The easy money for the Gulf’s plastic surgeons may have gone, but that gap is being filled by a new generation of cash-rich image-conscious men.
“Looks are power,” says Gail Clough. “Looks are a huge commodity, and men have finally cottoned onto what’s going on around them.”
Clough should know; as the manager of the dubaisurgery.com website, she has been advising both medical tourists to the UAE and residents of the Gulf on their plastic surgery needs for years. The biggest trend in the regional aesthetic surgery hub of Dubai is, she says, that requests from men have really been picking up the slack left by fewer female appointments during the recession.
“Women have had magazines like Cosmopolitan and Harpers Bazaar for decades, and similar magazines are now being targeted towards men as well,” Clough adds. “The media has really pushed this change, and men are now saying: ‘we have more cash than women, and we’re going to spend it’.”
Right now, Clough says she is receiving more calls from men than women, many of them Arabs, although with a healthy cross-section across all the nationalities.
Plastic surgery is big business in the Gulf, although regional data is hard to come by. Elsewhere, around $10bn was spent on cosmetic procedures in the US during 2009, a three percent drop on the previous year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
While there appears to have been a dip in demand for procedures, elsewhere in the world, anecdotal evidence suggests that plastic surgery in the Gulf, and specifically Dubai, is retaining its attractions.
“For sure, we have not seen any dip in business as our colleagues in the US and Europe have,” says Dr Jaffer Khan, the Dubai-based CEO of Aesthetics International. “I think the expats here as well as being on tax free salaries have more disposable income. At the end of the day we live in a status- and appearance-conscious society here in Dubai and hence there is priority on maintenance.”
Khan says that his practice saw a ten percent increase in business for non-surgical procedures in 2010, which was balanced out by a ten percent drop in surgical procedures. The most popular non-surgical procedures were Botox and ‘filler materials’ for the face, although ‘rejuvenating light sources’ — or laser treatments, have also proved popular.
“Treatment for pigmentation continues to be popular, but largely because there is no one treatment that always works and many people have it again,” he adds. “In my practice, aesthetic breast surgery and upper eyelid surgery remain the most popular surgical procedures but I do a lot of rhinoplasties and abdominoplasties as well.”
However, Khan’s practice is not seeing a significant rise in men requesting surgery, with only one man to every eight women. He does admit that more men are opting for cosmetic procedures, though, suggesting that this is due both to higher awareness combined with a degree of prodding from their wives or partners.
That percentage seems to be replicated at other Dubai practices. Professor Luiz Toledo, who practises at the International Modern Hospital, says that in 2008, fifteen percent of his patients were male. The American British Surgical and Medical Centre’s Dr Mendhy Khan, who hails from the UK and is one of a new breed of plastic surgeons who moved to Dubai very recently, says that fully 90 percent of his patients are female.
“In London, you would generally see around fifteen to 20 percent of men requesting surgery in the 1980s and 1990s, but that has risen to 40 percent recently,” says Edwina Viel, who works with her husband, Dr Maurizio Viel, at the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery (LCAS) in Dubai Healthcare City. “In Dubai, it’s still the case that only around 20 percent of our patients are male, although this is certainly increasing.”
The Viels set up their clinic at the height of the recession, in 2009, but she believes that while local clinics were affected by the downturn, the advent of a new wave of professionals has kept business on an even keel.
“It’s fair to say a lot of the ‘easy’ money for plastic surgeons has now gone, but there are still people with money coming in,” she points out. “Of course Dubai has had some issues from an economic perspective, but what part of the world hasn’t? What we’re seeing is more ‘real’ money from new bankers and new lawyers in the region, as opposed to what I would call ‘hot’ money, which was the case previously.”
Viel’s belief is that Gulf residents have retained their disposable incomes, but that the recession has simply made them nervous of spending. When times are tough, plastic surgery is not seen as a priority.