Boom or bust

Despite the recession, the cosmetic surgery business in the UK is continuing to grow and, with the non-surgical sector driving the market, it seems that more people than ever are opting for the needle over the knife. Beatrice Aidin reports

woman using cotton pads

We are a nation obsessed with looking younger, if statistics on the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry are anything to go by. In tough financial times you may expect to see non-essential cosmetic procedures taking a back seat, yet Mintel reports that the cosmetic surgery sector has grown by a staggering £617 million between 2008 and 2010. And it is cosmetic injectables, such as Botox® and fillers that are driving this growth, accounting for 92 per cent of the £2.3-billion market.

But why are so many people now opting for cosmetic enhancement? “Our tolerance for imperfection is exceedingly low today. If we don’t like something, we want it fixed, removed or changed,” says Wendy Lewis, an independent cosmetic surgery expert.

According to Mintel, nine out of 10 cosmetic procedures carried out in the UK are non-surgical. Because they are less invasive and less expensive than their surgical cousins, nonsurgical procedures have widened up the scope of the market and opened the door for a whole new generation of patients who may have been considering undergoing some form of cosmetic enhancement but want to avoid the surgeon’s knife.

Dr Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist at The Cadogan Clinic in London says: “Women get to the tipping point of 40 and start to see the signs of ageing, which hadn’t mattered before. Before Botox® and fillers, plastic surgery was all that was available and it was a niche market. Going under the knife is a leap for many people and temporary fillers and Botox® have temporary complications. People like that.”

Growth has been slower for the surgical market, which according to Mintel rose by just nine per cent between 2008 and 2010. However, one area that surgery has seen a boom in is the number of men undergoing procedures. According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), gynaecomastia (or male breast reduction) operations saw a growth in 2010 of 28 per cent, coming in as the second most popular surgical procedure behind rhinoplasty.

Going under the knife is a leap for many people and temporary fillers and Botox® have temporary complications

“The biggest change in attitude is that cosmetic surgery is now perfectly acceptable for men and they are prepared to talk about it,” says Bryan Mayou, plastic surgeon at The Cadogan Clinic. Although non-surgical growth is overtaking surgery, it would appear that both markets are secure for the future, as 47 per cent of the UK population would like to have some form of cosmetic enhancement.

One thing that has been difficult to quantify is the average spend on cosmetic procedures. According to Mintel, breast augmentation, the most popular surgery, accounts for a quarter of procedures, commanding average prices between £3,000 and £5,000.

“In London surgery is much more expensive and a breast augmentation could easily cost £7,000 but in the West Country it could be £4,000,” explains consultant plastic surgeon Nigel Mercer.

Although many of the larger plastic surgery groups, such as Transform and the Harley Medical Group, offer nought per cent interest free payment plans, a reaction to the slowdown in plastic surgery operations when unsecured loans dried up in 2007, the cost of surgery may still account for the shift in balance towards non-surgical.

“Our average spend for cosmetic surgical procedures is £6,000,” says Mr Mayou. “Undoubtedly there is a trend for non-surgical procedures, which are attractive, not only because they are more affordable, but because they are less disruptive to normal life.”

With so much growth in the market, has the perception of cosmetic procedures changed? “It has become very mainstream now, especially as we have moved away from the American view that to look different is to look better,” says Mr Mercer. “People want to look better but the same.”

As for the global market? “The US is the largest market, and Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe are growing,” says Ms Lewis. “Latin America has always been strong and Asia is also in a boom phase, especially China, South Korea and India. The UK is strong.”