Non-Surgical Cosmetic Procedures
Credit: Photograph by Guido Vitti

Non-Surgical Cosmetic Procedures

Dave Graybill's fellow firefighters knew something was up when he came back from lunch with a new, reddish glow. As they learned, Graybill, 49, hadn't been to a tanning salon. Instead, he'd popped into a doctor's office, where he had his jawline tightened, his eyelids pulled, and his cheekbones filled – all in about 40 minutes. "They were laughing at me," Graybill recalls of breaking the news to his co-workers. "But the idea of taking the hangover of life off your body without getting all wrapped up in surgery? I thought that sounded great."

The economy may be struggling, but one business is booming: minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in which eyelids, cheeks, guts, and other body parts are tweaked and rebooted using cutting-edge technology instead of scalpels. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), nearly 12 million minimally invasive procedures were performed last year – up a million from the year before. The real head-turning news is the number of men having procedures done – about a million last year, up 56 percent from 2000. "We went into it with the expectation that the audience would be largely female," says Dr. Randall Miller, vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs at Ulthera, the company behind Ultherapy, the procedure Graybill used. "After 2006, we started to see changes in the demographic. More and more men come in and say, 'What can I do that's nonsurgical?'"

For guys looking for a youthful upgrade, that list of options grows longer by the year. Botox remains the most popular, but other treatments are on the rise, like Ultherapy, which uses heat to tighten skin. Guys are also getting Botox-like injections, such as Dysport, Radiesse, and Sculptra, all of which smooth out frown lines and fill in sunken cheeks. Tired of that beer belly? Consider CoolSculpting, which freezes fat around your stomach. The tissue then dissipates from your body over a month or two, as if you've lost weight one pound at a time.

That procedures like CoolSculpting take effect gradually – that is, no one has to know you're getting work – is a big reason for their skyrocketing growth. They're also quick, between five minutes and an hour, and require little prep beyond topical cream or high-potency aspirin. Cost is another factor: Liposuction averages $3,000, while CoolSculpting prices start out around $700. In general, minimally invasive procedures cost half as much as surgery, while injections can be a few hundred bucks. Recovery is quick – bruising and discomfort are common, but bandages are rare – and most people go back to the office immediately after. "I feel it's preventive, and I didn't want to look 'done,'" says Travis Shannon, a 32-year-old Wall Street trader who had CoolSculpting on his abs and Ultherapy on his chin, both during his lunch break. "I can joke about it with my friends. No one said, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe you did that.'?"

Interestingly, the shrinking job market has also contributed to the surge. "You get a real uptick when people are worried about losing their jobs or have lost their jobs," says New York cosmetic surgeon Dr. Joseph Eviatar. "Men are nervous about young people coming in and being told they look tired." Even for the professionally secure, looking youthful is still a concern – no one wants to appear old or haggard at work.

But those considering these cosmetic procedures should be forewarned. Minimally invasive work can't cure seriously saggy visages or massive guts, and the effects are rarely permanent: Many patients have to go back after a year or so for another treatment. The ASPS isn't entirely sold, either. "The jury is still out on whether newer procedures are as effective as liposuction," says ASPS president Dr. Malcolm Z. Roth. "Most minimally invasive procedures are affordable, but you get what you pay for." Yet for patients like Graybill, it's a no-brainer. "You know how when you wear nice clothes, you feel good? When you do this, that feeling kicks in. I can see how people get addicted." As for the guys at the firehouse, they've stopped laughing: "They were all interested in doing it, too."