Thursday, March 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The recession is hitting Las Vegans in the gut.
And in the face and breasts, too.
With the economy going bust, elective plastic surgeries such as face lifts, liposuction and breast augmentation — which are not covered by insurance — apparently are among the first expenses to go in suddenly budget-conscious Las Vegas households.
Some procedures are down as much as 90 percent valleywide, according to Dr. William Zamboni, a local plastic surgeon and spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgery.
Nationally over the past decade, the number of cosmetic procedures increased by 162 percent, but from 2007 to 2008 dropped by 12 percent, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
The national statistics show a reduction in 34 of 40 procedures from 2007 to 2008:
• Botox injections are down 11 percent.
• Breast augmentations are down 11 percent.
• Cosmetic eyelid surgery is down 19 percent.
• Tummy tucks are down 21 percent.
• Butt augmentations are down 32 percent.
Las Vegas plastic surgeon George Alexander said his business was down about 15 percent in 2008.
“People used their homes as a source of equity (to borrow money for the procedures) and they don’t have that flexibility anymore,” Alexander said.
The recession may create a cultural view of plastic surgery the way rising fuel prices did with the gas-guzzling SUV: as an unnecessary indulgence.
So could the recession redefine a measure of beauty in Las Vegas? Is it possible that generously enhanced breasts and a lipo-sucked tummy will time-stamp a woman as pre-recession?
The notion that an ongoing recession would affect how Las Vegans measure up is a “reasonable hypothesis,” Zamboni said. But he has confidence the industry will bounce back.
“I can guarantee you that once the economy recovers the demand will return,” he said. “The largest population out there is the Baby Boomers and they’re the eternal ‘I want to look young’ group. It may change temporarily, but it will come back.”
Besides, he points out, the well-sculpted body is all but a requirement for many Vegas jobs.
“No one’s going to hire a cocktail waitress with an A cup who looks like she’s 50,” Zamboni said. “The industry defines the image, which defines the demand. I think it goes in that order.”
Alexander said the competition to look beautiful is contagious. A school administrator told him she wanted a breast augmentation so she would feel better comparing herself to other women at the gym, he said.
The demand still exists, the plastic surgeons said, but patients have become more budget-conscious shoppers — opting for less expensive and temporary cosmetic procedures over the permanent surgical alterations.
Zamboni said a patient may covet a mini-face lift — which starts at about $5,000 — but settle for a fat injection to fill wrinkles for about $1,000.
The recession is having an effect in other ways.
A tummy tuck requires up to three weeks’ recovery time, and breast implants and other procedures, two weeks.
“They can’t afford to take time off work,” said Marilyn Zimmerman, office manager for her husband, Dr. Ed Zimmerman, who does cosmetic procedures. “They say, ‘I’m lucky to be working now.’ ”
On the other hand, the recession makes people feel more pressure to look good, Zimmerman said. An unemployed real estate agent recently came into the office and said: “I need to find a job. I need to look good.”
Zimmerman said some patients who work in the banking industry have asked for discounts, citing the recession. No way, she said.
“Call me crazy, but the banks created a lot of this so I don’t have a lot of sympathy,” she said.