baird agrees that it’s a good time to investigate any introductory non-surgical procedure, she also wants to remind people not to forget the basics like sunscreen. “Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every two hours is a must,” she says. “It’s really the best thing you can do to keep your skin healthy.”

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