Between the controversy surrounding basic public-health measures and the outright refusal of some to observe any rules or guidelines, the year 2020 presented us with a fascinating case study in human behavior during a pandemic. With quarantine fatigue weighing heavy on our minds, and a collective desperation for some semblance of self-care (coupled with the advent of masks altering our perceptions of our own faces), it's easy to see how the pandemic has also created a novel demand for elective cosmetic procedures.
However, the specifics of what, exactly, people are getting done has become somewhat of a mystery this past year, with many consciously choosing to keep their in-office treatments on the DL due to the sensitivity surrounding non-essential procedures during the crisis. To gain clearer insight into pandemic-era cosmetic trends — which are very much on the rise — we tapped a few notable plastic surgeons from across the country to share their top-requested procedures of the past year. Find out what's been happening behind their closed office and OR doors, ahead.
Non-Surgical Nose Jobs
According to cosmetic surgeon Alexander Rivkin, MD, the omnipresent Zoom screen has created a heightened demand for nose-related procedures, specifically the less invasive non-surgical variety. "I see a lot of noses in general, but I do see more now," he says. From Dr. Rivkin's perspective, this upswing may point to something more problematic about the way we see ourselves in the all-virtual age.
"People spend all their time on Zoom, and the problem is that it's not a good camera; it's distorted. You have this terrible lighting, the distortion is bad from the shape of the camera lens, so the nose looks bigger on screen than it is in real life," he says. "Unfortunately, that is driving some of the traffic, as well as the fact that minimal swelling of non-surgical procedures can be easily hidden underneath a mask or face covering."
Any plastic surgeon will tell you that face masks have made people hyper aware of their eyes and the tightness of the skin around them, creating an uptick in eye-focused requests such as brow lifts, Botox, and eyelash extensions to enhance the facial features left uncovered when properly sporting a face covering.
According to Manhattan-based surgeon Melissa Doft, MD, these treatments are typically small, minimally invasive, and, in some cases, preventative. "Pre-COVID, Botox around the eyes would mostly be requested by people who already have skin wrinkling," explains Dr. Doft. "But now, we're seeing that people are asking for fewer units just to lift their eyes, even if they don't have any pronounced wrinkles yet."
Sarah Quinn, medical director at Arizona's Arcadia Wellness Center, which specializes in cosmetic injections, has seen a similar trend in patients making requests for eye-adjacent Botox procedures. "We've seen almost a 30% increase in people asking for mid- and upper-face injections," Quinn tells us. "Most often that will be a brow lift — a form of Botox injected directly underneath the eyebrow to lift the arch — along with standard Botox on the forehead to smooth any wrinkles or frown lines. Then to round it out, we've seen a huge influx in patients asking for Latisse to make sure their eyelashes are as long, thick, and full as possible."
Similar to the way a face mask would hide nose-bridge bruising, the mandated coverings present a unique shield over the lower half of the face, making it easy to hide the bruising and swelling that typically follows lip injections. "Surprisingly, people are still coming in for lips injections," says Dr. Doft. "I thought that the requests for lip filler surgeries would go way down because people aren't showing their lips as often, but people are actually using this time to try new things. The thought is: Well, I'm wearing a mask anyway, so if there's bruising or swelling, no one will see it. For that reason, there's been an increase in people trying lip injections for the first time."
Preventative Skin Tightening
According to Dr. Doft, submental liposuction — a more invasive method of fat removal to reduce skin-sagging below the jawline — has been another popular request in her Manhattan office on the rise in the era of Zoom and TikTok. "I'm seeing a ridiculous amount of submental liposuction, which is liposuction right under the jawline, and that patient population is mostly younger," Dr. Doft tells us. "It's happening because of technology; if you're working at a laptop or staring down at your phone, you might see an exaggerated double-chin happening."
Of course, submental liposuction is both costly — averaging about $3,500 — and requires at least a week of downtime, as compared to less invasive innovations we've seen in the field of skin-tightening around the neck and chin, such as "mono threading." Actress Eva Mendes recently shared her experience undergoing a mono-thread facial treatment, where acupuncture-like pins, or threads, were injected around the contour of her jawline. The star's esthetician, Mariana Vergara, described the skin-tightening procedure as preventative. "Mono-threads activate collagen synthesis, which produces a gradual skin thickening, skin tightening and rejuvenation effect," Vergara explained.
"Natural" Botox Alternatives
Gwyneth Paltrow's go-to doctor Julius Few, MD, predicts we'll hear more buzz about pared-down Botox alternatives come the new year. "Botox and many other popular FDA-approved muscle-relaxing injectables on the market are formulated with proteins for stabilization," explains Dr. Few, adding that the latest technology strips down the additives to isolate the active molecule. "In recent clinical trials, scientists have found that those surrounding proteins may not actually be necessary, so we've seen the production of other labels, like Xeomin, which give people the option for a Botox-like effect without the added proteins which, in some cases, can cause injection-site reactions or inflammation." As medical technology evolves, innovation and change in cultural norms follow — which is a fact we're all uniquely in tune with these days.