News & Politics

‘Tis the Season for Plastic Surgery

The holidays aren’t just about presents and family. For some, it’s the time to get peeled, lifted, or sculpted—and emerge new in the new year.

Photograph courtesy of Veer.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year–for a visit from Saint Nip and Tuck.

Instead of spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s skiing black-diamond trails in Vail or snorkeling in the Caribbean with his wife and kids, Philip Schoenfeld breaks noses.

“I get inquiries in August about where I’m going to be that week,” says Schoenfeld, a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Renu Med Spa and Plastic Surgery in Chevy Chase.

Known for his way around a deviated septum, Dr. Schoenfeld says he not only fixes a lot of noses during that week; he also performs his fair share of blepharoplasty, surgery that improves the appearance of the upper eyelids, lower eyelids, or both. “The reasons are obvious,” he says. “Offices are empty, people are not expected to be at work, and when they return in January, acquaintances will look at them and say, ‘Wow, where did you go?’ “

Or they won’t detect anything at all. “Even my mother hasn’t noticed,” says a patient of Schoenfeld’s who had surgery to correct a broken nose last December 28.

Schoenfeld adds that bonuses come out around the holidays, providing “found” money to help finance a new face. And some patients use up the balance of their flexible-spending account to fund procedures. When it comes to a medical nose job, known as rhinoplasty, says Schoenfeld, “a doctor can write a letter of necessity.”

‘Tis also the season for tummy tucks and lipo.

“During the holiday break, people are most interested in breast augmentation and lift, rhinoplasty, small-volume liposuction, and eyelid surgery,” says Wendell Miles, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Chevy Chase. “This is a very popular time with college students, who may receive breast augmentation or rhinoplasty as a present from their parents and want their procedure done while on vacation.” Recovery from most of these surgeries usually takes a week.

Says a 40-year-old publicist in Bethesda: “I had both of my nose jobs done on December 26 when I was home from college. When I get my third one done, I’ll probably book the same date.”

People not only have time off during the Christmas week, but they usually have family around to help with recovery. And, says plastic surgeon Coleman Brown, who practices in Chevy Chase and Glen Burnie, the season provides another condition optimal for surgery: “Because it’s cooler out, it’s easier to cover up and hide away, so to speak.”

Meaning that while some women will be wriggling into their Herve Leger dresses for holiday parties, others will be squeezing their newly contoured bodies into another type of compression garment, hidden under layers of cashmere.

When it comes to giving the gift of cosmetic surgery, says Schoenfeld, people fall into two camps. “There are the people–men and women–who gift themselves,” he says. “And there are the husbands who gift their wives. I think it’s a negotiated gift–the wife has mentioned wanting it, and her husband is just giving her what she wants.”

Do good things come in small, injectable packages? It’s a holiday present that’s unwrapped a bit early, says Michelle Schoenfeld, Dr. Schoenfeld’s wife and office manager. “Two weeks before Christmas–that’s when we’re crazy with the fillers.”

It’s a way to look good in holiday photos. Or to prevent the furrowed brows that often accompany some family gatherings.

DC dermatologist Tina Alster injects a lot of patients in mid-November. “They don’t care if they spend their Thanksgiving being bruised,” she says, “but everyone wants to look good for the Christmas party season.”

Come Boxing Day, Alster says, her patients are less likely to worry about how they look. “People don’t really care about New Year’s Eve,” she says. “They’ll do a peel or something that requires a lengthier recovery right after Christmas.” That’s when she breaks out the ablative lasers, such as the Fraxel, which vaporize the top layer of skin and create a healing wound that lasts a week.

If her patients still want that Champagne toast at midnight, they should keep the bubbly to a minimum. Alster says alcohol enlarges the blood vessels, turning a red face even more scarlet.

Perhaps the best explanation of the holiday week’s popularity for cosmetic surgery is more psychologically driven: the perennial promise to begin the new year, well, new.

“Some people get to the tipping point where they say, ‘I’ve had three kids, I go to the gym, but am still not where I want to be, so it’s time to make a resolution. It’s time to get things done,’ ” says Jules Feledy, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder of Belmont Aesthetic & Reconstructive Plastic Surgery in Chevy Chase and Stafford. In his practice, getting things done often includes tummy tucks and breast lifts.

“It’s the New Year,” agrees Dr. Schoenfeld. “People want to get rid of some baggage.” He pauses before adding: “Saddle baggage.”

This article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.