In better economic times, some in search of youth and beauty thought nothing of plunking down four figures for a cosmetic procedure.
These days, tummy tucks are on sale.
What's more, recent figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery say the number of cosmetic procedures in the U.S. -- from eyelid lifts to liposuction -- fell by 17 percent from 2008 to 2009.
"It's the economy. People don't have the disposable income," said Dr. Darryl Blinski, a Miami plastic surgeon. He has cut the price of a tummy tuck from $8,000 to $6,000; saline breast augmentation from $5,500 to $3,800.
Doctors say people are not giving up the desire to look better. They're just trying to do it on the cheap. Many face a double whammy. They can't afford plastic surgery in today's economy, but they feel even greater pressure to look fit and youthful to compete in a more-competitive job market.
So they're opting for what doctors call "tide-you-over" procedures.
Doctors say 30-to-50ish women and men are putting off $6,000 face-lifts and opting for $400 Botox injections.
"A lot of people say they want to come back for surgery after the economy turns around," says Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Zaydon Jr. "Right now they want methods that will let them go out and keep interviewing."
In fact, last year's 17 percent drop was in expensive plastic surgeries such as face-lifts. Less-expensive nonsurgical cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and fat injections were actually up a bit.
Between 1997 and 2008, cosmetic procedures soared fourfold. During the boom, Blinski said, people paid for four-figure cosmetic operations through credit cards or refinancing their houses. But credit has tightened, and companies that specialize in financing cosmetic surgery are rationing credit.
Even some patients who can afford plastic surgery are holding off because they don't dare take time off work for fear of losing their jobs, Zaydon said.
"People feel guilty if they take vacation time," he said. "It can take two weeks or more to get back to work after a face-lift."
By the numbers
--U.S. men and women spent $10.5 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2009.
--With the tough U.S. economy, cosmetic surgeries such as tummy tucks were down 17 percent between 2008 and 2009, while nonsurgical procedures such as Botox injections grew by 1 percent. But from 1997 through 2008, cosmetic procedures grew nearly fourfold to 10.3 million a year.
Top five nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in 2009:
1. Botox injections: Botox is the brand name for botulinum toxin type A, the bacteria that causes botulism food poisoning. Injected in small amounts, it stops muscles from contracting, making skin smoother.
2.6 million procedures.
2. Hyaluronic acid: Restylane and Juvederm are brand names for this injectable soft-tissue filler that plumps and smooths wrinkles.
1.3 million procedures.
3. Laser hair removal: It uses intense, pulsating laser beams to remove unwanted hair. Its heat destroys hair follicles.
1.3 million procedures.
4. Microdermabrasion: Tiny aluminum oxide crystals sandblast your face and are removed by a vacuum device.
5. Chemical peel: A doctor applies an acid that burns the outer layers of your skin, lessening fine wrinkling and fading brown spots.
Most popular cosmetic surgeries for women, 2009:
Breast augmentation, 311,957.
Eyelid surgery, 124,939.
Tummy tucks, 123,041.
Breast reductions, 113,511.
Most popular cosmetic surgeries for men, 2009:
Nose reconstruction, 32,661.
Eyelid surgery, 25,004.
Breast reduction, 16,801.
Hair transplantation, 13,064.
National average surgeon’s fees for cosmetic surgeries, 2009:
Tummy tuck, $5,381.
Eyelid surgery, $2,717.
Breast augmentation, $3,860.
Breast lift, $4,414.
Female breast reduction, $5,637.
Male breast reduction, $3,294.
Buttock augmentation, $4,200.
Hair transplant, $5,218.
Nose reshaping, $4,493.
Upper arm lift, $3,878.
Thigh lift, $4,629.
Ear surgery, $3,104.