The Demand for Medical Aesthetic Procedures - 2 Years into the Pandemic
Updated: May 19, 2022
Two years into the pandemic and aesthetic physicians are seeing some return to normalcy while adapting to social-distancing regulations imposed by their respective governments.
Nearly two years ago, we spoke to aesthetic physicians about their fears and hopes for their practices as they navigated the Covid-19 pandemic which was new at the time. We followed up with them to see how they're doing.
While aesthetic clinics in Singapore and Malaysia have been operational since the Movement Control Order (MCO) and Circuit Breaker (CB) restrictions were lifted in 2020, Covid-19 social-distancing measures and disruptions to supply chains have continued to impact the demand and supply of cosmetic treatments, products and services.
The Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) have continued to impose social-distancing and hygiene regulations and protocols on aesthetic medicine practices in the country since they have been permitted to open in late 2020. Walk-ins have been prohibited and practices are permitted to see only up to 10 patients daily.
Aesthetic physician Dr Anna Hoo of the Anna Hoo Clinic laments these restrictions have placed tremendous stress on her practice. While she has introduced virtual consultations and began selling products online - a move that has been well received by her patients - her practice has not returned to what it was pre-pandemic due to the limitation on the number of daily appointments. “Although social-distancing regulations have severely impacted my practice, this is a sacrifice I'm willing to make to safeguard our patients, staff, and by extension, our families and the nation at large from Covid-19,” she says.
Consultant dermatologist, Dr Nazirin Ariffin from the Nazirin Clinic, shares her business has not been severely affected as she has been offering telederm services in addition to providing and administering in-clinic services in accordance to MOH guidelines. She has also begun selling her own line of cosmeceutical products online. She says, "As Malaysia transitions to the endemic phase with the easing of social-distancing measures, I hope my practice will continue to grow."
Across the causeway Dr Matthew Yeo’s and Dr Phoon Yishan’s practices at Picasso Plastic Surgery and Radium Medical Aesthetics respectively have begun seeing an uptick of patients as more chose to return for in-person appointments.
According to Dr Yeo, a consultant plastic surgeon, requests for physical consultations have increased after reducing telemedicine offerings in recent months. “Teleconsultations have become less popular as factors such as camera quality, lighting, and background will vary from device to device and patient to patient, which can make it challenging for doctors to examine and diagnose patients effectively, and administer meaningful treatment."
"Fortunately, patients are now more comfortable with in-person consultations and treatments because our safety protocols make them feel safe, such as strict use of personal protection equipment (PPE) during aerosol-generating procedures with unmasked patients, such as surgery under sedation, and laser and injectable treatments involving the face,” he elaborates.
“I’m happy to report our practice has recovered. Our patients have not only returned in droves for in-person consultations and treatments, we are enabling them to receive products and consult with us virtually at home. We have been offering new services that were not so popular pre-pandemic but are now in demand,” Dr Phoon says. “By learning to adapt to our patients' needs on the fly rather than waiting for them to visit to learn about them, my practice has been better than before the pandemic, even with the safety measures in place.”
Impact on the aesthetics industry
While the reopening of economies has led to a surge in demand for aesthetic medicine products and treatments, disruptions in the supply chain caused by problems such as labour shortage and the closing of manufacturing plants have resulted in delays in the deliveries of products and a hike in shipping costs. All of which have led to an increase in the cost of treatments.
As a cosmeceutical product developer, Dr Nazirin admits disruptions in the supply chain have forced her to postpone her product launch. She shares, "Suppliers have been struggling to stay afloat due to waning funds and a lack of raw materials, which are exacerbated by delays in delivery and other logistical setbacks, and these challenges are felt throughout the supply chain."
Dr Hoo laments that stress on supply chains and increasing logistical costs have been further compounded by inflation, and she has had to absorb these extra charges so her patients do not have to bear them.
The aesthetics medicine industry also relies on Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) to communicate information on new products, services and treatment protocols between manufacturers, distributors and medical professionals. Due to travel restrictions, training and seminars were conducted online until they were permitted to be run as in-person events in Malaysia and Singapore in October and November 2021 respectively.
In spite of the lifting of restrictions, Dr Yeo prefers virtual meetings as they reduce the risk of infection and free up more time for his patients.
Dr Hoo agrees that while remote meetings are safer than in-person ones and connect people from different countries easily in the face of travel restrictions, she hopes she would be able to attend full-fledged in-person events one day.
“As an Allergan trainer, I believe video conference training and workshops are less effective than in-person ones as participants are unable to touch and feel the product and its effects on the skin, which is imperative for improving their skills as aesthetic medicine practitioners," Dr Hoo says.
The pandemic pushes demand for some treatments
The doctors agree that longer working hours, the increased frequency of video meetings, and stay-at-home orders have caused certain procedures to be more popular than others.
Dr Nazirin reveals her patients have had different reactions to being housebound. "Some patients experience more flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema due to a lack of air-conditioning at home, while others have seen less frequent and intense flare-ups as their homes are cleaner and contain fewer triggers, and topical treatments are always within reach."
“The longer working hours at home and the need to look their best when on video calls have led to a demand for treatments that improve the quality and youthfulness of skin. These include botulinim toxin A injections, skin booster mesotherapy, and platelet-rich plasma and microneedling," she adds.
“Since virtual meetings have become part and parcel of living and working through the pandemic, patients want to look good on their screens without filters. To this end, patients are increasingly seeking periorbital and facial contouring treatments using a combination of botulinum toxin A and hyaluronic acid fillers to rejuvenate the eyes and temples, and to help project the cheeks and nose for a youthful yet confident appearance,”Dr Anna declares.
“Wearing a mask draws attention to the eyes, and more people have become aware of their sunken and tired eyes and are asking for treatments that rejuvenate them," Dr Phoon shares.
"Some of my patients require acne treatments as they have developed maskne from frequent mask-wearing, while frequent exposure to blue light from virtual meetings and longer working hours has caused pigmentation to worsen in some patients, which requires laser treatments."
"Patients seem to be more receptive to undergoing more invasive procedures than before the pandemic. Before the pandemic, patients used to avoid treatments with long recovery periods as they did not want others to know they had undergone such treatments and be judged for them. However, working from home means they can recover without anyone knowing or judging, which encourages and enables them to take up more aggressive treatments such as full-face skin boosters and stronger lasers," elaborates Dr Phoon.
“Mask-wearing has caused treatments that correct and enhance the eyebrows and eyelids to become more popular," Dr Yeo shares. "With social-distancing restrictions and many patients continuing to work from home, more patients are undergoing invasive body procedures that require longer downtime such as breast augmentation and tummy tucks.”
Hope for the future
All doctors are optimistic that their practices, and the aesthetics medicine industry, will survive for as long as people want to look good.
"Patients are still putting their appearance on high priority through the pandemic," Dr Hoo opines.
"The money saved from not being able to holiday abroad is now being channelled to aesthetics treatments as these are increasingly considered part of patients' self-care and their need to feel good and look good," Dr Nazirin says.
“I'm confident the industry will get back on its feet and blossom, as the world recovers from Covid-19 and economies get back on their feet,” Dr Phoon concludes.