LAKE OSWEGO — Kellie Bishop had to decide: her face or her leg?
The 43-year-old Dundee resident wanted both Botox to smooth out a few frown lines on her forehead and sclerotherapy to reduce the appearance of veins on the side of her leg. In headier economic times, she might have gotten both, but the tanking economy forced her to prioritize.
“I can always wear pants, but I have to look with my face,” Bishop said last week after receiving her third Botox treatment.
These days, it seems the knife has come under the knife.
At the Lake Oswego practice of plastic surgeon Dr. Lee D. Robinson and across the nation, fewer patients are choosing expensive combination surgeries, such as the face-lift in conjunction with an eyelid lift. But business is booming for chemical peels, microderm abrasions, Botox injections and laser rejuvenation.
“What’s happening,” Robinson said, “is that some patients that would normally opt for surgery are at least temporarily saying, ‘I’ll opt for something nonsurgical that will tide me over for a number of months.'”
Next door, at Robinson’s Oswego Spa & Laser, the number of clients asking for facials dropped about 25 percent this summer. Business hit a particularly painful stretch in October, when the stock market took a huge plunge, before picking up again after the November election.
“I know people who say, ‘If we have to change the diet, I’ll feed my kids Cheerios if it means I can get my Botox,'” Dorothy Ryan, a licensed aesthetician in Robinson’s Oswego Spa & Laser, said. “They still want to maintain themselves.”
In a business that depends on discretionary income, Ryan sees many clients forgoing feel-good facials, such as the spa’s $90 classic facial, to invest in chemical peels that are a bit more costly but also more effective. The spa has seen about a 10 percent rise in the number of clients getting peels.
“If they’re going to spend money, they’re looking for a physical result,” Ryan said. “They want to look like they’ve improved, not just, ‘OK, I had a relaxing hour.'”
On a recent morning, the Pet Shop Boys’ song “West End Girls” filtered through the operating room as Robinson used a cauterizing instrument as she performed a chin implant for a male patient. The caustic smell of burnt flesh lingered as Robinson cut open a small pocket inside the patient’s mouth, slipped in the silicone implant and stitched it up — all in a quick half-hour.
Single surgeries are typical these days, ranging from mole removal or earlobe reductions that cost a few hundred dollars to a $9,000 face-lift. Combination surgeries can cost $15,000 to $20,000.
“We’ve seen a softening in the big, major stuff,” Robinson said. “We tell patients that if it’s too much of a strain (financially), wait a few months. Patients who don’t have anxiety over it make better patients.”
Two years ago, Robinson had a two-month waiting period for surgeries. Now that waiting time has been slashed in half.
Because Robinson specializes in elective facial procedures, his clients tend to be older and more financially stable than clients of a practice that specializes in breast augmentation, for example. The large majority of his patients pay with credit cards, though some use cashier’s checks, and a small number pay with cash or payment plans.
Customers who used to refinance their homes to pay for big-ticket items — cars, vacations, plastic surgery — are finding they just can’t use their homes as credit cards anymore, he said.
Keeping up appearances
For some clients, there’s no time like today’s stressful weeks for cosmetic procedures.
“I have some patients who are getting ready for job interviews,” said Deb-ee Jones, a licensed aesthetician in the spa. “They want to look younger as they’re looking for a new job.”
Others just don’t want to give in to the anxiety of the moment, nurse Heather Allen said.
“I have patients who say, ‘I need a pick-me-up, anything, Botox, laser, a little quick-fix,'” Allen said. “If everything else looks down, you might as well look better. You don’t have to look like everything is falling apart.”