Cosmetic surgery: Is Utah still the vainest?

By Stephanie Sampson, Contributor  |  Posted Oct 24th, 2011 @ 11:59am



SALT LAKE CITY -- In 2007, Forbes magazine published an article saying that Salt Lake City was the “vainest” city in America, thanks in large part to its relatively high number of plastic surgeons, six per 100,000 people. Statewide, the numbers are only a little behind that; Utah came in at No. 8 in 2010 for the number of board-certified plastic surgeons per capita, according to an article on

The question remains, however, is this statistic a fair assessment of the state’s “vanity?” Who, exactly, is having what done when it comes to cosmetic surgery in Utah? What does all this information say about Utah residents’ willingness to go under the knife?

Nationally, cosmetic surgery is on the rise

According to 2010 statistics provided by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), both surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures are on the rise. The total number of cosmetic procedures performed in 2010 was 13.1 million, which is an increase of 5 percent over the previous year. Reconstructive surgeries also rose slightly; more than 5.3 million reconstructive procedures were performed, which is an increase of 2 percent.

The ASPS is the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world, and its members consist of board-certified plastic surgeons. While patients are encouraged to seek out physicians who are certified by the ASPS or American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, medical professionals are not legally required to be a member of either society or have much specialty training in plastic surgery in order to perform cosmetic procedures. The true number of cosmetic procedures being performed, then, may actually be slightly higher.

Most popular procedures by numbers

Despite the economic downturn, minimally invasive procedures remain incredibly popular, perhaps owing their success to their relative affordability. According to the ASPS, Botox and Dysport injections are both up by 12 percent and fat injections are up by 14 percent, which indicate how a patient’s own tissue is being used in creative ways to rejuvenate the body. There were 11.6 million minimally invasive procedures reported in 2010, with the top five as follows:

  • Botulinum toxin type A (Botox)
  • Soft tissue fillers
  • Chemical peel
  • Laser hair removal
  • Microdermabrasion
Surgical procedures also remain robust in terms of growth. In 2010, there were 1.6 million surgical procedures performed. As the procedures themselves become safer and less painful, and undergoing plastic surgery becomes more acceptable by the population in general, this number is expected to keep going up. The top five for surgeries are the following:

  • Breast augmentation
  • Nose reshaping
  • Eyelid surgery
  • Liposuction
  • Tummy tuck
The 'mommy makeover'

A real indication of the change in the way that cosmetic surgery is viewed now as opposed to 10 years ago is the rising prevalence of younger and younger women going in for the “mommy makeover”: varying combinations of body sculpting procedures such as tummy tucks, breast lifts, breast augmentations and liposuction. A recent survey conducted by the ASPS showed that 62 percent of women would consider getting a mommy makeover if cost were no issue.

The numbers of women getting these procedures is up dramatically since 2000. Breast augmentations have risen by 39 percent; breast lifts, 70 percent; and tummy tucks, a dramatic 85 percent in 10 years. The ASPS also points out that women as young as 30 are often going in for these procedures to get their pre-baby bodies back, where 10 years ago, it was mostly women 50 and older.

This trend is interesting for Utah’s population, in particular, because of the high percentage of young mothers and birthrates in the state. Utah’s plastic surgeons indicate that a large number of the women they see are requesting these procedures in particular.

As Cathy Carmode Lim noted in her article on where image- conscious Californians may go in for a breast augmentation in San Diego simply to increase bust size, Utah women are more likely to go under the knife for body “restoring” purposes. That is, they don’t want to come out with a dramatically different body after plastic surgery, they just want to look the way they did before age and pregnancy took their toll.

Are Utah residents vain?

Most likely would agree that spending anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 to get rid of a mommy muffin top may indicate that Utahans are not as vanity-free as they would like to believe.

There are other factors to consider, however, when analyzing the surgeon-to-population ratio in the Beehive State. First, there’s the University of Utah. Not all (or even most) urban areas are home to a world-class residency program in plastic surgery. Many of the physicians who train here go on to open practices in the state.

Another factor could be the relative cost of procedures in Utah versus surrounding states. Some patients may choose to come to Utah rather than spend thousands more to have the same surgeries done closer to home.

Still, there wouldn’t be the number of plastic surgeons that there is in Utah without the necessary patient demand to keep them in business. As some Utah plastic surgeons pointed out to Carmode Lim, the tight-knit community may actually help increase word-of-mouth exposure.

Whether all of this is an accurate gauge to measure the relative vanity of Utah residents compared to other states is a little dubious, however. What is clear is that Utah residents in general certainly seem to be OK with having a little work done.

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