New technology and the demands of an ageing population make cosmetic surgery one of the fastest growing industries in the world

Ten years ago cosmetic surgery was the province of the young and the early middle-aged, but platelet technology has changed that. The use of platelet gel accelerates the healing pro-cess and has overcome previous complications in post-surgical recovery, making cosmetic sur-gery a viable process for the elderly.

Today, one in six people in the West is aged 60+ years and is looking for quality of life. The effect on the cosmetic surgery industry is marked: one in three people booking in for a ‘nip and a tuck’ is now over 60 years old. In their search for health, fitness and well-being, these people are creating a booming market.

South Africa’s success has been in harnessing its learned competencies with its natural tourism resources and the latest developments in technology.

The result is a thriving niche in one of the fastest growing markets in the world. As Hollywood is to the movie industry and Singapore is to shipping, South Africa has become a natural hub for tourism and health – two of the world’s fastest-growing industries.

South Africa has the happy combination of good climate, wildlife and beautiful scenery. Its currency rates are attractive to Europeans and Americans alike, and its plastic surgeons are some of the most skilled in the world.

Having become a world leader in cosmetic surgery with the younger generation, South Africa’s surgeons are evolving their skills for the older, ‘quality of life’ market. The country will need all these resources to stay ahead of competition from the emerging Asian markets.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

2000: Platelet gel used in hospitals

Platelet gel has built a strong reputation in hospital operating rooms and moves in to outpatient clinics and medical
offices. It carries none of the risks associated with bacterial and viral infections for donor-blood transfusions, and no allergic or immune reactions.

Cosmetic surgery is still the province of the young and early middle-aged. Elderly skin – thinner, tauter and more inclined to infection – is largely beyond the bounds of cosmetic surgery for the 60+ years age group. Reduced skin elasticity, the increase of infection and the greater time needed for healing, make plastic surgery for the elderly a risky business. As such, it is provided only on medical grounds.

2001: South Africa’s ‘surgical safari’ niche>

South Africa creates a niche by combining cosmetic surgery with luxury holidays. Due to the cheap Rand, natural tourist facilities and skilled surgeons, South Africa quickly becomes a popular destination for medical tourism for Europeans.

The demand for cosmetic surgery in the USA has risen by 304% over the last five years. In the last year alone, there is a 48% rise in demand for cosmetic surgery in the USA. The surge in the market illustrates the willingness of Americans to incorporate plastic surgery to their health and beauty regimes.

2002: Cosmetic surgery a $20 billion business

7.5 million Americans have cosmetic plastic surgery this year: 6.1 million of them women. 25% of these people are aged between 51-64 years. Statistics show that cosmetic plastic surgery has moved beyond the notion of being a privilege for the rich and famous. The top five cosmetic surgical procedures in the US are liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty and breast reduction. Botox injections, that freeze the facial muscles that cause wrinkles, become the most popular procedure. Cosmetic dentistry also booms.

So does South Africa’s tourism: 1.8 million overseas visitors to the country this year – a 20% increase from 2001.

2003: Technology expands the market>

Rapid developments in the field of cosmetic surgery overcome previous complications in post-surgical recovery. Modern
surgical techniques and the use of platelet gels accelerate the healing process in elderly patients, making cosmetic surgery a viable procedure for the 60+ years age group. Platelet gel,(produced by using a small amount of the patient’s own blood), helps heal by releasing growth factors that set off a cascade of complex events in wound healing. It contains high levels of two growth factors: one, which assists the early stage of wound healing; the other which speeds the development of new blood cells. In cosmetic surgery, its use helps to decrease the amount of bruising traditionally associated with procedures, thus making surgery a faster process.

Cosmetic surgery becomes more affordable. Drooping prices have helped cosmetic surgery to move into the mainstream. More than 70% of those who come under the knife now earn less than $50,000 a year. Alan Matarasso, one of America’s leading plastic surgeons, says: “Ten years ago you could reconstruct a woman’s breasts for $12,000 — now it can be done for $600.”

Overseas tourists to South Africa increase by a further 10%, helped by strong marketing campaigns. The country is seen as neutral and safe. The UK, USA and Germany account for 48% of South Africa’s overseas tourists – all countries in which cosmetic surgery has flourished. Reports suggest more than 20 patients a month arrive through each of the top cosmetic surgery consultancies: if only five of these consultancies treat 100 patients at R30,000 a go, the economy strengthens. In terms of the future, a lot will depend on currency exchange rates and how competitive SA’s prices are going to be. The country’s medical quality is high – a fact that becomes more and more recognized as people return to their countries of origin and spread the word.

2004: Longer lives mean bigger markets

The average life expectancy for a newborn child in the USA is around 77 years. One in six people in developed countries is now over 65 years. The number of people in the world over 65 years grows by nine million this year. 580 million people in the world are now over 60 years old and fully expecting to live another 20-30 years. They have money, and they want to look and feel good.

2005: Quality of life drives health market

‘Well-being’ is a key market driver, based on whole treatment systems that cover beauty, exercise and diet. Natural cures and being fit are embedded in this approach. Modern beauty is about health, self-esteem and empowerment. Within this, cosmetic surgery is no longer seen as a matter of vanity. It has become an intrinsic method of pushing back the barriers of age.

Greying baby boomers request ‘bionic shoulders’ and cartilage cell knee transplants, rather than giving up their favorite sport when their bodies wear out. In this age group, fitness is extremely important. But where will they stop? Where America leads the world will follow, and the US grooming market is currently worth around $3.5 billion. Having started cosmetic surgery, baby boomers will want to continue to push back the barriers of ageing.

2006: Boom in surgery for men

Cosmetic surgery for men is becoming increasingly popular. UK clinics see a boom this year in the number of men seeking anti-ageing counselling, dermal fillers and skincare. In the US, a full ‘Baywatch’ physique costs around $25,000, including silicone implants that give you bulging pecs, without the need for the gym. Transform, the UK’s largest chain of cosmetic surgery clinics, estimates that 15% of all cosmetic procedures in Britain are now carried out on men. This figure rises to 20% for Botox injections and eye-bag removal.

2007: Well-being drives tourist market

There is a shift in tourism: ‘well-being’ is a key driver in the competitive travel market. In a quest to fill beds and theatres, private hospitals evolve into travel destinations: while you are having your body upgraded, your family holidays in the adjoining health spa. Tour operators provide nurses and doctors for post-operative treatment, whilst guiding tours.

Health cruises become popular, with surgical staff utilizing the newest medical techniques.

2008: South Africa a world-class hub>

The country’s position in medical tourism is recognized globally. Study and educational tours, (with vetinerary surgeons studying big game wildlife, for instance), have now been added to South Africa’s growing number of health/education and leisure attractions. Health cruises prove popular, enhancing global perception of the country’s tourist attractions.

A number of spin-offs augment the pursuit of well-being:-
– television gameshows appear where peoples’ ages are guessed after they have had cosmetic surgery.
– ‘ageing’ counseling prospers, along with support groups to help people deal with the unplanned effects of cosmetic surgery.
– the South African insurance market benefits, due to policy sales covering the ‘unplanned outcomes’ of cosmetic surgery.

2009: Gene therapy techniques enhance surgery>

Whilst the ‘natural’ well-being approach remains popular, anti-ageing gene therapy techniques gain ground. Bionics –
bone-prosthesis systems and implantable, high technology neurostimulation devices – are used to strengthen elderly physiques and fragile bones. As the 65+ years market grows, the desire for all anti-ageing techniques continues to expand.

2010: Asia attacks South African dominance>

Asia launches a massive ‘Health-Tourism’ drive to compete against South Africa’s world-leading position. Despite cheaper costs, the global perception of ‘health and safety’ in South Africa is better than in Asia, and the skills of its medical profession more highly regarded.

Additional sources:
Grant Thornton Kessel Feinstein: Tourism Industry in South Africa
Surgical Attractions SA

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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