Many young people are willing to invest in ways to maintain their youth — from hitting the gym and watching what they eat to getting wrinkle-fighting Botox injections and having a nip and tuck here and there. And the desire to turn back the clock is becoming an increasingly appealing option to the baby boomer generation. Although it may be hard to imagine your parent or grandparent seeking a facelift or nose job, a growing number of baby boomers want to put their best face forward as they enter their golden years.
“People are living longer than they ever did before and with Skype and digital cameras, people are more conscious of how they look,” says Darrick Antell, MD, a plastic surgeon and an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Columbia University in New York City. “The baby boomer generation has taken significantly better care of themselves. They work out regularly and watch their diet, but inevitably, the aging process catches up with them. They want the external appearance to match what they are on the inside.”
A surge in plastic surgery
Women and men ages 65 and older accounted for 7 percent of cosmetic procedures performed in 2000, and the number of procedures performed on people in this age group has increased 352 percent since 1997, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
The growing trend of baby boomers going under the knife may raise some eyebrows (unless you recently had Botox), but it shows no signs of slowing. In fact, 3.3 million people ages 55 and older opted for cosmetic procedures last year — up 4 percent, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
The top 5 plastic surgery trends
When it comes to the baby boomer generation, some procedures are more popular than others. According to the ASPS, the top five cosmetic procedures for people ages 55 and older in 2010 were:
1. Eyelid surgery
2. Facelift (up nearly 10 percent from 2009)
3. Nose reshaping (rhinoplasty)
4. Forehead lift
And that’s not including the 1.2 million people ages 55 and up who got Botox injections (or Dysport) last year to banish wrinkles.
Along with the quest to look younger, some older patients may be motivated to have plastic surgery because they’ve always wanted to and finally have the financial means to do so. “Baby boomers have the desire and the money to pay for the procedures out-of-pocket,” explains Robert T. Grant, MD, plastic surgeon-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Their kids are grown up and they’re not paying for college and have a disposal income. And they can take the time off to recover.”
Health more important than age
Although plastic surgery on older patients may sound risky, many experts agree that it’s the patient’s health and not age that’s important. “I don’t think we should discriminate based on age,” says Dr. Antell, who recently had a patient in her 70s request breast augmentation surgery. “She said it was something she’d always wanted to do,” he says. “She wanted a little bit of an enhancement — most want to be a cup size bigger and are not looking to make a statement.”
Adds Dr. Grant, “It’s not so much a number because there are old people at 40 and young people at 70. It’s all about your health. Do you smoke? How much do you sleep? What basic illnesses did you inherit? Are you overweight? Do you eat right?” They all affect your health, regardless of age.
To make sure older patients are in good health before plastic surgery that requires sedation, they will often need to get pre-operative clearance from their personal physician by passing a physical. “But even if the patient has high blood pressure,” says Antell, “as long as it’s under control we can do the procedure.”
In addition to the patient’s health, having the procedure performed by a qualified surgeon is crucial. “There are many people doing plastic surgery who are not plastic surgeons,” explains Antell. “You want to make sure it’s an accredited operating room, which adheres to certain national standards. And be sure to ask the doctor doing the procedure if he or she has privileges to do that procedure in a hospital, even though majority are done in out-patient facilities. It means they’ve undergone peer review and are up to snuff.”