Botox and the Economic Recovery

The recovery from our recent and ongoing recession has been speculated by numerous economic experts. The recent State of the Union address assures us that the worst is over and better days are ahead. Quite frankly, I take solace in any of the above pontifications about as much as I trust giving the government 1.5 trillion dollars in an ill-conceived overhaul of our health care system.

A recent manufacturer survery that I read has indicated that the number of cosmetic procedures were up during the fourth quarter of 2009 since the downturn in the economy began in mid-2007. Manufacturers of Botox, injectable fillers, and lasers have reported that their sales increased in the fourth quarter of 2009 for the first time in years, up anywhere from 2% to 8% depending upon the product.

Are these survery results a sign that the economy is really improving? Luxury and discretionary spending are often viewed as a sign of renewed consumer confidence. But I would take these apparent positive signs with a grain of salt. These numbers are likely up for a different reason.
As the most expensive plastic surgery offering…operations…are being temporarily (and maybe permanently) shelved by some, patients and cosmetic doctors are turning their attention to lower-priced treatments. One may have to pass on that facelift or eyelid tuck, but Botox and fuller lips remain within the budget. Consumers appear to be still trying to hold on to their cash in these troubling economic times, but haven’t given up completely on some more economical forms of feeling and looking better.
A better yardstick of economic recovery as viewed from a plastic surgery perspective is in the number of breast implants being sold. Larger amounts of discretionary spending are a better indicator of how people are really feeling about the economy. When these elective medical device sales, which remain down in 2009, returns to more familiar territory of brisk double digit growth, we will have more than one reason to be optimistic.

The use of Botox and injectable sales as a gauge of economic recovery is just one way that numbers and statistics can be twisted to support one’s perceptions…and hopes. They are up because the bigger ticket items that often come with them are done. This is like saying the economy is improving because Starbucks coffee sales are up… while customers frequenting Ruth Chris’s is down.
While the government may be hinging optimistic forecasts on upswings in graphs and charts, I will look for more familiar enlargements in different indicators before feeling better about where the economy is headed.

Dr. Barry Eppley