The price of vanity

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Dr. Lisa Jenks performs a skin-rejuvenating laser treatment on Jamie Adams. Jenks is a former emergency room physician.

Botox and microdermabrasion beat out diabetes medication and treatment of chronic disease — at least in the wallets of an increasing number of health care consumers.
While many people go without necessary health care treatments because they can’t afford insurance — a growing number of those same people find the money to serve their vanity.
“Out of the roughly $14 billion spent on cosmetic procedures last year, $1 billion was financed,” sad Tom Hooyman, a health care administration professor at Regis University. “And that’s a real trend. Finance companies are now allowing people, even people without health insurance to take advantage of these procedures.”
That trend, Hooyman said, is “insane.”
“What if something goes wrong?” he asked. “Then, that person will go to the emergency room, and become a charity patient in a hospital. The financing doesn’t cover what goes wrong — it only covers the procedure itself.”
Vanity medical treatments, even the nonsurgical ones, are costly, but Hooyman said that “easy credit terms” and a desire to look young and beautiful outweigh the expense in the minds of many patients.
“A 2004 study showed that one-third of the people who had cosmetic surgery last year, had average household incomes of under $30,000,” he said. “It’s opened up a whole new field of vanity medicine.”
Doctors, too, reap the benefits of practicing in this fast-growing, high-profit field.
Dr. Lisa Jenks spent 17 years repairing bodies after car accidents and other emergencies, now she injects Botox and lasers away wrinkles as the owner of Genesis MedSpa.
“I think — for better or worse — our culture has made looking our best, looking young so important, that it’s become spending from our nondiscretionary income,” she said. “It’s almost mandatory, especially for people who get started and are used to looking in the mirror at a face without wrinkles or sunspots.”
Hooyman agrees. He said there is only one reason that medical spas are opening around the country — it’s a way to make money.
“Especially for someone leaving emergency medicine and going into giving Botox injections — it’s a business model for generating cash,” he said.
And the costs of the procedures, which often take months of repeat treatments, do generate cash for the doctors who leave traditional medicine for the vanity field.
A typical session of microdermabrasion costs $75, and practitioners recommend at least six treatments. Laser hair removal costs vary — but can reach thousands of dollars for several treatments.
“It’s a very good way of making money,” Hooyman said. “And people often will sacrifice other things — like health insurance — to make it happen.”
The upsurge in spending for anti-wrinkle procedures, removal of sunspots and aging spots is a sign of a healthy economy, according to professionals in the field.
“Cosmetic procedures are a good barometer,” said American Society of Plastic Surgeons President Roxanne Guy. “The increase in cosmetic procedures mirrors the strong economy, low unemployment levels and high consumer confidence of 2006.”
Last year, more than 9.1 million “minimally invasive” procedures were performed, according to the ASPS. Those procedures include Botox injections, chemical peels, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion and hyaluranic acid fillers.
“Botox continues to dominate the injectables market, while hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylene have increased 59 percent — more than any other minimally invasive cosmetic procedure,” Guy said. “When it comes to the war on aging, Americans are clearly looking to injectables to help win the battle.”
Americans spent just under $14 billion for cosmetic procedures in 2006, and 80 percent of that was spent on non-surgical procedures.