Baby Boomers Increasingly Seeking Cosmetic Procedures

Last Updated: January 15, 2013

Approximately a quarter of the population in the United States is made up of the children of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. Representing a specific group of approximately 79 million, it is estimated that many of the Boomers will live as long as age 93. Every day for the next 15 years, thousands of Boomers will turn 65, with 1.5 million signing up for Medicare annually.

While the Boomers may be graying, they intend to grow old as they have lived, not following any of the "rules," and breaking all the societal expectations about what it means to be a "senior" citizen. That includes how they view cosmetic surgery as a viable life option.

Economic Necessity Behind a Need to Look Younger

Due to the economic recession that began in 2009, and the concurrent crash of the mortgage industry and investment venues, fewer and fewer people are going to be able to retire "on schedule." Less than 15% of Americans age 50 and older say they plan to retire at age 70, according to a study conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

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An ASAPS survey found that 53% of women and 49% of men respond favorably to the idea of cosmetic work, with 67% of all individuals surveyed indicting they would not be embarrassed to admit they had had "work" done.

Not only are older Americans working longer, but some are being forced to compete in a tight job market at a time when they expected to be secure in their positions. The need to act and to appear younger, for personal and professional reasons, is fueling an unprecedented degree of interest in cosmetic procedures in Americans age 50 and older.

Cosmetic Procedures on the Rise for Older Americans

In 2000, both men and women age 65 and older accounted for only 7% of all cosmetic procedures performed, but that represented a 352% increase over 1997 levels according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. In 2011, an estimated 3.4 million people age 55 and older sought some form of cosmetic work. Of those, 359,645 were surgical procedures, including:

  • 94,869 eyelid operations
  • 77,360 facelifts
  • 26,707 forehead lifts
  • 24,136 Rhinoplasty
  • 20,924 liposuction
  • 14,033 breast lifts
  • and 7,463 breast augmentations

Older Americans seem to be concentrating on procedures that combat the effects of "gravity," the natural sagging and drooping of an aging body, as well as the weight gain that often comes on later in life. Liposuction, however, is no longer the most popular cosmetic procedure for any age group, as Americans are turning more toward diet and exercise in a growing wave of fitness consciousness. As a result, many people who have been morbidly obese are seeking various "lift" procedures to remove excess skin over surgical weight loss, a trend that holds true for seniors as well.

Healthy Seniors Face No Greater Risk from Cosmetic Procedures

A 2011 report published by the journal "Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery" found that patients age 65 and older do not face any significantly greater hazard from plastic surgery than their younger counterparts. In the same vein, the Cleveland Clinic reviewed 216 recent facelift recipients and found that instances of complications were no more severe in a group with an average age of 70 compared to a second group aged 57.6.

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In 2011, an estimated 3.4 million people age 55 and older sought some form of cosmetic work. Of those, 359,645 were surgical procedures.

Seniors do not, however, receive any special insurance considerations for plastic surgery. Medicare will not cover cosmetic procedures unless the work is needed to improve the function of a physical malformity, to repair an accidental injury, or to reconstruct a portion of the body. (Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy due to breast cancer would be covered.)

Older Men Represent Significant Number of Senior Plastic Surgery Patients

More of these older patients who want cosmetic work are actually men, with 1.2 million cosmetic procedures performed on males in 2011. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the most popular procedures for men from in 2011 (with change from 2010) were:

  • Botox at 363K, +8%
  • Laser hair removal at 186K, +13%
  • Microdermabrasion at 166K, +5%
  • Chemical peel at 88K, -3%
  • Soft tissue fillers at 87K, +11%
  • Nose surgery (Rhinoplasty) 62K, -2%
  • Eyelid surgery (Blepharoplasty) 29K, -9%
  • Liposuction at 23K, -3%
  • Breast reduction in men (Gynecomastia) at 18K, +8%

It has been somewhat traditional for men to "let themselves go" in middle age, giving up the sporting activities of their younger years and often becoming couch potatoes wedded to the television remote control. The need to appear fit and competent beside young, trim males in their 20s and 30s who are competing for the same jobs is causing men to rethink how they can shave a few years off their appearance.

Wider Acceptance of Plastic Surgery Facilitates Senior Desire to Look Younger

Obviously, the idea of plastic surgery has gained increasing appeal among all Americans in recent years. An ASAPS survey found that 53% of women and 49% of men respond favorably to the idea of cosmetic work, with 67% of all individuals surveyed indicting they would not be embarrassed to admit they had had "work" done.

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Due to the economic recession that began in 2009, fewer and fewer people are going to be able to retire "on schedule." Less than 15% of Americans age 50 and older say they plan to retire at age 70.

When all the numbers are examined, a common "facelift," which is now often an in-office procedure, is the most commonly sought procedure among Boomers. The surgery removes facial fat pockets, tightens the underlying muscles, and re-drapes the skin of the face and neck to smooth wrinkles. Any scars are hidden at the hairline or in natural creases.

On average recipients say they feel that approximately ten years is taken off their appearance with a face lift. The full effects of the surgery last 5 to 10 years. Boomers who can afford to have the work done are attracted to setting the clock back either to remain employable in a youth-driven market or simply to feel better about themselves.

Certainly, however, the upward trend in plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures among older Americans will only increase as the population continues to age. People are living longer, staying healthier, and remaining more active than their parents and grandparents did. It is now common for people to start completely new lives after the age of 50, and more and more, they'd prefer to look 40 while they're doing it.

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