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Michael Yaremchuk, M.D. Headshot

Minimally Invasive Cosmetic Treatments: Are Quick Fixes the Way to Go?

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The signs of aging can come as a shock to many. Drooping eyelids, crow's feet, jowls, sagging cheeks ... nobody likes to accept that their years are catching up to them. Plastic surgeons and the cosmetic industry have long offered solutions to these imperfections, some of them more scientifically valid than others. These days, many people are bypassing the more traditional surgical approaches -- facelifts, liposuction, eyelifts, etc. -- and are instead opting for less invasive treatments.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed dropped 16.7 percent between 2008 and 2009. At the same time, minimally invasive procedures accounted for 66% of all cosmetic procedures performed by plastic surgeons in 2010.

Minimally invasive treatments include fat injections, various fillers, laser treatments, light and radio-based therapies, chemical peels and, of course, BOTOX. These procedures, as well as limited surgical procedures which can be performed under local anesthetic, are increasingly available at general practitioners' offices and beauty centers such as medi-spas. However, the efficacy -- and sometimes the safety, depending on who is administering the service -- of these treatments is deserving of scrutiny.

The economy is certainly playing into patients' decisions to pursue these noninvasive treatments. People generally have less pocket money to spend on expensive procedures and fewer consumer loans are available for surgery. In today's unstable job market, many patients are unwilling to be away from their jobs while convalescing from established surgical procedures for fear of compromising their job situation. A study by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that a majority of respondents who were affected by the economy were going to delay plastic surgery for one or more years. It is likely that this trend will continue as long as the economic slump does -- people think that, with noninvasive treatments, they are getting more "bang" for their buck.

However, noninvasive treatments are not necessarily more economically viable than surgery, because they only provide a temporary fix. Many of these procedures have to be performed multiple times in order to sustain a consistent improvement in appearance. The cost of these treatments starts at between $400 and $1,000, but depending on the extent of treatment and the number of treatments required to achieve the desired result, may cost up to $5000.

Minimally invasive procedures have defined roles, and can be effective if performed by the right hands, but are not substitutes for properly performed cosmetic surgery. However, particularly true of minimally invasive cosmetic surgical procedures, too often performed by weekend course trained doctors, minimally invasive generally equals minimal results.